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

Will Reed | June 23, 2023| 5 min. read
Birds in flight in gray hue

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.


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