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The future of recruiting: Insights from Tony Buffum on the next hiring frontier

The talent market has been in flux over the past several years. From COVID-19 to the great resignation to quiet quitting, talent acquisition leaders have been forced to reckon with a dynamic and ever-evolving hiring landscape. Insight Partners recently sat down with Tony Buffum of Upwork, who has over two decades of experience leading global HR teams. We ask him to discuss the latest trends he’s seeing within talent acquisition and what it means for hiring leaders and candidates alike.

What are the biggest shifts you’re seeing currently in the hiring landscape?

We’re in the middle of an unprecedented market for talent in the US. Unemployment remains low, resignations remain relatively high, job openings continue to outpace the number of unemployed workers, and overall labor force participation is continuing to fall (as it has for the last 20 years). This participation decline can be attributed to generational demographics like retirement for older workers and a higher pursuit of entrepreneurship for younger workers. Additionally, across generations, there has been a steady upward trend in independent work over the last 20 years.

A report by McKinsey & Company indicates that over one-third of the US workforce is already made up of independent workers, with nearly three-quarters of them doing independent work exclusively. Similarly, Upwork’s Freelance Forward report finds a staggering 39% of the US workforce, or 60 million Americans, performed freelance work in the past year. The same report finds that freelancing remains a significant part of the US labor market and economy, with freelancers contributing $1.35 trillion to the US economy in annual earnings in 2022 (up $50 billion from 2021). Given the high participation rate in independent work and freelancing (50% among Gen Z, 44% among millennials), the hiring landscape looks much different from what it did even just a couple of years ago, and these trends will continue.

What do these shifts mean for talent acquisition leaders and founders? How does this impact how they attract, source, and hire top talent?

To stay competitive and attract the best talent, organizations must adopt a “talent access” mindset that goes beyond traditional methods of hiring. Today’s workforce requires speed, ingenuity, and adaptability, and relying solely on traditional “talent acquisition” approaches may be slow and costly because it focuses primarily on filling roles with full-time employees. A “talent access” approach, however, recognizes that independent talent like freelancers can play a critical role in meeting business needs. This is especially true when competition for talent is fierce, and projects require a rapid turnaround.

Modern leaders have an opportunity to embrace these changes and build holistic and dynamic solutions to meet business needs, leveraging all of the talent and capabilities available, not just full-time headcount. They can lead this change by challenging conventional wisdom about talent acquisition, meet the labor market where they are, and develop a complete workforce strategy focused on needs and skills instead of just “butts in seats.”

What do these shifts indicate for job seekers? How does it impact how they approach their job search?

The growing trend of independent work shows that skilled professionals recognize the benefits offered from a work and life standpoint. They are part of this massive ‘aha’ moment, causing people to scrutinize the confines of a traditional 9-to-5. And for those seeking something outside of that, freelancing offers flexibility and control that a traditional job cannot provide.

Control has been a central theme behind people freelancing, and that is something that people want now more than ever in their next job opportunity. When looking at the top reasons for freelancing, people select options like, ‘To be able to pursue work I am passionate about or find meaningful,’ ‘To take more control over my personal development and career path,’ and ‘To have flexibility in my schedule (i.e., what days or times I work).’ These professionals want to control the work they do, who they do it for, and when they do it.

The news continues to report a big push for in-office work. What workplace model trends (i.e., hybrid, remote, in-office) do you anticipate over the next year, particularly for early to mid-stage software companies?

Remote work, once considered a temporary solution, has now been normalized and expected, leading to a fundamental shift in how work is conducted and managed. While employers like Amazon may be pushing unwilling employees back to office, many others, like Airbnb, Yelp, and Autodesk are leaning into remote work, making permanent changes to the way they’re attracting and retaining talent.

For early and mid-stage software companies, remote work will likely remain popular due to the ability to access global talent, reduce costs and foster scalability. By embracing remote work, these companies can tap into a diverse pool of skilled software developers from anywhere in the world, save on expenses associated with physical office spaces and easily scale their workforce as they grow. Additionally, remote work provides much of the flexibility and control that many of today’s professionals are looking for.

How do you anticipate AI will impact the job landscape?

A recent McKinsey report highlights that generative AI (gen AI) will have a significant effect on 80% of jobs. And in the latest Upwork study on gen AI, business leaders, especially in the C-suite (64%), will hire more professionals of all types due to gen AI. As we’ve seen with any emerging technology, the job landscape will open new opportunities while requiring workers to adapt and acquire new skills. Jobs that require creativity, critical thinking, problem-solving, and emotional intelligence are expected to be more in demand, as these skills are harder to automate through AI.

It’s important to note that the impact of AI on the job landscape will vary across industries, job roles, and regions. However, it will be a force multiplier for both talent and businesses. Leaders are finding that gen AI increasingly provides opportunities to innovate and accelerate productivity and business outcomes. It’s important now more than ever for leaders to foster a culture of empathy, curiosity, and learning, encourage teams to embrace AI technologies and invest in a modern workforce that keeps pace with such rapid technological developments.

Tony Buffum is an accomplished HR professional with more than two decades of experience leading global HR teams as well as driving transformational change in company culture, organizational design, performance management, and employee integration and engagement. He joined Upwork following a series of leadership positions, including Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO) at FLIR Systems, VP of Global Human Resources at STANLEY Security, VP of Human Resources at Stanley Black & Decker, and others.



What’s Right for Your Early-Stage Startup: In-House Recruiting or Tech Recruiting Agency?

This article was originally published by Will Reed and does not necessarily reflect the perspective of Insight Partners. Insight Partners is an investor in Will Reed.

For an early-stage tech startup or other budding business, there’s nearly nothing more exciting than growth. When business is booming you get to really flex your muscles as a company, and run full speed ahead toward your biggest goals. But there’s something else that comes with growth: the urgent need for more team members (and fast). And for tech companies, two of the most common ways to really build an incredible team is with either an in-house recruiting agency or with a tech recruiting agency.

While top-tier candidates are certainly out there in the world, it might be more challenging to find them than you might initially think. According to LinkedIn, 70% of the global workforce is passively seeking jobs, while only 30% is actively looking. This means that tech companies almost certainly need to put efforts into recruiting talent, especially if they want to attract excellent candidates (and compete against larger, more established companies). So the real question isn’t “if” a company should recruit, but “how” it should recruit.

When choosing between an in-house recruiter and a tech recruiting agency for your business, there are many factors to consider, especially if you need to hire right now. Here’s how you can decide between building out your in-house recruiting efforts, or going with a tech recruiting agency to help your staffing needs.

What Does an In-House Recruiter Do?

Let’s start with the basics: what does an in-house recruiter even do? An in-house recruiter is a dedicated full-time employee whose sole focus is recruitment. They take ownership of all tasks related to recruiting and hiring perfect candidates for their organization. Their responsibilities might include meeting with hiring managers or department heads (to discuss hiring needs), crafting job descriptions, identifying and reaching out to potential candidates, and conducting the interview process. After new candidates are hired, recruiters might follow up after the onboarding process, to make sure that they’re situated and getting used to their new role.

What About a Tech Recruiting Agency?

Aside from an in-house recruiter, the second option for recruiting is working with a tech recruiting agency, which is an outsourced organization that manages recruitment and hiring specifically for tech companies. They typically have extensive tech industry connections and networks, databases of potential qualified candidates who are looking for tech roles, contacts at different organizations, and an in-depth knowledge of the needs of tech companies.

How Are They Similar?

On the surface, both recruiting methods have many similarities. Both in-house recruiting professionals and tech recruiting agencies assign recruitment to a specific person (or people) who take complete ownership of the process. Both recruiting methods also involve recruiters actively looking for candidates, instead of passively waiting for them to apply for roles. They also both use their expertise to thoroughly understand the positions they’re hiring for, in order to source and hire candidates who are a good match. This is a very important function of recruiters, considering that not having the “right team” is one of the top five reasons new businesses shut down.

It’s also important to mention that both methods of recruiting offer their own version of a “personal touch.” In-house recruiters are obviously intimately familiar with a company, its leadership, and its team structure, and they might even bump into the hiring manager at the water cooler. They can use this personal knowledge and closeness when executing the recruitment process, to carefully source candidates. While tech recruiting agencies are an outside company, they also typically gain in-depth knowledge about a company and its needs, in order to recruit incredible candidates. A tech recruiting agency should gain a deep and thorough understanding of a company’s needs and culture, so they can find candidates that fit.

What Are the Biggest Differences?

