How to identify when to hire a recruiter
“Talent” is one of the hottest topics of conversation for growing organizations, and though the subject gets quite a bit of lip service, many companies are not truly investing in their talent strategies. In almost any business, employees are the biggest asset and expense, and that is even more true for High Alpha companies because we build and support fast-growing SaaS product companies where the right team can make or break the success of a new company.
I’ll be upfront with my bias — I believe most companies need to invest in an in-house recruiter well before most do. By the time the majority of companies invest in their talent acquisition team, they already have a talent problem:
- They have high turnover due to poor early hires.
- Openings are left unfilled because no one is responsible for driving the recruiting process, which leads to production issues.
- They’ve already paid hundreds of thousands in fees to recruiting agencies.
In a start-up, money is tight and the need for talent is persistent. Balancing these two conflicting priorities can cause even the most capable leader to make mistakes when managing the talent acquisition process. The key to timing this investment correctly is to project your hiring volume:
- What types of roles do you need filled?
- How quickly does this need to happen?
- What does funding look like?
These projections can be a lot of work, and challenging to even the most seasoned leadership. Despite the shared desire by leaders to build the best teams, understanding the correct timing to build out a talent team continues on. Below, I’ve laid out my thoughts on how to best decipher why and when you should invest in a recruiter .
Why do I need a recruiter?
If you are hiring at all, someone is handling those activities and if they are not a recruiter it is taking away from their core function. Likely, you or your leaders are handling the hiring for their functional areas, and if so, you are losing productivity. If you’re doing it well, the hiring process is extremely time-consuming, and if you’re doing it poorly the consequences can be dire.
An underperforming employee affects a start-up more acutely than a larger company. If 3 of 10 employees are not performing that means almost a third of your staff is draining precious resources and shortening your financial runway. A 100 or 1,000 person organization can handle a handful of underperforming employees without the same ramifications. In addition, at a start-up these employees are likely a sole employee of a functional area, meaning that function could be irreversibly damaged or simply not getting done. A recruiter will define a hiring process that assesses competency, culture add, and overall employability and ensure that implicit biases are not affecting who you hire. Your recruiter will drive up the quality of your hires and reduce the cost of your headcount.
I’m proud that over 50% of hires I make for High Alpha and our portfolio companies come from referrals. Early hires tend to be referrals and there are lots of reasons this is a great idea — they are known entities, faster to hire, and often better quality hires, to name a few of the benefits. However, I’ve seen referral processes work against many companies too. When you don’t have the resources to go find the best candidate for your needs, you hire who you know or who applies to the job posting. Even if you are finding great candidates in your networks that you are able to close, this is not a scalable model. Your recruiter will go solicit the best of the best to join your company and not leave it to chance. In addition, a recruiter can help bolster your referrals by managing your network effectively, so make sure to give them access to your contacts. Diversity can also suffer when a company depends solely on referrals, and in the early stages of development it’s so important to have varied viewpoints so you don’t end up developing a product and company with blind spots.
The hiring process is time consuming, tedious, difficult, and without someone responsible for ensuring the proper process is followed, it is easy to cut corners. Like a product manager ensures the engineering team is following the product roadmap, your recruiter will ensure the necessary timeline is met by driving the process forward, requirements are defined, the important questions are asked, references are checked, and a diverse candidate pool interviewed. Your recruiter will quarterback the selling process and manage salary and equity negotiations, so you don’t end up investing significant time in a candidate for them only to reject your offer.
When do I need a recruiter?
Create a Headcount Forecast
First things first, before determining when you’ll need a recruiter you need to get at least a rough idea of what your hiring plan looks like for a minimum of the next 9 months. This is likely already done and part of the company’s financial models, and will be a rudimentary plan.This should included total number of hires, roles, and budgeted salaries. Once you have this forecast, you will be able to figure out when you can plug in a recruiter. Once hired, they should work with the leadership team to continue forecasting create a detailed hiring forecast based on funding events, sales, turnover, and other variables.
The higher the volume the more impactful your recruiter will be, but don’t wait until the volume is so high you can’t keep up on your own. The quantity of open roles is directly correlated to funding events. I am busiest when our portfolio companies are established — when I am tasked with building out the initial team with seed funding — and when they take raise a series A — when we typically hire across all functions and invest heavily in rounding out the executive team.
If volume is low, a recruiter will still add value by developing, managing, and promoting your employment brand as well as building pipelines for future roles. Because recruiting is so tied to funding, you don’t want your recruiter to begin the sourcing process when the floodgates open, and times of low volume recruiting gives your talent team time to build a pipeline for future openings. Finally, A recruiter can be valuable in “pinch-hitting” in related areas — HR, training, culture, on-boarding — adding value even if hiring needs are slow to ramp up.
Determine which roles need to be filled
The art of talent acquisition really comes in to play when your company is in need of specific talent or hard-to-fill roles. Traditionally, difficult to fill roles are executives, engineers, and salespeople. Even roles that traditionally have larger candidate pools or are “easier” to fill can be difficult when you need a specific skill set. For example, Customer Success roles can be challenging when you’d like your CS employees to have expertise in the industry, SaaS, and technical support.
You’ll also want to consider the urgency of your hires. Oftentimes, a funding event triggers the ability to hire for a role that has been sorely needed for quite some time. If you have positions to fill that will have negative implications if left unfilled, you are gambling by not investing in your talent team.
One of my main responsibilities is to create headcount plans for our portfolio companies that I support, so I understand how difficult it can be to tell a team that is stretched thin they do not have headcount for an additional hire. Your recruiter will help understand the business needs and what positions need to take priority based on the effect this hire will have on the overall success of the company, and explain why this decision was made if need be.
All in all, the most important thing to remember is that your employees are the biggest line item on your financial plan, and the engine of your business. Invest in this expense wisely. I’d love to hear your thoughts on timing your recruiting investment, why you think I’m wrong, or give advice on your recruiting pain-points. Comment below, or connect with me on LinkedIn or Twitter.