Hacking Hiring: Candidate Edition

Photo of Monica Bua, Managing Director at executive search firm Morgan Samuels
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The job market is hot as companies race to hire executives from a limited talent pool. That’s good news for candidates, says Monica Bua, Managing Director at executive search firm Morgan Samuels. Monica built and now runs Morgan Samuels’ emerging products and technology practice, where she finds, assesses, and develops the leadership that transforms companies. We caught up with her to discuss how executives can hack the hiring process to take advantage of today’s job market, leapfrog up the corporate ladder, and shape opportunities on their terms. 

We’ve heard a lot about the fact that it’s a candidates’ market right now. Let’s dive into that. Why is there so much demand for talent?

There are a lot of factors. Our practice focuses on technology and emerging products, which is a sector that’s seen significant investment recently. Tech companies are growing quickly and can’t hire fast enough. Market forces mean that companies are competing to hire executives from a limited talent pool. That’s given candidates the upper hand when they apply for new roles. We’re seeing pretty crazy numbers right now: candidates are fielding three or four offers at a time, and they may also have multiple opportunities for internal promotion. 

The hiring process has gotten a lot faster as a result. Up until 2020, interviewing for an executive role meant traveling somewhere for several days of meetings. Those meetings are now happening virtually. Location, schedules, and time zones are less of a barrier, and what used to be a two-month process can be compressed to as little as two weeks. The velocity of opportunities is unprecedented—we’ve never seen anything like it. 

 What’s that like for you as a recruiter?

Landing A+ talent in today’s current market requires looking several concentric circles out in order to find the right prospective hires that companies are willing to take bets on. As recruiters it’s our responsibility to do due diligence. You still have to vet candidates properly. You still have to have tough conversations. Despite an accelerated timeline, candidates still need to put in the work identifying what they need to be successful in a role and getting to know their prospective employers. That’s the best way to ensure that this process works. 

The race to hire executives could backfire, especially for big tech firms that aren’t properly vetting candidates. We see a number of Silicon Valley companies short circuiting the interview process in order to compete with the market. They’re taking a person’s last job as validation that they can do the next job, which isn’t always the case. They’re also not always calling upon references. Forgoing those steps means they don’t get a full picture of the person they’re hiring—and as such there’s a much higher probability of failure.

What should executives keep in mind as they seek out new roles in this environment?

It’s important for emerging and seasoned executives alike to realize that they’re always a candidate, whether they’re actively looking for a new job or not. This is the kind of market where candidates can leapfrog into a role that previously might have seemed like it was five years down the line. Companies don’t have the luxury of hiring somebody who’s already done a given job—they’re hiring based on future potential. I think executives, or candidates seeking their first executive role, owe it to themselves to be proactive and see what’s out there. People worry that they don’t check all the boxes on a job description, but the truth is, hardly anyone ever does. It’s all about what you’re capable of doing—and that’s why I think it’s worth making a list of your top ten companies, thinking about where you want to be, and making and taking a few calls. Being proactive and deliberate can be very powerful. 

The candidates who end up happiest and most successful in their new roles are at companies where they connect with the people, values, and culture. It’s harder to get a sense of that in a virtual interview process when you aren’t walking the halls, having dinner with your future team, or meeting the board. I recommend setting up a thirty-minute meeting with your future boss with the express purpose of getting to know each other. You can also backchannel to learn more about the company, the remit, and what you’d gain by stepping into this role. 

It sounds like candidates still need to be strategic even though today’s market gives them an advantage. Are there specific tips and tricks you recommend for candidates that want to hack the hiring process?

Definitely. Starting by calling around to learn more about opportunities that interest you. Talk to your mentors. Backchannel the hiring manager or the board to figure out whether the company you’re considering working for is strategically investing in your focus area. Your responsibility is to get a sense of what’s really going on at a company. There’s so much buzz around certain companies, but they’re not all rocket ships. Does change signal positive transformation, or is the company undergoing a turnaround that’s a race to the bottom? Gaining that understanding will help you decide whether a role is right for you. 

It’s also critical to be straight forward with your recruiter about what you need right from the get-go. I recommend discussing your compensation requirements, desired location, and any NDAs or non-competes that you have right away. Then it’s important for your recruiter to get to know you on a human level. The more I can understand your values, goals, personality, and what you need for your life and family, the better able I am to identify roles that will excite and inspire you. 

Lots of candidates get anxious when they know they’re the second or third person in line for a role. But I always tell candidates not to focus their energy or attention there. If you end up getting the job, nobody’s going to remember that. Instead, center your attention on the open door. If it’s there, then go through. Take the opportunity in front of you, especially if it has the power to transform your career. 

Finally, know that you don’t have to settle for a less than ideal role. Opportunities are abundant right now, and you don’t necessarily have to have to live in a major city to find one. The beauty of this market is that you can shape your next opportunity on your own terms

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