While the functions and ultimate goals of in-house recruiting professions and a tech recruiting agency are the same, there are some key differences between the two. First of all, bringing on an in-house recruiter (or recruiter) requires early-stage startups to set aside resources for a full-time hire. This means a salary, benefits, and hiring and training resources to get a recruiter up and running. For fast growing early-stage startups, it might not seem like a full-time recruiter is necessary just yet. A tech recruiting agency offers the same services, but on an in-demand basis, which might be better suited for an early-stage startups needs.

Growing companies also have other considerations that founders are often mindful of. When growth happens, it can be fast and unexpected, meaning that hiring new talent becomes an urgent need. While it can take time to build out your new in-house recruiter, a tech recruiting agency is already established, and should have extensive talent networks that it can typically tap into quickly. In recruiting, having a network of candidates and partners is crucial for ultimately filling roles, and it makes a difference in the process.

Lastly, in-house recruiters often rely on a company’s brand to fill positions. If your company is still growing, your brand might not yet be the heavy-hitter that it’s destined to be, and this could impact your recruiting efforts. On the other hand, tech recruiting agencies have their own brand strength and presence to lean on, and can use that to help attract top candidates.

How Can You Pick What’s Right for You?

In order to decide which recruiting method is right for you and your business, here are some questions you can ask yourself to assess your position.

Do we want to bring on a full-time recruiter?

Some companies want and need the talents of a full-time recruiter. This is likely you if your company has the resources to spend on a salaried recruiter, the time to onboard and train them, and the volume of hiring that would call for the long-term services of a full-time in-house recruiter.

Are we growing quickly?

Speedy growth means there’s likely a need for speedy solutions. If your company is growing quickly, a tech recruiting agency might offer you faster solutions to your staffing needs. They already have networks in place, they know the tech industry, and they know time is of the essence. This might be especially important to consider when it comes to early-stage startups, who can’t afford to leave key positions vacant during bursts of growth. Bringing on a full-time recruiter takes time and resources, which both might be in short supply.

How will our in-house recruiter build a network?

Recruiters need networks to find top talent, and while it’s possible to fill roles without an extensive network, it can be more of an uphill battle (especially in the beginning). Leaders can tap into their own executive networks to help build connections for their new in-house recruiter, and get candidate references from their staff to start building out a database. And remember, that when selecting a tech recruiting agency, they already should have an excellent recruiting network in place, and connections with candidates and other startups..

How strong is our brand?

Early-stage startups can be in a tricky position, because they’re a company with a ton of potential and possibility, but they might not be able to lean on their brand just yet when it comes to hiring. If you’re a company no one has heard of, why would a candidate choose you instead of your flashy, larger competitor? Even hiring managers know that brand matters, with 75% of them saying it’s easier to attract a candidate who recognizes an organization beforehand.

Tech recruiting agencies can help bridge that divide. They act as a reputable liaison to help bring in the strongest candidates.


Looking for a new career opportunity? Join Insight’s Talent Network to gain access to thousands of jobs across the Insight Partners portfolio. You can view current open roles and/or register to join the network here.

The Guide on US Recruitment

This article was originally published by Will Reed and does not necessarily reflect the perspective of Insight Partners. Insight Partners is an investor in Will Reed.

For international organizations looking to hire top talent, look no further than the United States. The US is home to hard-working and innovative employees, millions of entrepreneurs, and hundreds of thousands of executives (including more than 200,000 CEOs). In many cases, it makes sense for international organizations to bring leading US employees on board their organizations.

These employees bring vast skills and experience to the table, are subject matter experts, and can help take an organization to new heights. Plus, with tools to support remote work, such as video conferencing, real-time chat, collaboration tools, and cloud storage systems, international organizations can seamlessly work with their US employees in real time.

When focusing on US recruitment, there is one thing that international organizations need to come to terms with: Recruiting US employees is typically very different from recruiting employees from other countries, including your home country. It’s common for international organizations to try to copy and paste their recruiting processes and cultural norms into this new market, only to find that some stark cultural and social differences need to be addressed and considered.

When these issues are addressed, US recruitment can be extremely successful. But when they’re ignored, it can lead to unsatisfactory results. With that in mind, here is everything international organizations need to keep in mind when considering US recruitment in order to bring top US employees on board.

Recruiting US-Based Employees Looks Different

Why is it that US recruitment can present international organizations with unexpected challenges? The short answer is that recruiting US-based employees looks different.

There are different expectations in everything from leadership styles to compensation, and there are many hiring mistakes to avoid. Even seemingly small things (such as the pace of the hiring process) can make a big difference.

Here are some main differences international organizations might find during the US recruitment process and some suggestions for solutions.

Management Styles

One of the biggest differences during the US recruitment process that might be an obstacle for international organizations is typically the overall management style. While different US employees might be accustomed to different management nuances, the American management style as a whole tends to have several distinct features.

For example, the American management style is typically individualistic and empowers leaders to make decisions. Because of this, researchers have described US management culture as “more sensitive to power struggles and the relative power of employees and positions within the company.”

How does this differ from international management styles? Well, it depends on where you’re coming from. Your home country’s management style might be more casual, structured, or bureaucratic.

It may involve less-centralized leadership or different mannerisms. When looking to bring on a US employee, it’s important first to understand your organization’s management style and how it might appear to someone from the US. Then, you can identify ways to introduce your prospective US employees to your own management style or adjust yours to suit your new employees.


The conversation around compensation has changed in the US workforce, and practices for discussing and addressing compensation are still evolving. Today, discussing numbers throughout the recruitment process is typically standard, and many companies state their pay upfront. But even with transparency around pay expectations being standard for both employers and interviewees, compensation can be challenging for international organizations to address during US recruitment.

To start, it’s notable that US recruitment negotiations tend to involve flexibility. There is usually a salary range employers will be willing to pay employees; the final salary figure can come down to a negotiation process.

Because of this, US candidates will often expect a negotiation process and some flexibility around pay. If you’re an international organization looking to hire US employees, it’s best to be open-minded about compensation and have flexibility with your pay range. Typically being “our way or the highway” regarding one salary figure might not be the best approach.

Another important aspect of salary in US recruitment is perks and benefits. US employees typically expect compensation aside from just their salary, and it’s essential to understand what benefits are valued in the US and what is typical for these employees at this stage in their career in their home country.

A third crucial aspect of compensation to keep in mind is geography. The United States is large, and costs of living (and expected compensation) vary wildly.

For example, suppose you’re an international organization looking to hire San Francisco employees. In that case, you’ll need to look at your budget to ensure you can operate within the standard expected compensation of this area.


What’s in a name (or a title)? For international employees, it might be the case that the job title itself simply isn’t as critical to employees, especially during the recruitment process.

But when it comes to US recruitment, these employees value the job title deeply. This means that the title can be make-or-break regarding US recruitment and should be carefully considered.

On that note, job hierarchies might be different in the US than in your home country. For example, typically in the US, the title “Head of” is lower than “Director.” It’s crucial to understand how the job titles you’re hiring for at your organization might translate to the corresponding US job titles.

Candidate Experience

When it comes to the candidate experience during the hiring process, the US job market tends to view this as a “courting” experience. This means that the job interview process is not seen as one-sided, and in the US, the employer needs to not only interview the candidates but also court them and “sell” their company to the interviewee. This might differ from the candidate experience in your home country, where a more intense and one-sided approach to interviewing might be standard.

In the US, the need for workers is very competitive, and there is a notable labor shortage, especially when it comes to highly-skilled workers. From an international perspective, this might manifest in US candidates who are less “desperate” to join just any organization and result in highly selective candidates concerned about where they work.

When it comes to the candidate experience aspect of US recruitment, international employers should take advantage of the opportunity to court top candidates and not only look to interview them but look for ways to win them over.


You know what they say: Timing is everything, and that’s definitely the case for US recruitment. In the US, recruitment processes are typically faster than in other places, and the process is usually comparably concise.

This means that timely feedback on the interview process is expected, and large gaps in communication are not standard. Also, availability can be challenging for everyone when it comes to scheduling interviews and follow-ups. Because of this, international organizations should be sure to optimize their scheduling and plan things out as efficiently as possible.

Also, something to keep in mind: US candidates want to know about the hiring process before it begins. That means you can tell them what types of interviews to expect and how many rounds, for example.

Bias/Unconscious Bias

Bias can appear anywhere, and most Americans are not only aware of it but are very in tune with it. Bias (including unconscious bias) is a common topic in American culture, and international organizations must remember that the US is extremely diverse.

This means that biases will not go unnoticed, even unintentional ones. International organizations need to decide if they’re prepared to hire someone from a different culture and address ways that unconscious biases might appear (through means such as unconscious bias training).


