Gordon & Eden Article in Tech City News: Headhunting Hacks

We have recently contributed opinion editorial for the latest Tech City News which has recently hit the streets. Only available in the print edition so article text below in case you missed it!


One of the biggest headaches for the London technology community is hiring. Survey after survey show that firms think talent is the biggest issue impacting on growth. This not only affects the start-up and scale-up markets but also established businesses who are increasingly hunting in the same candidate pool.

Nowhere is this issue more critical than at an executive level where the right leadership team, or key appointment to round out an existing team can make the difference between success or failure.

While nobody doubts that the market for digital talent is ever more competitive, that does not mean there are no solutions – you just need to know how to adapt your search for the market dynamics. Recruitment is no different from any other area of your business: if you hunt in the same terrain as your competitors and don’t have a stand-out opportunity, expect slim pickings.

There may be a talent war in the tech industry, but that doesn’t mean you have to fight the battle every time.  

Don’t get hung up on the poster child

From nimble tech startups to corporate giants, one trend we have seen time and time again has been the nervousness to look outside of the usual “poster hires” and go-to companies when hunting for executive talent.

We encourage businesses to think more strategically about talent to avoid simply going to the top ten obvious candidates who, trust us, will be receiving similar approaches from prospective new employers on a daily basis.

A high profile hire can make for an easy narrative when securing funding or corporate investment, so by no means avoid these big names. However, nobody represents a panacea and it is important to think about where else talented leaders can be found who might keep a slightly lower public profile despite being equally qualified and experienced.  Success should be calibrated by landing an outstanding individual, not just by securing one of the big names or brands.

Consider the step-up candidate

While taking the time to consider executives who keep a lower profile, we also encourage organisations to think about “step-up” candidates. While it is clearly important to find somebody who can perform at the level expected, people who might fall short on tenure or lack a specific field of experience can still prove to be credible candidates.

In fact, our experience has found that by considering these step-up candidates, organisations often find that they are hungrier for the opportunity than somebody who has already been through this journey.  Every C-level executive was once appointed to their first Board role and all too often that move initially happens as an internal promotion rather than in an external move.

Move quickly and decisively

It is bad business to hold job openings vacant ”“ not only due to the impact it has on your bottom line but because it will also deter potential candidates from engaging, wondering why it has sat on the shelf for such a long time. In a small and well-networked market, it is very easy for a role to become unfairly tarnished.  The best people will usually have many options and the longer your process, the greater the risk they will take another role, or lose interest altogether and decide to stay put. Inertia is critical.

We recommend that, once you have clearly defined your strategy for sourcing the talent, you work to defined timescales.  Any search, however exhaustive, will only ever be a window on the available talent at that point in time.

If you are confident you have a robust strategy for getting to a strong shortlist, then you should move through your assessment, referencing and get to offer as quickly as possible.

Choose the right partner

Often firms will manage to hire executive positions through their own network or direct sourcing. If you do choose to work with an executive search firm then make sure you always ask the following questions when deciding on who to partner with:

  • What track record do you have in hiring this profile role and which of those clients can we speak to for a reference on that work?

  • How long have you worked in the digital market?

  • Are the pitch team the ones who will actually be doing the work?

  • What is your “off-limits” list of clients you can’t search into?

  • Are your shortlist fees charged on presentation or our actual agreement that the shortlist is acceptable?

  • What kind of data do you provide during the process to help us understand how you have arrived at the shortlist?

  • What do you do to innovate in candidate sourcing?

  • How would you pitch this opportunity to a potential candidate and what reaction do you expect to get from the market?

  • How long do you guarantee appointments for? If the person doesn’t pass their probation will you be contractually obliged to find a replacement?

If you are not happy with the responses then it may be wise to speak with another firm.

Focus on the candidate experience at every step

Anyone who has recently had to fill an executive position will know that companies are fighting hard to land the best candidates. While you may think you have an incredible proposition to take to market, it is likely there are others that are just as compelling, also vying to land that person.

The candidate experience is essential at every step of the process: from the initial approach call to the warmth of the greeting when they turn up at reception. Try and place yourself in the candidate’s shoes; ensure the selling is bi-directional and, even if you decide not to hire the person, make sure their experience is positive and they would still advocate your brand. It is important to feed back promptly and ensure that responses to unsuccessful candidates are measured, objective and constructive.

Winning the war

There is little doubt that hiring leadership talent in the tech industry is more challenging than ever. The UK’s digital economy is thriving, attracting entrepreneurs from across the world; there have never been so many opportunities for our most talented minds. While some of these points may seem simple and obvious, all it takes is a slight edge to make all the difference in landing an outstanding executive team.

In a market that moves incredibly quickly, an aversion to risk should apply just as much to hiring strategy as the rest of your business.  For example, today’s step-up candidate is often next year’s poster child – so think about securing ‘talent’ in the broadest sense of the word.