The top trends for executive recruitment in start-ups

How can start-ups make the executive hires that will help them to succeed?

The work that I have been, and continue to be, involved in around senior executive recruitment saw some significant changes during the past year. Particularly so in the types of ‘hot’ senior executive roles being sought by clients.

It is these changes that have prompted some discussion with friends and colleagues about the reasons behind this notable shift in demand and what it means for the year ahead.

The backdrop of a positive market, both in the UK and internationally, and better access to investment have played an important role in the demand for new talent. Link these two formative factors to the cyclical conditions which drive growth and we begin to understand the ‘stage set’ on which today’s businesses are playing.

So what were the roles in highest demand last year?

Hot Role Number One – Chief Operating Officer

The increase in demand for COOs is a reflection on how a buoyant market can impact a CEO’s time. Many CEOs are finding that they need to be out in the market building sales and strategic alliances and attracting more investment, whilst the COO is needed to keep the home fires burning and the company’s operations in good order.

The great thing about this role is that it opens up a very interesting career path for younger and aspiring CEOs to learn what the challenges and pressures look like at the top table.

Hot Role Number Two – Sales Director

This has been a time honored and key role in virtually every sales-led business, but now we see clients reaching a new level in their demand for ‘world-class’ individuals and proven capability. This means that internal appointments, whilst always attractive, are now being very closely scrutinized and matched against carefully selected shortlists drawn from the wider external market.

A ‘world-class’ candidate is more affordable in a positive market and the best are more likely to move roles when there is a compelling reason to do so. They have to be found, approached and courted as part of the process.

The reason behind this is that sales performance is improving and this positive market needs to be optimised to make the entrance of new competitors more difficult and to soak up the latent sales opportunities as buying appetite grows.

Hot Role Number Three – Interim to Permanent and the Use of Interim Managers / Directors

Finding the vital executive capability on a just-in-time basis is key to delivering on new commercial initiatives and we are seeing clients adopting a more ‘front foot’ approach to getting key projects delivered through the use of senior interims.

Related: Fast forward with interim managers

Where the projects are well set-up and the search for the interim effective, this produces excellent conditions to see the project deliver its desired results. The conditions for conversion require a strong performance and good to excellent cultural fit. My experience last year draws on a 60% conversion rate from interim to permanent.

Hot Role Number Four – ‘Going International’

While this is more of a ‘catch all’ term, we are seeing many companies take advantage of the market conditions, and to some extent, the uncertainty of the future in Europe, to drive export initiatives to the rest of the world. CEOs and Sales Directors are driving hard to achieve success in diverse markets to produce some future stability for their companies.

The attractiveness of the Asian and Far Eastern markets provides an allure which makes the gamble seem worth taking for many.

As to the future…..

Given that there are no seismic events on the horizon which are going to affect the existing conditions, we see activity in the areas of COO and Sales Directors continuing. The demand for Interims may well rise too, as companies see the optimistic plans requiring more delivery and performance.

With this there are likely to be more conversions to permanent, so for the career interims, this year may well be the year to re-enter permanent appointments in order to find the right challenge.

One role just beginning to surface fast on the radar is in the area of customer service. This role highlights that once won, a client or customer needs to be fully integrated into a company’s systems and products to ensure that the appropriate feedback and internal change happens to reduce ‘churn’. 

For some companies this role will be nothing new, but for others, it could provide the trigger which leads to a further securing of customer loyalty.

And two key roles to finish on which transcend all economic cycles, but which are formative in today’s trends are the CEO and the Chairman.

The demand for charismatic and extremely capable CEOs is continuing through all cycles.  This is the top executive role and with it comes the transient fame and fortunes which affect even the very best. The CEO is the pinnacle of operational leadership and the primary driver for so many of the key initiatives which make up a successful company.

Behind, and arguably above, every successful CEO is an excellent Chairman. Again this is a role which transcends all economic cycles. A great chairman who works effectively with the CEO, management team, NEDs, shareholders and stakeholders, is worth multiples of their fee.

The key is the right Chairman, now. We see trends in the way in which these are being identified by clients and gone are the days of the overly networked and connection based appointment….

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda was Editor for from 2016 to 2018.

Related Topics