Sure, America is “home of the free,” but when it comes to US recruitment, there are actually many laws and regulations to keep in mind. For example, many questions are illegal to ask prospective US employees. In some states, it’s not legal to talk about compensation, and it’s illegal across all states to ask about things such as race, age, birthplace, or disability, for example.

Agency Norms

One last thing to keep in mind when looking to recruit employees from the US? The executive recruiting agency you partner with might have different expectations from what you’re used to. Keep in mind that your partner agency is looking to place you with your perfect candidate, and they might like to receive warmness and a personal touch.

They’ll likely work standard US business hours (Monday through Friday, 9 am to 5 pm), and outside those hours, they will likely take longer to respond. You should also be aware of US holiday work schedules to know when your partner agency might be out of the office (such as on Labor Day, Memorial Day, the 4th of July, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve).

What Should an Early-Stage Founder Expect From an Executive Recruiter?

This article was originally published by Will Reed and does not necessarily reflect the perspective of Insight Partners. Insight Partners is an investor in Will Reed.


Early stage founders, we salute you. It’s no small undertaking getting your dream venture up and running, especially when it comes to building your all-star team of executives and leaders. That’s why early-stage founders and executive recruiters are a match made in heaven.

When you’re building an early-stage business, who you bring on board matters. But cultivating the perfect executive and leadership team isn’t easy. The executive search process requires far more focus, detail, and energy than a typical hiring process – when you’re looking at a much wider pool of candidates, for a comparably less-critical role.

So what’s an early-stage founder to do? Lean on executive recruiters, the professionals who know executive and leadership hiring inside and out. Here’s what an early stage founder can expect from an executive recruiter, and what to keep in mind if you’re hiring right now.

When is it time to work with an executive recruiter?

Let’s start with the basics: when is the “right time” to work with an executive recruiter? You might think that your brand isn’t quite big enough yet to pull in the talent you want, or that you don’t have the infrastructure to support a robust hiring process.

But that’s exactly what an executive recruiter is for, and why it’s (almost) never too early to work with an executive recruiter.

Executive recruiters are the middlemen between you and your dream team of executive leaders. And that’s because the name of the game when it comes to startups is changing. For early-stage startups, funding rounds are happening more quickly (and more impressively) than they used to. What this means is that founders need executives and leaders far more quickly than they used to in the past.

But it’s true: at this early point in your company, you might not be able to lean on your brand just yet. And of course, there’s that talent shortage that we mentioned earlier, making it even more difficult to attract those extraordinary candidates that are destined to find their place with your company. So if you’re an early-stage startup, looking to build out your executive leadership team, and you’re expecting (or already experiencing) growth spurts, then it’s the perfect time to work with an executive recruiter.

How is an executive recruiter different from a staffing agency?

If you’re wondering “what on Earth is the difference” when it comes to an executive recruiter and staffing agency, we don’t blame you. On the surface level they sound similar, but at their core, they’re extremely different.

Staffing agencies are far more broad than executive recruiters, and typically serve entry and junior level candidates, who might have far more general backgrounds. Staffing agencies also typically don’t develop deep relationships with their clients and candidates, and also tend to assist candidates who are currently out of work in finding full-time roles. On the other hand, executive recruiters are far more specialized, and cultivate the perfect roster of candidates for leadership roles (which might include titles such as “Head of,” “VP,” and C-suite positions). Executive recruiters also work in a much more timely fashion. The best candidates are only on the market for 10 days, and executive recruiters know how to run their services on a timeline that can meet these demands.

In short: if you’re an early-stage startup looking for executive leaders, executive recruiters are far more tailored to your needs, and are much more likely to help identify incredible candidates who absolutely belong on your team.

6 Goals of an Executive Recruiter

One of the best parts about working with an executive recruiter is that they’re action-driven, and take very specific steps to meet your needs as an early-stage founder. Here are some of the biggest goals an executive recruiter might have when working with clients.

1. Identify potential leaders (that really fit the bill)

The main goal and purpose of an executive recruiter is to help your company identify candidates for leadership positions, who genuinely fit the bill and belong on your team. This goes far beyond a standard “hiring process,” because simply ticking boxes and checking qualifications isn’t enough to pair people with your company’s individual needs, culture, and practices.

This focus, drive, and culture-obsessed nature is what separates executive recruiters from staffing agencies. Executive recruiters become experts in your and your company, so they can pair you with potential hires who bring real value to the table, and who really fit with what you’re building. Executive recruiters can identify potential leaders in multiple categories, including Growth & Marketing, Community, Customer Success, Talent, People & Culture, Sales, Business Development & Partnerships.

2. Create culture (not just fill roles)

If you were simply looking to fill roles, just about any candidate might do. But that’s typically not what early-stage founders are looking for when it comes to leadership positions, and for good reason.

When you’re building up your founding team, those placements will ultimately have a big impact on your company culture in a very permanent way. When executive recruiters look to match you with potential hires, they seek to help you create the company culture of your dreams, instead of just filling vacancies.

3. Help create talent infrastructure

It’s not enough to simply identify potential candidates for your company. Businesses need to have infrastructure and systems in place to then support a hiring process, in order to make sure it goes as smoothly as possible. That’s where executive recruiters come into play. They shouldn’t simply leave you with a list of candidates and be on their way.

No, instead, executive recruiters should enthusiastically help ensure that you and your team have top-tier infrastructure in place, so you can run the type of powerful interview processes that match you with perfect hires. This is definitely not out-of-scope for executive recruiters, who should want to see your hiring process through to the end.

4. Work in a timely fashion

Hiring leadership is far different from hiring entry-level or junior candidates, and part of that difference is in the timeline. A typical candidate search can take 90 days or more, but we know that the best candidates are only on the market for 10 days. That means that executive recruiters need to work quickly and efficiently to identify ideal candidates, and put the hiring process in motion.

5. Cultivate community & partners

When you’re an early-stage founder looking to fill leadership roles, community and network both really matter. But at this stage in your business, you might not quite have the network of your dreams just yet. But that’s where executive recruiters come into play. They have robust networks of candidates and startup partners, who can help you in various ways along your hiring journey.

6. Free up founders (so they can focus on what matters)

Early-stage founders have a lot of things to focus on. From the day-to-day of operations, to shoring up financials and funding, the last thing that founders should do is slow themselves down. But the truth is that the leadership hiring process can be slow, arduous, and consuming, because identifying and connecting with potential candidates can be a big lift.

When you work with an executive recruiter, early-stage founders get valuable time back, and can free up mental energy. When there are experienced professionals heading your leadership hiring process, you can focus on the things that really matter, like running your company.

Why do early stage founders work with an executive recruiter?

Early-stage founders are a very unique group of people, and they’re really not like any other group of business leaders out there. When you’re an early-stage company, you’re likely going to experience rapid periods of growth. While this might seem like a great problem to have (because it is!) it leaves early-stage founders with the dire need to find the perfect early-stage critical hires on short notice.

Once your company is hitting its stride, those early-stage critical hires become the backbone of your organization, allowing it to scale effectively. There can be a very abrupt need for these hires, and early stage founders can find themselves scrambling to figure out the hiring process.

That’s where executive recruiters come into play. When you hit that stride and growth spurts, executive recruiters are there to help you build your all-star team in a way that truly fits your company culture. They work quickly and efficiently, tapping into their top-tier resources, to provide you with excellent candidates and the support to conduct your hiring process.

Note: This article has been updated to reflect the current hiring landscape.


Looking for a new career opportunity? Join Insight’s Talent Network to gain access to thousands of jobs across the Insight Partners portfolio. You can view current open roles and/or register to join the network here.

Executive search trends founders should know about

This article was originally published by Will Reed and does not necessarily reflect the perspective of Insight Partners. Insight Partners is an investor in Will Reed.


Hiring executives is both exciting and anxiety-inducing for many startup founders. Over the past two years in particular, Founder expectations have changed; executive candidate expectations have changed.

Just like many aspects of the business landscape and workforce are shifting in recent years, the hiring space is changing, and fast. Today, there are many new and exciting trends that are emerging, especially in the executive search space. That’s because there are many factors that are influencing the executive search landscape, including shifts in what startups are looking for in their new executives, as well as changes in what potential executive hires want from their new employer.

Executive search trends refers to changes in the executive search and hiring space, and these trends are crucial to staying ahead. Because let’s face it: nowadays, when startups and other full-throttle new businesses are looking to staff their dream team of executives, there are a lot of new best practices and exciting trends to keep in mind. From cultural aspects of hiring to which aspects of employment actually matter to candidates, here are the emerging trends we’re watching that are impacting the executive search and hiring space.

