It's not unusual for us to meet a Founder/CEO or Head of People & Talent whose journey to our firm began with the disappointing decision to fire another recruitment firm. However, we should also point out that this scenario typically involves a product leader search (CPO, VP Product Management, or a "Head of" role).
By contrast, we don't often run into this scenario when tech companies engage us for searches in our Sales & Marketing Practices. When it comes to recruiting Product Management leaders, something else is required to 'get the job done’.
So why do most other recruitment companies struggle with product hires? Based on our work with clients, past failures have been caused by one of these three circumstances:
- Search firms don’t have a product management practices
- Recruiters who don't specialize are often unprepared
- Firms operating under a traditional model
Let's break that down:
1) Most Search Firms Don't Have a Product Management Practice
Product Management as a clearly defined function is one of the newer additions to tech org charts - historically sitting under Engineering or Marketing, it went unnoticed until it didn’t.
Based on our discussions with CEOs in 2021, it’s Product Management’s time to shine, with many stating a VP or Head of Product hire would be their single most critical addition in 2022 to realize their 3-year growth targets.
Despite the now critical nature of Product Management within tech companies, there is still a newness to the function for many recruitment firms. Until recently, there were fewer search opportunities across the industry, so it's not surprising that there were also fewer recruitment firms with a dedicated practice.
Martyn Bassett Associates has been in the executive search industry for 20+ years, helping venture-funded tech companies build teams that drive growth. We took on our first product role in 2006 and then launched a Product Practice in 2016.
Our team had the insight to double down on the function from its infancy and has represented hundreds of product candidates across North America and Western Europe for both B2B SaaS and consumer-facing digital experiences. It takes an investment over a long period to develop the muscles and knowledge to take on the weight of strategic product roles.
2) Recruiters Who Don't Specialize in Recruiting Product Talent Are Often Unprepared
Aside from the fact that most recruitment firms don't have a dedicated product practice, most Recruiters have never recruited for product management roles before.
For that reason, most Recruiters assigned their first search for a product leader are unprepared for the nuances of product personas. Common nuances missed by generalized firms include:
- Product leaders who build a business are different from those who can take a successful in-market product and scale it.
- Product leaders whose careers have been invested in front-end consumer experiences or native mobile apps are different from those who are back-end infrastructure-focused.
- Product leaders who live at the strategy ETL table, evaluate opportunities and make decisions to build/buy/partner are different from those more hands-on product leaders.
Understanding and being able to qualify against the nuance of skill sets of product leaders, while essential, is not something many generalist firms can do. So what began as our one Recruiter practice has now scaled to a team of Researchers, Recruiters, and supporting team members.
Our Practice Lead, Heidi Ram, has 23 years of search experience and spends her days engaged in discussions with product leaders across North America and coaching recruiters to find the world's best talent. This year Heidi was invited to join the Board of the Toronto Product Management Association to help advance the industry of product professionals. At any given time, our Product Practice is engaged in10-15 product-related searches across Product Management, Product Design, and Product Marketing.
3) Many Firms Still Operate Under a Traditional Retained Business Model
Traditional retained recruitment firms are an effective model for industries that are also traditional in how they are managed. A traditional retained search firm will often justify its ongoing retainer fees by layering on processes, reports, and documentation as well as search timelines that tend to be more drawn out.
Tech startups, however, are the complete opposite - scrappy, proudly agile, prone to action, and likely to pivot based on the data. And that’s how we built our retained search model.
We mirror our scrappy clients by being solely focused on outcomes - in our case, outcomes are always a hire. We believe in interviewing to hire - not Interviewing for the sake of interviewing.
We believe that less is more - any candidate we present will be worth interviewing and capable of doing the role successfully. Our team meets with our clients regularly to provide market and salary insights to help make better-informed decisions.
We can be as scrappy and agile as our client's teams need us to be. Looking to hire a VP Product in 33 business days? We've done that!
If you need to make the difficult decision to fire your current recruiter, focus on what your organization specifically needs from a recruitment firm before signing on for another search engagement.
Whether a resume shop for junior candidates, a traditional documentation focused firm for professional hires, or an agile firm focused on delivering talent for tech startups - every firm has its specialty. It's all about engaging the right partner.