"There's no way around it, recruiting is a time-consuming process." Amy Vernetti knows what she's talking about. She's a scarred veteran of the war for talent, and of its hottest battlefield — Silicon Valley. Vernetti recruited for the high-tech practices of both Heidrick and Struggles and Korn/Ferry International — the first- and second-largest executive-search firms in the world — before being recruited herself by Garage.com, where she now serves as an internal recruiter. Here are five maxims from her eight years on the front lines.
Kiss a Slew of Frogs
Don't hire the first person you like. Commit to meeting a lot of people — even though you won't like most of them. To find the best person, you must kiss a lot of frogs. If you don't think the person in front of you is a good fit for your company, use the interview to dig up information on your competitors, create a business-development opportunity (Who knows where your company's next alliance partner will come from?), or practice pitching your company. Regardless of the outcome, every candidate leaves your office and tells friends, family, and other potential candidates about your company. Transforming a failed candidate into a successful evangelist will only help your recruiting cause.
Pay What It Takes
Vernetti's rule on compensation: "Don't decide ahead of time what you're going to pay an employee." She says junior candidates will be motivated by the money, and senior candidates won't even hear out your pitch if they don't like the salary you've set. "The right answer when somebody asks, 'How much are you willing to pay?' is, 'Whatever it takes to get a great person,' " she advises.
If you need a compensation survey, ask your three favorite candidates what they're currently earning. Vernetti says most people interviewing with startups aren't looking for huge increases in compensation. You can often offer them a lateral move, with equity instead of a year-end cash bonus.
Use Your Weapons Well
In the war for talent, people are your weapons. Use them wisely. If you've got a charismatic receptionist, make sure he meets all the candidates. Same goes for board members, team members, and the CEO. "Nothing is more compelling than meeting the guy who wrote the first check," Vernetti says. Don't be afraid to pull all the stops to get the best talent you can.
At the same time, know all your targets. Candidates make decisions in conjunction with parents, spouses, children, and even psychic advisors. Always ask if somebody else is helping a candidate make his decision and, if you can, pitch the company to his advisor.
Avoid the Outsiders
"Search firms are costly and time-consuming," Vernetti says. "Any good recruiter will tell you to exhaust your internal network first. Make sure all your people know what positions need to be filled, and reward them for leads that pay off. If you do have to retain an outsider, follow these guidelines: First, hire an individual, not a firm. Big-name firms are fine, but you may do better with a local recruiter recommended by an investor or board member. Most importantly, find someone you are comfortable with. Second, not all recruiters are created equal. Run from recruiters who have lots of free time, who say it will be easy to get a good candidate, or who haven't recruited in your industry."
Recruit at parties, recruit on the train, recruit while waiting in line. Recruit early; recruit often. RECRUIT ALL THE TIME. Don't stop just because you've filled a position. You'll find more to fill.
You also never know what strange coincidences may foil your best efforts. "We recruited a candidate from Chicago," Vernetti says. "All her references checked out, everybody liked her, and she liked us. We emailed the paperwork to her so she could sign it when she returned home from the interview. When she arrived at O'Hare, her boyfriend was waiting for her with a wedding proposal — he had landed a job in another part of the country. It didn't work out."
Contact Amy Vernetti via email (firstname.lastname@example.org).