Culture first hiring

Today, the state of the job market is increasingly dynamic and unpredictable, and there have been many shifts in the things that matter most to employers and employees. In one survey, 84% of respondents said they were looking to or open to a new job this year. But with so many employees eyeing greener pastures, what are they actually looking for in new roles? One of the most common executive search trends is an interest in culture first hiring. This aspect of culture first is being prioritized by both employees and employers, and it refers to hiring candidates who are completely culturally aligned with a company.

Cultural alignment is an emerging trend because of the crucial role it plays in the success of an executive placement. This cultural fit impacts everything from decision-making to daily work practices, and candidates who are in alignment with a startup’s culture don’t only “follow the rules,” but instead, gainfully contribute to the culture.

Need for increased flexibility

Let’s just address the elephant in the room: on the heels of the coronavirus pandemic, there are many new work trends that are here to stay. One of them is the need for increased flexibility, particularly when it comes to executive candidates. This phenomenon is not only relevant in executive search trends; studies show that when offered the chance to work flexibly, almost everyone takes it. But it appears that workplace flexibility isn’t just considered “nice to have,” and increasingly, employees across the board are demanding it. Flexibility has been cited as a key reason employees are taking jobs, while a lack of flexibility is a documented problem for prospective employees. Especially when it comes to executive search trends, candidates are looking more and more for jobs that offer them flexibility in the ways they work.

Candidate scorecards

Candidate scorecards are an excellent tool that is growing in popularity when it comes to executive search trends. That’s because candidate scorecards work both ways, and are used by both employers and candidates themselves. When it comes to the hiring team, each person will use a candidate scorecard to rank how candidates match in specific areas. These areas include the candidate’s cultural fit, as well as hard and technical skills. Completing these scorecards allows the employer to clearly see which candidates are considered frontrunners based on consistent criteria through numeric scoring. When it comes to candidates, they can also use a similar scorecard system to identify if employers are a good fit for them and to outline what exactly they’re expecting from employers.

In the executive search space, employers and their top-tier candidates can use scorecards to ensure that they’re both an excellent fit for one another.

DE&I at the forefront

Diversity and inclusion, or D&I, is no longer something that’s optional, and these words are also not simply buzzwords that are thrown into the company’s mission statement. Instead, executive search trends reveal that D&I is at the forefront of the minds of both employers and potential executive employees. Research reveals that by the year 2025, the workforce will be 75% millennials, and this age group reports that D&I is a main factor that influences if they want to work at a company or not. Plus, don’t forget that studies show that diverse companies report higher revenues and that they’re more likely to outperform their competitors.

Social recruiting

Social recruiting is rising in popularity, and it makes sense as to why. This practice refers to recruiting or hiring candidates using social media tools, and considering the fact that billions of people around the world use social media, it’s no wonder it can be a helpful resource for hiring. Social recruiting can be a great place to identify and connect with potential candidates for various reasons. First, social recruiting is emerging as an executive search trend because startups and employers can quickly identify candidates with matching skills and experience (using social platforms like LinkedIn), and can use recruiter social media accounts to quickly connect and gauge interest. Companies can also identify and nurture leads, and chat with candidates in a relaxed setting, before the formal interview process begins.

Working with executive recruiters

Many factors are leading to a rise in the number of startups and businesses that work with executive recruiters to make their most critical hires. First of all, three-quarters of companies say that they’re experiencing trouble hiring in the first place, while many workers are quitting their current roles. What this means is that finding top talent can be challenging, and when someone is the wrong fit, it can lead to high turnover rates. It’s also important to note that many executive candidates are passive, and that the best way to reach them is by way of executive recruiters. In general, a majority of potential job candidates today say they are passive, but that they are open to new opportunities. Reaching these tough-to-find candidates is far easier when companies partner with executive recruiters as part of their executive hiring strategy, because these experts specialize in sourcing qualified executive candidates.

Ultimately, when startups partner with executive recruiters, they are able to access hard-to-reach candidates, who are a perfect match for the role and the company.

Upfront salary and benefits

Gone are the days when the subject of salary and benefits was taboo, and left for later rounds of the interview process. Today, one of the most common executive search trends is transparency around compensation from the get-go. Candidates today don’t want to be caught off-guard by their salary and benefits offer, and it can be disheartening for a company when a potential hire is derailed due to mismatched salary and compensation needs. Typically, startups and new businesses are including salary and benefits information up front, whether it’s mentioned on the job posting, or an executive recruiter is sharing those details in the beginning of the recruitment process.


Upskilling has become more and more necessary across the board in the workforce, for several reasons. First of all, there are millions of  vacant positions in the US that remain open partly due to the fact that there are not enough skilled employees to fill them. But beyond growing skills gaps and training to simply filling seats, many workers want opportunities to upskill. In fact, nearly half of workers surveyed in one report said they would switch to a new job if the offer includes upskilling opportunities. Plus, as technological trends continue to push automation and change the way jobs are performed, most workers express some kind of fear over the way technology will impact their jobs, and in the desire to learn new skills or completely retrain.

At the executive level, this need to upskill isn’t so prevalent up front, as candidates will typically come to the role with the necessary skills and experience. But more and more executive candidates are showing interest in having the opportunity to upskill on the job, and in having employers who prioritize their career growth and job stability.

Refocus on soft skills

Soft skills might have fallen out of fashion in years past for executive hires, but more and more, executive search trends are revealing soft skills are once again crucial for both employers and prospective employers. Of course, having hard skills and technical skills matters. But both employers and employees are putting emphasis on executive search results that find leaders with critical soft skills. Data tells us that soft skills can lead to employees that are happier, more creative, and more innovative, and that a majority of job success comes from soft skills. These skills can include things like self-awareness, empathy, teamwork, and communication.

Using DEIB Data When Hiring

This article was originally published by Will Reed and does not necessarily reflect the perspective of Insight Partners. Insight Partners is an investor in Will Reed.


Diversity and inclusion have been a priority in the workplace for a long time – at least on paper. In recent years, diversity, equity, and inclusion, or DEI, have driven efforts to produce more diverse workforces where all people are included and equal.

Now, DEI has shifted to DEIB: Diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. And despite this revamped focus, DEIB can still be an uphill battle. But an excellent way to ensure the success of DEIB efforts, especially when it comes to recruiting, is by tracking DEIB data.

In order to understand how DEIB data can fuel recruiting efforts, we must first understand what this means and how each word plays into the business setting.

DEIB refers to:

  • Diversity: A company’s diversity regarding race, gender, sexual orientation, physical abilities, and more.
  • Equity: How fair a workplace is, particularly regarding access to opportunities.
  • Inclusion: This goes far beyond just having inclusive policies and refers to a workplace that is wholly welcoming to all.
  • Belonging: The feeling employees get from inclusion efforts and if they feel genuinely connected to the organization and its people.

DEIB isn’t just “nice to have” but has measured and profound positive impacts on an organization. Data shows that diverse companies outperform their competitors, and 3 in 4 job seekers prefer to work at diverse organizations. But despite the critical goals of DEIB initiatives, these efforts can sometimes miss the mark and are still lacking in many areas.

In order to encourage DEIB success, organizations can turn to DEIB data, which can encourage action and accountability, as well as DEIB-informed recruiting efforts.

Data Worth Benchmarking Today

When we’re talking about DEIB data, we’re actually talking about a large pool of potential data. Essentially, DEIB data can be broken down into two main categories that are critical to measuring: Diversity metrics and equity metrics.

Here is what you need to know about these different types of data.

Diversity Metrics

Using workplace data to measure an organization’s diversity (in its present and future state) can include figures on different aspects of its current workforce. Total workforce, leadership positions, turnover rate, and figures on the future workforce, like applicants per opening, candidates interviewed, and candidates hired, are considered.

This gives companies a bird’s eye view of the organization’s efforts to create a diverse workplace. It can show where departments are lacking in that category and steps to take to remedy it.

Equity Metrics

Using workplace and employee feedback data to measure an organization’s equity can include information on access and opportunities to things such as promotions, training programs, and pay raises. Organizations should ensure everyone has a fair chance at advancement and remove barriers that prevent certain groups of employees from seizing opportunities.

Why Are DEIB Data and Metrics Critical to Have?

DEIB data and metrics are critical for several main reasons. Firstly, they keep everyone honest and consistently working towards DEIB efforts.

Tracking this type of data and metrics allows everyone to understand where the organization is today, where it’s going, and if it’s putting “its money where its mouth is” as far as those efforts go. DEIB data and metrics are crucial for transparency and overall success.

Additionally, data and metrics can help leaders create business cases around DEIB efforts, which are important for getting buy-in and launching more comprehensive DEIB initiatives. Also, that kind of data and metrics can help leaders understand the ROI of their efforts.

