There are few things more powerful (and exciting) for an early-stage startup than when it receives its series A funding. This is an exhilirating time for a startup because it suddenly has much more capital than before, along with the power to make more big-picture decisions that comes with it. Some of those decisions are staffing decisions, and newly-funded startups need to now decide who to bring on board for their powerhouse C-Suite team. And one of the most efficient and successful ways to execute this process is by turning to a C-Suite search firm.
How can a C-Suite search firm help newly-funded companies find their dream executives, and are these firms even necessary for this process? The short answer is almost always yes, C-Suite search firms are essentially vital for filling executive roles in today’s startup landscape, because there are several factors at play that make hiring for startups increasingly challenging. To name a few: there is a growing talent shortage that is expected to reach $8.5 trillion in the near future, and the job search process can often be unpleasant for candidates, with nearly 50% of job seekers in one survey saying they turned down a job due to negative experiences during the hiring process.
Plus, finding an excellent C-Suite candidate is one thing. But finding a perfect-match candidate who is not only a professional and educational match, but that also matches a startup’s culture, is another thing entirely. But that’s one of the biggest benefits of C-Suite search firms, because their true power is in finding candidates who are a perfect match across the board.
Deciding when to bring a C-Suite search firm onboard might seem like a challenging decision, but there are a few telltale signs that it’s the time to turn to these executive hiring professionals.
Firstly, a startup that recently completed its series A funding round is likely in need of the services of a C-Suite search firm. That’s because these newly-funded startups now have the capital to make critical executive hires, and they’re also likely on the precipice of serious business growth.
A second indicator that it’s likely time to use a C-Suite search firm is if a startup is growing quickly. Speedy expansion means that there are suddenly many more roles and responsibilities, as well as more individual contributors that need leadership. All of this cannot fall into the hands of the founder alone, and instead, a solid executive team can help bear the brunt of this responsibility, while taking the startup to new heights.
Bringing on an executive can be a costly decision upfront, but in general, these senior hires should make a startup more profitable by contributing to its growth and success. For any business, studies tell us that empty executive positions ultimately cost companies thousands of dollars per day at a minimum, and typically far more. And when startups decide to hire executives, a C-Suite search firm is the way to ensure that they find excellent candidates that might otherwise be hard to reach.
With all of that in mind, it’s important to remember that C-Suite search firms are not one-size-fits-all, and there are many different types of C-Suite search firms, which can bring different specialities to the table. Here are some questions to consider when you’re choosing a C-Suite search firm.
No two startup industries are the same, and during the C-Suite search process, startups should ensure that the partner they choose has relevant industry expertise. That’s because startups in different industries have very nuanced needs. For example, there are many human-first cultural needs that differ between startup industries that only experienced C-Suite search firms can navigate.
In the startup landscape, sometimes taking a chance can be a good thing, and can even lead to incredible outcomes. But one thing startup leaders shouldn’t gamble on is their C-Suite search firm. Hiring C-Suite executives is not a process that should be left up to chance, or where there’s room for error, because these hires can have a huge impact on the trajectory of a company. One of the top reasons new startups fail is because they don’t have the right team in place, and the last thing startup leaders should have to deal with is an executive hire who isn’t a good fit. Not only that, but initiating the executive search process is typically a substantial financial investment that shouldn’t go to waste on a C-Suite search firm that can’t deliver on its promises.
To mitigate these risks, startups can choose credible C-Suite search firms, which have proven track records of placements for startups in similar positions.
The executive hiring process is extensive, and it does not end with choosing a C-Suite search firm. While choosing the right executive search partner is crucial for eventually making these critical executive hires, startups need to be prepared to conduct a best-in-class interview process at scale when suitable candidates are on the line. One of the ways startups can complete this interview process is by building proper talent infrastructure, with the help of their C-Suite search firms.
Here’s the thing: startups are typically not experts at hiring executives, because that’s not their main job. But C-Suite search firms are experts at hiring executives, and they should help the startups they work with develop talent infrastructure, so that the interview process is well-supported.
(Pssst… here at Will Reed, we help our partners build their talent infrastructure by offering our partners 1:1 advice from our Partner of Founder Enablement on everything related to scaling your people + business.)
You’ve probably heard the age old adage “good things in life are worth waiting for,” and while it can be true in some instances, it’s definitely not the case when it comes to the C-Suite search firm process. That’s because there’s a paradox when it comes to the executive hiring process: the best candidates don’t stay on the market for all that long, and the typical hiring process takes far too long for these quick timelines.
What exactly does that mean? We’ve found that the best candidates are only on the market for 10 days, while the typical hiring process can take upwards of 90 days. In scenarios like this, by the time a startup gets a candidate approved and an offer is on the table, that candidate might have moved on to a competitor. But there’s good news: certain C-Suite search firms are equipped to run these processes fast and efficiently, and on timelines that work for these top-tier executives. Here at Will Reed, our typical search process takes 45 days – half of what is average.
DEI, or diversity, equity and inclusion, is a critical part of the business and startup landscape today, and it needs to be approached as such by C-Suite search firms. Some firms might touch on DEI in the form of tokenism, which can do far more harm than good. Instead, DEI needs to be wholly embraced by C-Suite search firms that earnestly seek diversity, and understand how crucial it is to a company’s culture.
There are many C-Suite search firms out there, and they don’t all operate in the same way. At some large firms, it might not be clear who exactly is handling a C-Suite search process, and individual search processes might not get the highest level of priority. When choosing a C-Suite search firm, startups should look for ones that operate transparently, and where there’s clear and frequent communication with the person (or people) who are actually in charge of the search.
There are different ways of measuring success when it comes to C-Suite search firms, and some firms might consider simply bringing candidates to the table a success. But other search firms want to ensure that your startup crosses the finish line with candidates, and might consider other aspects of the search process crucial for success, such as how long it takes to complete a search process.
While it might not be clear from the get-go, certain fee structures might actually be beneficial for a C-Suite recruiter or for their company. For example, if a C-Suite search firm is receiving compensation based on a percentage of a candidate’s expected salary, they might be inclined to push certain candidates through the process (which can potentially lead to detrimental hiring mistakes). But in other compensation models, a C-Suite search firm might charge a flat-fee, ensuring that you don’t question their motives when it comes to certain candidates.
Startups shouldn’t be left in the dark when it comes to their executive hiring process, and instead, startups should look for C-Suite search firms that operate with transparency throughout the process. This includes providing frequent updates on candidates and being accessible and communicative during the recruiting process, for example.
There are many additional ways that a C-Suite search firm can provide value to a startup beyond simply filling a role. The best C-Suite search firms act as a partner and consultant, not just a vendor. These firms will help startups establish talent infrastructure (as we mentioned before), and might also help with things like mapping out job descriptions, supporting the interview process, and even helping you determine how to evaluate candidates. Here at Will Reed, our team closely collaborates with our partners throughout the process with weekly update calls and instant Slack communications.
A C-Suite search firm is like a startup's secret weapon to help leaders find candidates who not only match their company’s culture and needs, but who truly help elevate it to untold heights. That’s why choosing a C-Suite search firm partner is so important, and why we take this job so seriously.
We’re Will Reed, and we’re the only go-to-market executive search firm built exclusively for early-stage founders. Our team of executive recruiters knows startups inside out, and we know exactly what it takes to bring top-tier C-Suite executives to your team.