Why you should hire a talent person earlier than you think

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On average the first talent person is hire number 37 at B2B startups. At Zinc, we brought our first Talent person in as hire number 10. Here’s why…

Why you should hire your first talent person earlier than you think - Zinc

Zinc was a tiny team of 3 people for a long time, struggling to keep our heads above water. We went unpaid for long periods and scrutinised every penny. We stayed lean to try and reach a sustainable position. We were in survival mode.

But after 2 years, we did it and we made it out alive. When we had to switch gears and accelerate to start hiring, it felt unnatural. It meant fighting against our instinct to pour over every penny.

Now in 2022 we have punchy hiring plans ahead. For the first time, we’re considering doing things that don’t seem absolutely essential and finding that it’s quite a mindset shift. In survival mode you’d view any non-revenue generating role (like a recruiter) as non-essential.

I could of course put all my time into it, I used to be a Recruiter after all. But I appreciate recruiting is a craft and there are better people than me. Which strategy would you choose for the next 30 hires?

  1. Finding, attracting and onboarding the best 30 people for each job 30 times over.
  2. Finding, attracting and onboarding 1 person who’s great at hiring, then working with them to help make the next 29 hires.
Data from Linkedin on the average employee number a Talent person was hired into B2B API & Saas startups.

Data from Linkedin on the average employee number a Talent person was hired into B2B API & Saas startups.

While making this hire we learned:

  • When discussing sourcing with different candidates it was clear that as a tech startup, we needed someone with tech hiring experience. The job boards, the communication and sourcing techniques are all different. And tech hiring has been the hardest area to hire for.
  • In the same vein, delivering the hiring plans was at least a full-time job. We decided that it wasn’t going to be beneficial to try and bring a manager on, we needed someone purely hands on. It’s always tempting to bring someone with leadership experience in when they’re the first person in a team. But the primary problem to solve was making the next 40 hires.
  • We learnt that we weren’t going to try and solve two problems at once by hiring a people and talent person. The remit for our talent role was broad enough. It’s these kinds of nice-to-haves that lead to blended decision making, which detract from solving the most important problem. This can lead to mishiring: if you get distracted by ancillary skills that solve problems X and Y (for example) you’re not actually solving problems A and B, and ultimately will need to rehire.

We think if we delayed hiring:

  • We were probably missing out on a subset of job applicants due to the wording of our job specs. We were missing out on some applicants by not advertising certain role types on certain platforms. E.g boost a commercial role on LinkedIn and you’ll get a good return, boost a technical role and you will not. We learnt this the expensive way.
  • We were delaying recruiting for some jobs by not having the bandwidth to do enough outbound at the start. Certain roles get really low numbers of applicants (DevOps), you need to start sourcing early otherwise the team is going to waste time in limbo.
  • We would have wasted a lot of money. We would have spent money testing out different job boards and agencies. 40% of the B2B startup teams were working with an external talent agency according to LinkedIn.
  • The would have suffered. Being strapped for time and spread thin, we wouldn’t have given the best to all applicants that we aspire to. Candidate experience is a USP of Zinc so it’s of paramount importance to us.
  • We learnt that network counts. Someone who’s been at the right types of organisations, is going to have a head start when someone inevitably comes through their network.

Bringing in this Talent hire in early was polarising, some advisors said: “surely you don’t need this hire now” and others said ‘It’s a smart move’. Every founder with their can-do attitude thinks that they’re good at hiring. I’ve never met a Founder or VP who listed hiring as a weakness. Unlike professional software development the bar to entry is low to give it a go. You just have to write a job description and talk to people, right? This is why Recruiting and Talent is especially susceptible to the known domain bias. The headcount plan data in , showed that the founders had a bias to build bigger teams in domains they know well. Since very few founders are from Talent backgrounds, I think that Talent is a business area especially susceptible to the known domain bias. Since the role doesn’t typically require academic qualifications, people underestimate the levels of expertise in the domain of Talent.

“Hiring is one of the most important tasks”, “hiring is one of the hardest parts of startups” are two classic startup cliches. Yet we seem to delay bringing experts into this role. US startups don’t seem to fall into this trap as much, perhaps due to the conservative nature of European startups.

This can result in not hiring the right people, taking too long to fill critical hires, hiring with bias, and building up a degree of ‘; all of which the eventual Talent hire would have to work hard to fix. Ultimately the debt will build up long before that person arrives.

Some businesses with experienced hiring managers may thrive well past the industry average, if they dedicate some of their time to hiring. But Zinc’s hire number 10 had to be a Talent hire. Six weeks in, we are now a team of 14. This tells me we made the right decision.

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