Why Is It Often Not Used?

Despite their proven success and benefits, many organizations still do not utilize DEIB data and metrics. To start, there is sometimes confusion about what exactly constitutes trackable DEIB metrics and if there is an exact understanding of the process. There aren’t always measuring systems in place to properly track this data.

DEIB data ownership can also sometimes be murky since this data might come from several areas of an organization. Lastly, if DEIB data isn’t correlated to overall business goals, it can sometimes get lost in the shuffle, even if collected.

To properly track DEIB data and put it to work, leaders can first establish key metrics to track in their organization and understand how to use them.

5 Diversity Metrics You Should Be Tracking

With that in mind, here are five key DEIB metrics leaders should track in their organization.

1. Gender

Gender diversity data can include information about the total workforce, what types of roles are held by different genders, how much new hire turnover there is per gender, and gender information regarding senior leadership roles.

2. Racial Identities

Racial identity diversity data can include information about the total workforce, the types of roles held by those with different racial identities, how much new hire turnover there is, and racial identity information regarding senior leadership roles.

3. Disability Status

Disability diversity data can include information about the total workforce, the types of roles held by those with different disability statuses, how much new hire turnover there is, and disability status information regarding senior leadership roles.

4. Sexual Orientation

This is another crucial diversity metric to measure if your employees provide sexual orientation data. Data can include information about the total workforce, the types of roles held by those with different sexual orientations, how much new hire turnover there is, and sexual orientation information regarding senior leadership roles.

5. Hiring/Recruiting Information

Hiring information refers to the diversity of your applicants for open roles and the diversity of the candidates interviewed, candidates offered positions, and candidates offered leadership positions. The source of candidates can also be tracked.

What Are Equity Metrics?

Similarly to diversity metrics, equity metrics can be measured in an organization. These can include metrics about different opportunities and access that employees receive, such as the following.

Performance Opportunities

Performance opportunities include promotion rates, how long it takes for employees to receive promotions, how projects and responsibilities are assigned, and how frequently employees have 1-on-1 access to managers. These figures should be organized by different demographics of employees (race, sexual orientation, age, etc.) so an organization can best understand how equitable its performance opportunities are.

Learning and Development Opportunities

Learning and development opportunities might include training programs, mentorship, or leadership advancement. Leaders can look at how often employees had access to these opportunities, how much time employees spent on them, and how accessible these training programs were.

Compensation Opportunities

Measuring compensation DEIB data can include monetary and non-monetary payments and might include data regarding annual raises, access to parental leave, and bonuses, for example. It can also include compensation offers given to new hires based on demographic information.

How Are They Different From Inclusion Metrics?

Why is data on diversity and equity separate from inclusion metrics? As we discussed earlier, diversity and equity data is mainly collected from workplace data and might be supplemented by employee feedback.

On the other hand, inclusion is almost entirely measured through employee feedback and is also heavily impacted by diversity and equity initiatives. For example, in order to gauge inclusion, leaders can conduct surveys that understand individual employee sentiment. Also, if efforts are made in diversity and equity, there will likely be positive impacts in both the inclusion and belonging categories.

How Can DEIB Metrics Actually Be Used?

DEIB metrics can be extremely useful for an organization in several ways. First, these metrics help leadership understand how successful their DEIB efforts actually are and if these efforts are landing as intended.

Secondly, DEIB metrics can help organizations operate with transparency towards these efforts and share that information with their employees. It’s one thing for an organization to say it’s “diverse,” and it’s another thing entirely for that diversity to be demonstrated.

The good news is that most workers and employers say their organizations are making efforts to advance DEIB in the workplace, showing that there is essentially universal buy-in and empathy for the DEIB cause. Measuring DEIB metrics can help organizations ensure they’re putting efforts in the right place and closer to reaching their DEIB goals.

How Employer Branding Impacts Your Hiring

This article was originally published by Will Reed and does not necessarily reflect the perspective of Insight Partners. Insight Partners is an investor in Will Reed.


The hiring process of today’s business landscape isn’t like the hiring process of years past. For example, it’s not enough to simply post a vacancy and wait for top-tier talent to flock to your front door. No, more and more, acquiring excellent talent is competitive and challenging. But one element that can help companies (particularly fast-growing startups) attract world-class talent and excel at the hiring process is employer branding. That’s because employer branding gives companies a competitive edge during their hiring process, due to the fact that prospective employees will be attracted to a company for its credentials and reputation.

Think of it like this: employer branding is a startup’s secret weapon, which can help it not only attract the best talent, but also ensure better employee onboarding and retention, all while lowering hiring costs.

Why Is Employer Branding Important?

What exactly is employer branding, and why does it play such a critical role in the hiring process? Employer branding is how a startup markets itself to prospective employees, similar to the way that the brand itself markets itself to prospective customers. Employer branding includes the reputation a company has as an employer and what a company’s unique employee value proposition (EVP) is to prospective employees.

Employer branding isn’t only nice to have and doesn’t just include “perks” for employees. Increasingly, employer branding is becoming a critical component of the hiring process, and something that prospective employees weigh heavily during their job search process. For example, 86% of employees say they research a company and look at reviews before deciding where to apply for a job.

Employer branding also gives companies incredible leverage in an increasingly competitive job market. There is a growing global talent shortage rattling the workforce, with 75% of employers saying they’re experiencing trouble hiring. Strong employer branding can be a huge asset to not only help draw in talented employees, but to also retain them for the long run.

What’s an Employer Branding Strategy?

Deploying and leveraging excellent employer branding requires an employer branding strategy. An employer branding strategy is a comprehensive, front-to-back plan which helps companies take control of their reputation as a place of employment. It includes not only fine tuning what is being offered to prospective employees, but also stepping into the shoes of these potential new hires to see how employment is being interpreted.

What’s Included in Employer Branding?

There are several elements of employer branding that companies can use to attract top talent:

  • Public reviews: Public reviews can carry a lot of weight in the hiring process, with 50% of employees saying they wouldn’t work for a company with a bad reputation. With that in mind, an employer’s public reviews should ideally include positive feedback from current and former employees.
  • A career site: While vacancies might be posted on job boards and other third-party sites, it’s important that all roads lead back to a company’s main careers website. This can help show the legitimacy of a company, as well as showcase the company culture, alongside other information, such as benefits and perks.
  • Social Media: majority of job seekers today use social media when conducting their job search, while 65% of employees would be open to hearing about new jobs through social media. With that in mind, companies can leverage social media to cultivate communities, drive interest in positions, and open lines of communication with potential employees.
  • Hiring websites: Many prospective employees are searching high and low for the perfect position, meaning that they’re likely using job aggregation websites such as Indeed and Monster. Brands looking to master employer branding should have a presence on these sites, to increase awareness and recognition.

7 Ways Employer Branding Impacts Hiring

Higher Quality Job Applicants

When employer branding is all over the place, interested candidates are going to be all over the place. One of the biggest benefits of solid employer branding is that the culture of a company is made apparent, along with necessary hiring qualifications such as preferred work experience and individual values. For example, if a startup has a reputation for being an excellent place to work and excepting only a few excellent hires a year, this can create some very healthy competition around talented candidates, who are vying for a position at this company.

Lower Turnover

Employer branding doesn’t only make a company more attractive as a place of employment in general. It makes a company more attractive to the right employees, who align with that company. This means that more often, new hires are an accurate fit, who match not only the skills and talent needed for the job, but also match the culture of the organization as a whole. This reflects in higher employee retention and less turnover, with data revealing that companies with excellent employer branding see around 28% less turnover than companies that don’t.

Reduced Per-Hire Cost

Companies with excellent employer branding will end up spending less money on their hires, because their good reputation essentially works to bring in more applicants for vacant positions and to help fill empty seats more quickly. Data tells us that when top candidates want to work for an organization, the cost of recruiting plummets more than 40%. Plus, we know that vacant seats can cost companies thousands and thousands of dollars per month, and far more for executive positions and other leadership roles. When a company has stronger employer branding, more candidates will flock to open positions, meaning vacancies can be filled as efficiently as possible.

Better Onboarding Experience

Strong employer branding means that candidates will understand what a company is about, what they’re looking for in a candidate, and what they stand for. This means that candidates are far more likely to be aligned with the companies they’re applying for, and an all-around better fit. Once candidates are hired, this can translate into a far superior and smoother onboarding experience. For example, if a candidate is hired who is not aligned with a company due to unclear employer branding, the onboarding process is likely going to be a rocky affair. But if everyone is on the same page, onboarding will be smooth and seamless.

Better Hiring Experience For Everyone

Candidates want to go through hiring processes where they’re well-suited for the position and the company, because it’s a better use of their time, and more likely to result in a successful hire. Likewise, employers want to speak to highly qualified candidates who are an excellent match for the position and company as a whole, and who are going to stick with their company for the long run. Strong employer branding means that well-suited candidates will be part of the hiring process, which means an overall better hiring experience for everyone involved.

Stronger Hiring Capabilities

Employer branding is a very valuable asset in the hiring process because it can vastly increase a company’s hiring capabilities. For example, in one survey, more than 40% of passive candidates said they would take a new position without an increase in compensation, based on strong employer branding alone. This can be especially useful in the startup landscape, where businesses might offer an array of benefits and perks in addition to salaried compensation, in order to make up the entire employee value proposition.

Improved Employee Culture

Strong employer branding helps attract top-tier candidates who are not only a fit for the vacant position itself, but who are also culturally a great fit for the organization as a whole. With that in mind, excellent employer branding can help contribute to improved employee culture within an organization. That’s because employees who are brought on board are a cohesive fit across the board, and also likely contribute to the overall company culture.

Startup Hiring and Brand Recognition

This article was originally published by Will Reed and does not necessarily reflect the perspective of Insight Partners. Insight Partners is an investor in Will Reed.

Tackling Startup Hiring Without Brand Recognition

Your founding team, your first hires, and your first rounds of funding. These are just a few of the things that can greatly impact the trajectory of your startup. Something else that influences the direction of your startup? Your branding, and brand recognition (or lack thereof).

Brand recognition is a tricky thing. It can be difficult to build from nothing as a new startup and without it, it’s hard to actually build your company. It’s a bit of a vicious cycle, if you will. Namely, a lack of brand recognition can impact things like startup hiring, because it can be an Achilles’ heel for attracting top talent. This matters, because who you hire as a new startup is crucial to scaling your business, and growing it in the direction you really want.

What exactly is brand recognition, and why can it weigh so heavily on startup hiring? Brand recognition is how well consumers (or potential hires) know your brand and can recognize it. It can be triggered by your logo, colors, and even music. For example, when you see the Starbucks logo, you recognize that it’s one of their coffee shops, or if you hear the first few notes of a jingle, and know the brand instantly.

When a brand has strong recognition, it can lean on that recognition during the hiring process to attract top talent. But here’s the thing: as a new startup, your brand likely won’t have any recognition just yet. So it needs to take a specific approach to hiring new team members, in order to compensate.

What Makes Startup Hiring so unique?

While they might seem like similar processes on the surface, startup hiring is quite different than hiring at a more established company. Firstly, because new startups are still growing and who you hire has greater weight – especially in the earliest stages.

Each new hire can heavily influence the culture of your startup. Specifically, each new hire brings something to the table, and what they bring to the table will impact the direction of your company, what it’s like to actually work there, and what work you’re able to accomplish.

What else makes startup hiring so unique? Candidates might view your startup as somewhat risky, especially when compared to a traditional, more established company. The startup landscape can feel uncertain, and for new hires, choosing a startup over a well-established company can feel like they’re taking a chance.

And it’s not just a feeling: research tells us that about 90% of startups fail, with 10% failing in the first year. In order to attract top talent, startups have to showcase their stability and potential for longevity, so candidates feel secure choosing them.

Budgets for salaries also tend to be different at startups, and compensation can include plenty of interesting options in addition to their pay. Startups typically pay their employees at least a little bit less than a top-dog competitor company would be able to, but they can include different attractive benefits, along with equity and stock options in their compensation package.

Lastly, another element that makes startup hiring unique is the fact that you don’t have a brand to lean on. As we touched on earlier, brand recognition can be crucial to the hiring process. Research reveals that candidates are 40% more likely to apply for jobs at a company where they recognize the brand, when compared to a brand they haven’t heard of. And on the employer side of things, 80% of hiring managers believe that employer branding significantly impacts hiring great talent.

When potential new hires are looking for new employers, a company name that has brand recognition might seem like a more attractive candidate. Startups need to overcome this branding obstacle in order to compete with known brands to top-tier talent.

What Do We Mean By “Employer Brand”?

What exactly does the term “employer brand” refer to, and what does it include? You might have a general idea of what employer brand means, but let’s get super specific. Employer brand refers to the look, feel, and messaging of your company.

It includes stylistic choices (what colors are used in logos, and what fonts on the website), culture choices (what values your company prioritizes and how they’re demonstrated), and messaging choices (slogans and phrases).

Ultimately, your branding should match your startup’s personality, mission, and goals. For example, a more serious company should most likely have a more serious website and direct messaging, not something with bright colors, a cursive font, and playful words.

All in all, employer branding is felt by both your employees and your customers, and it needs to be cohesive and complete, in order for recognition to start building around it. That brand recognition is crucial from a customer’s perspective, but also when it comes to startup hiring.

Why is an Employer Brand More Important Today Than Ever Before?

An employer brand has always been crucial, but it might be more important today than ever before. That’s because of the competitive nature of the startup landscape, combined with the stiff competition from well-established companies for top talent. It’s important to remember that one of the main reasons that startups fail is because they get beat by their competition. But a startup with an incredibly strong employee brand can pull in more top-talent candidates, and can therefore have a stronger team than their competitors.

Employee branding doesn’t only help with startup hiring: it also helps with talent retention. One LinkedIn report revealed that employee turnover can be reduced by 28% by investing in employer branding. Once a startup hires a great candidate, strong branding can help that new hire feel like they made the right choice, and that they’re working at a powerful company that’s on an excellent trajectory.

If employer branding is all over the place, a new hire might feel like the company itself is uncertain, and they might be tempted to leave and head to a competitor that feels more defined and stable.

There’s a third big reason why employer branding is more important today than ever before: and that’s the era we’re in when it comes to digital tools and hiring technologies. When candidates are looking for positions, they’re comparing vacancies online against each other, leaning on a company’s branding and digital footprint to do so.

Who would choose a company with a question mark for a logo, over a company with excellent brand presence? If you’ve looked at different online vacancies yourself, you know just how varied employer brands can be.

Lastly, an employer brand means much more than the colors and logos you choose, and it really comes down to representing the culture at your organization. An employer’s branding needs to match and represent its culture in order to attract talent that’s in alignment. In some ways, an employer brand says more than the words that are used, and really conveys the true messaging and culture of your startup to your audience.

How Do You Put Culture Into Words?

What exactly is culture when we’re talking about a startup? It’s the culmination of formal and informal actions and expectations, and reflects what it’s like to be part of your company, and to work with it. It can include a startup’s values, beliefs, practices, policies, and goals. It also influences how employees execute their jobs and how they work with customers and each other.

Culture is not just created by one aspect of your company, and instead, is the sum of its collective behaviors, actions, and beliefs.

When we’re talking about employees, culture becomes a crucial factor in who a startup hires, and if an employee will be a good fit at a startup. If you have several equally-matched candidates as far as skills go, the deciding factor is cultural alignment.

How Do You Use Those Words to Attract Talent?

The bottom line is that a company’s culture drives how it acts, and who it attracts. And because culture is a culmination of tangible and intangible aspects of an organization, employer branding plays a big role in it. As we mentioned before, a company that has a serious mission will likely use branding to match, so candidates who are in alignment with this brand can apply.

In short: culture, words, phrases, designs, and missions of employer branding will determine which types of candidates apply for vacancies, which is why employer branding is so critical for the startup hiring process.

4 Ways to Build a Proper Employee Brand for Your Startup

With all of that in mind, here are four ways to build a proper employer brand for your startup.

1. Define you goals and values.

In order to create an excellent employer brand, it’s important that there is a clear understanding of your company’s goals and values. It’s not enough to understand what your main product is, or what service you want to provide for your customers. What values does your organization want to complete its work with? What are your long-term visions and goals? How can you define these objectives in ways that can be shared and understood organization-wide?

2. Identify your company culture.

Company culture impacts your employer brand, and your employer brand needs to represent your company culture. In order to define your company culture, you can determine what your company’s attitudes and beliefs are, and create policies around them. You can come up with words, phrases, or ideas that define your company’s culture, and institute policies that embody them.

3. Come up with an EVP.

An EVP, or employer value proposition, are the benefits and perks a company provides to its employees in exchange for their skills and talents. It’s how startups (and other companies) attract highly-skilled candidates, and stand out from their competition.

An employer value proposition is where you get to deliver on the promises and ideals that are shared in your branding and company culture. For example, if your brand is supportive of families, it might offer extended paid maternity and paternity leave, as well as access to reproductive services. The purpose of an EVP is to have a positive influence on candidates, and to answer the candidate’s question of “What’s in it for me?”

4. Establish branding guidelines.

In order for a brand to gain recognition, it needs to be consistent, obvious, and uniform. There can’t be a different version of your logo on Twitter and on your website. Even slight differences should be unacceptable. In order to ensure branding is used properly and consistently, leadership should create brand guidelines, which outline every aspect of your brand. This can include look and feel (colorways and logo usage), along with messaging, phrasing, and even guidance on actions and communications.

Can You Build a Startup Without Brand Recognition?

While it’s absolutely possible to build a startup team without brand recognition, it can be a little bit trickier than if you have a weighty brand to lean on. Here are some tips you can keep in mind when building a startup without brand recognition.

1. Solidify your employer brand.

A strong employer brand is important for attracting top talent, and even though you might not have the brand recognition just yet, you’ll need to create a brand that is designed to be recognized. When potential candidates check out your company, they should understand your company through your branding, and should feel as though it’s professional and in alignment with its purported values. Ideally, one day your brand will have recognition, so you should act like it does from Day 1.

2. Serve your customers (and excel at it).

When it comes to building a startup without brand recognition, guerilla marketing can be your friend. And who is a bigger proponent of your brand than happy customers? Happy customers are likely to brag about your services to a friend or peer in their field, and word-of-mouth recommendations can be a powerful asset for building your brand.

3. Create an online presence.

We all know the saying “Fake it ‘till you make it,” and this can be said for brand recognition. You should have an online presence that oozes your brand, so when prospective candidates Google you, they see your company all over the place. You can create social media accounts that share updates about your company, have a main website that’s user-friendly, and send out a monthly email, for example.

Steps like these can help your startup build the foundation of brand recognition. You might think that having an online presence isn’t all-too-important, but surveys reveal that 79% of candidates use social media in their job search.

4. Have different channels of communication. 

When a brand has recognition, people seek out jobs with that company (even vying for positions) and habitually check their hiring pages for vacancies. Without brand recognition, startups need to maximize their communication channels, in order to reach their target audiences. Your own website and social media channels are great places to start, but you can also branch off into guest posts and different online communities.

5. Be intentional with your hires.

As we mentioned previously, who you bring on board your startup really matters, especially in the earliest stages of your company. These new hires will influence your company trajectory and culture, and will impact how other new hires feel about your organization. Make sure you’re choosing team members who are aligned with your brand and mission, and who ultimately help to further it.

6. Bring on a Head of Talent.

When you’re trying to build out your team, you should eventually aim to have a designated expert on your team, who is focused on recruiting, such as a Head of Talent. Hiring someone to build your team might seem like a big investment, but remember, this is a designated team member who is completely focused on bringing on additional talent through recruitment.

They can build a recruiting network, work with other talent professionals, and identify potential candidates who are an excellent fit for your company and match your startup’s culture.

7. Tap into startup hiring resources

There are plenty of startup hiring resources that can help you source, recruit, and attract top-tier candidates. These include recruiting resources, which might help you set up hiring infrastructure, have deep talent networks to tap into, and know how to focus on company culture. You can also utilize job fairs, hiring platforms, and alumni networks at universities.

How to Use Your Employer Brand in the Hiring Process

Your employer brand can be a powerful tool for many things, such as attracting customers and securing funding. It can also be valuable in your hiring process in many different ways. Firstly, you can lean into your employer brand when writing job descriptions to make sure you’re attracting candidates who are in alignment with your vision and goals. You can also use employer branding to direct what qualifications you’re looking for and what skills you’d like candidates to bring to the table (hard skills and soft skills).

Startups that are hiring should aim to strengthen their employee branding to the point that it helps them compete against larger, more established companies for talent. By communicating your brand’s vision, goals, and methodologies, you can show talent exactly why they should want to work at your organization.

12 Must-Ask Questions When Hiring A CMO

This article was originally published by Will Reed and does not necessarily reflect the perspective of Insight Partners. Insight Partners is an investor in Will Reed.

Most early-stage founders know exactly what it means to be a jack-of-all-trades, because you typically need a wide range of skills not only to conceptualize and create your business, but to run it from day one. But as most founders quickly realize, just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. Take your company’s marketing, for example.

Just because a founder is skillful in social media marketing doesn’t mean they should be the one to manage the Instagram account. With that in mind, there’s probably going to be a point in a founder’s early-stage startup’s journey that they need to bring on a Chief Marketing Officer (CMO).

Why are CMOs so crucial to an early-stage startup’s success? CMOs take ownership of a business’ marketing plan, but they do far more than just that. CMOs look for ways to drive revenue using powerful marketing and advertising strategies, they oversee all of the marketing employees, and they meet with other executives to ensure the marketing department is delivering on business-wide goals.

Marketing is a vital part of any business, but especially for early-stage startups, which need to make sure they’re not in the 20% of startups that fail within the first year. CMOs take on these crucial responsibilities, and execute them with C-suite precision. If you’re thinking about hiring a CMO, here’s everything you need to know, plus key questions you should ask candidates during the hiring process.

When Is it Time to Hire a CMO?

When you’re assembling your team of leaders at your growing early-stage startup, it can be tricky to decide when exactly to hire for certain positions, especially for leadership and C-suite positions. So, how exactly can you decide on the right time to hire a CMO? Here are a few things you can consider.

Firstly, founders should take into account the current size of their marketing team. If there are only one or two marketing professionals on board (and the plan is to keep it that way for the next year or two) then it might not be time to look for a CMO just yet. But if a marketing department is more substantial, this might mean that having a CMO can benefit a company and its marketing team.

Next, founders can consider why they want to bring on a CMO. Some individual reasons (such as more leads or revenue) might not necessarily warrant a full-fledged CMO. But if a startup has comprehensive, complex needs that require a full-time executive to oversee, then this might be an indicator that a CMO will be beneficial.

Lastly, founders can look at the resources they’re putting into marketing, and that they would like to in the near future. In general, research shows that marketing budgets and spending are on the rise, with spending growing at its highest rate in over a decade. If a startup has a substantial marketing budget, a CMO just might be the right person to manage and direct it.

12 Must-Ask Questions

After deciding that now is indeed the right time to bring on a CMO, early-stage founders then need to execute the hiring process. This involves sourcing candidates, conducting interviews, and ultimately selecting your new hire. Whether a founder chooses to find their own candidates or use executive recruiting services, they still need to ultimately conduct interviews.

From a founder’s standpoint, nailing the interviewing process is critical. Interviews don’t only reveal key details about your candidates. They ultimately reveal if they match your company’s culture, and if they’ll be an excellent fit with your startup in the long run.

Research reveals that almost half of job seekers have turned down jobs because of negative experiences during the hiring process. In order to avoid this and other hiring mistakes during the process of bringing a CMO on board, here are 12 must-ask questions to ensure you bring on the perfect candidate.

How Do You Ensure Strategy Becomes Action?

It’s one thing to have big ideas, but it’s another to be able to actually execute them. Founders should ask this question (or something similar) to see how their candidates plan to actually execute their vision. Components of a good answer might include confirming alignment with business needs, setting goals and timelines, distributing responsibilities, and measuring results with metrics and data.

Pitch Our Company

Sometimes called an “elevator pitch,” this question is tried-and-true for good reasons. This prompt gets candidates to pitch themselves to you on the spot. Not only can you potentially learn a lot about a candidate (such as their skills, background, unique qualities, and why they should hire you) you can also see if they’re able to be persuasive and memorable, which would come in handy if they were to take on the role of CMO.

What’s Always On Your Marketing Dashboard?

CMOs should be data-driven, and should be able to really define what success means for them when it comes to marketing. Asking what’s on their marketing dashboard can reveal what key metrics they value the most, and why. This can help you understand how this potential CMO can use data to drive real results.

How Do You Uniquely Approach Branding?

Branding is a key responsibility of a CMO, and every person is going to bring their own unique flavor and practices to your startup. And while branding matters to your business, it also matters to your customers. For example, it takes visitors to your website just 0.05 seconds to decide if they like it or not.

Asking about your candidate’s approach to branding can help founders gauge their candidate’s perspective on branding, in order to ensure that it’s in alignment with their own perspective, and their company’s goals.

How Do You Approach Market Research?

Unfortunately, some of the top reasons startups fail is due to a lack of research, or because they’re in the wrong market. With that in mind, it’s important to understand how exactly your candidate plans to tackle this key issue, and to make sure they deeply understand it

What’s Your Communication Style?

Every candidate is going to have their own habits and styles, and it’s important for founders to understand if these styles work with their startup. For example, mismatched communication styles between a new hire and the business can lead to confusion and conflict. Questions like this can reveal if a candidate is truly a good fit for a startup.

Pitch Us On an Object in This Room

This classic interview question gives your CMO candidate the chance to show their sales skills, along with their communication and persuasion skills. You can also get a glimpse of how well they can understand customer pain points at a moment’s notice, and if your candidate seems prepared to solve them.

If You Could Restart Your Career, What Would You Alter?

This reflective question can give founders insight into what their candidate’s career actually looked like in the past, and how they’ve grown along their journey. While where your candidate is today is more important than what their past looks like, this question can also reveal habits or traits about your candidate that they may not openly share.

For example, if they say they would have stayed at their earlier positions for more time, you might pick up on the fact that they’ve bounced around a lot. This is then a question you can ask, to ensure they want to stay with your company for the long haul.

What’s Something You’ve Learned in the Last Year?

When someone is running at full steam ahead at an advanced point in their career, they might not always be actively learning lessons. Asking this question can open up the floor for your candidate to share something relatively recent that they’ve learned, which can help founders understand if their candidate is an ongoing learner. You can also gauge what unique insights they can bring to your startup as a leader.

How Do You Lead Inbound vs. Outbound Marketing?

During the interview process, one of the biggest goals is to understand your potential CMO’s specialties, styles, and skills. Asking them specific questions like this about their marketing preferences can help you understand if their style matches your own, and if they’re ultimately in alignment with your company’s culture.

What Would Your Third and Fourth Months Look Like Here?

Joining a new company in a C-suite position is a big undertaking, and the first few months can be a dynamic experience of learning, growing, and transitioning. While the first few months will probably mostly consist of onboarding and becoming acquainted with the role, the 3rd and 4th month might be when your new CMO really gets to come into their own in this position.

What Are the Biggest Marketing Challenges Today, and How Are You Overcoming Them?

The marketing landscape is riddled with ever-changing challenges, and startups need a CMO who doesn’t only understand these challenges, but who can navigate them with ease. Asking this question can help you understand how well your candidate understands the challenges they might face, and how they can overcome them.

What’s Your Executive Hiring Strategy?

This article was originally published by Will Reed and does not necessarily reflect the perspective of Insight Partners. Insight Partners is an investor in Will Reed.

There are plenty of things in life that you can tackle with a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants approach. Tonight’s dinner recipe, your next first date, and what you’re going to wear to tomorrow’s event might be on the list. What shouldn’t be on the list of things to “just go for” is executive hiring at your startup.

When you’re a startup focused on growing into your dream business, you need to bring on executives who are going to contribute to your dream, align with your vision, and ultimately help your startup flourish. That’s why when you’re looking to bring on executives, you should deploy an executive hiring strategy.

What is an executive hiring strategy?

In order to understand exactly what an executive hiring strategy is, and what yours should look like, we can start with what a typical hiring strategy might look like. Let’s say you’re looking to hire an entry level employee. Your hiring strategy might start with shoring up your branding, posting your vacancy, combing through responses, and starting the interview process. Once you meet a suitable candidate, you’ll likely hire them.

When it comes to executive hiring, this standard hiring strategy likely isn’t going to cut it (we’ll dive into why in just a moment). So instead, you need a strategic and tactful executive hiring strategy, which involves having answers to critical questions, creating an efficient hiring process, knowing how to reach executive candidates, and holding a successful interview process.

Why can’t you just wing it?

Why does executive hiring require a special strategy, and why can’t you actually just wing it and hope for the best? First of all, reaching incredible candidates with executive potential isn’t as easy as you might think, and they’re unlikely to just end up in your inbox from a job posting. One survey by Statista found that 62% of respondents use executive search firms because it gives them access to “difficult to reach” candidates.

That means if you’re just sitting around waiting for your dream executive to appear, you might be waiting for quite a long time.

Also, it turns out that most executives actually want to be recruited. In one study, 97% of senior candidates in a company said they want to be “found” or “approached.”

And while these candidates might want to be approached, it turns out that there might not be an abundance of excellent executive candidates, making them potentially rare to come across. PwC found that 80% of executives think the top threat to their business is a scarcity of skills on the job market. This means that once you do actually find top talent for your executive vacancy, you want to make sure the hiring process goes off without a hitch.

What to prepare before building your strategy

Before you start building your executive hiring strategy, it’s important to create a rock-solid foundation for it. Here are some questions you can ask yourself, before committing to building an executive hiring strategy:

What do we want this new executive to take ownership of in our startup?

It’s not enough to just have a title and job description when hiring an executive. Your startup should have a very clear idea about exactly what teams, people, results, and goals you want this new executive to take full ownership of.

What skills gaps are we looking to fill?

When you’re a growing startup, it’s very likely that you’re working with limited resources, making executive hires even more important. You don’t want to hire an executive, only to find out that you actually need to hire someone else to perform other tasks or job functions. You should see what areas of your company really need the extra support, and be sure to hire for those gaps.

Is our hiring process streamlined?

There’s no room for error in the executive hiring process. Let’s say you have your dream candidate lined up and ready to go, but they’re asking questions about the job you don’t know the answer to, and your company has been slow to respond to them. This is a very dangerous formula for a candidate walking away.

Your hiring process should have all of the kinks sorted out before you start bringing on executives. While an excellent hiring process is important in general when building a team, it’s even more crucial when it comes to executive hiring.

What is our company culture?

Who you bring on as an executive could have a big impact on many aspects of your company, because that executive will have influence, and will leave their mark on your organization. With that in mind, you should have an excellent understanding of your company culture, so that you’re hiring people who align with it, and who help further it.

Five elements of a successful hiring strategy

With all of that in mind, here are the five key elements of a successful executive hiring strategy:

Identify the basics

Before you start the actual hiring process, there are many key questions that should have answers, and basic details that need to be sorted out. Think of it this way: you want to be able to answer every single (reasonable) question an executive candidate throws your way, especially if it’s something you should already know the answer to.

Basic information might include: where the role is located (or if it’s remote/hybrid), who this person will report to (and who will report to them), what their main functions are, and what their main initial goals are.

Create infrastructure

When it comes to attracting and ultimately hiring executive candidates, your hiring infrastructure really makes a difference. That’s why it’s important to ensure that your team is equipped to conduct this scale of interview process.

If you’ve never hired executives before, this might be daunting, since you might not know what to expect. But essentially, you want to ensure that everyone involved in the hiring process has the tools they need to execute it flawlessly. If you choose to work with an executive recruiting firm, they might help you with this process.

Do a walkthrough

Again, before you even speak to candidates, you should ensure that this executive hiring strategy is completely ironed out, from start to finish. Do a “walkthrough” of the process from the perspective of a new candidate, or have others work through this process with you. You might find that new questions come up, or that you discover a hiccup in the system.

Start sourcing candidates

Once you have a thorough understanding of the executive position, and your hiring process is smooth as butter, it’s time to start sourcing candidates. This is the largest, most comprehensive, and potentially the most challenging part of the executive hiring process. Here are ways that you can start sourcing potential candidates:

  • Post vacancy: While we discussed that this option is unlikely to yield results, some startups do choose to simply post their executive position, in case someone fitting does happen to see it. You might choose to do this in addition to other sourcing techniques.
  • Tap into your network: Your own professional network is likely a great place to start looking for executives. Think about people you know from other companies, and connections from your Linkedin network, for example.
  • Tap into your team’s network: Likewise, your team members probably also have great connections, and potential executive candidates. Put out the call for them to reach out to their network, and encourage team members to send great candidates your way.
  • Partner with an executive recruiting provider: Because of the challenges of finding excellent executive candidates, many startups choose to work with executive recruiters. These seasoned search teams typically have tons of expertise finding executives, have vast networks of connections, and can even help ensure you’re able to conduct a best-in-class interview process. They can also help complete the hiring process in a more timely manner than if you approach it on your own.

Conduct interviews

Once you’ve identified incredible candidates, it’s time to start the actual interview process. Interviewing potential executives is typically quite different from interviewing entry-level employees. There will likely be multiple rounds to this interview process, so it’s best to start with a pre-screening interview, where the basics are all ironed out. This information can then be shared with others in your company if need-be.

During the interview process, you should be sure to share far more than just the job details. Share your company culture, goals, ideals, and what you’re definitely not trying to do. Also, look to get similar information from your candidates, to find out if they truly align with your organization. The interview process should be thorough and help you really get to know your candidate on an individual level.

Seal the deal

Once you finally land on the perfect candidate who is more than happy to join your team, it’s time to make it official. This means having contracts ready and signed, and kicking off your onboarding process. With this in mind, you should have an onboarding plan already in place as well as a transition or integration plan in place, so that your new executive is able to get started seamlessly.