Collaboration

An IT recruiter explains how he finds top executives for Internet companies

If you're an IT manager who is looking to advance into a CIO position, find out the characteristics one leading recruiting firm seeks when looking for top IT executives.

How does a leading executive recruiting firm find CEOs, CIOs, and directors who will become the leaders of the New Economy? We asked an expert from Russell Reynolds Associates, one of the world’s leading executive search firms.

Tuck Rickards, the leader of Russell Reynolds’ Internet Practice, specializes in assignments relating to the Internet and convergent technologies including e-commerce, software, and infrastructure.

Rickards has personal experience in the start-up world as the founder and CEO of Virtual Emporium, the world's first retail stores for online shopping. His work in the financial sector—including experience as a financial analyst at Goldman Sachs & Co.—also prepared Rickards for his role as a top recruiter.

TechRepublic: How does the recruiting process work in the Internet space?
Rickards: We’re a retained search firm, so we’re engaged by clients to fill positions that are typically VP level and above. In the Internet world, that could be a dot-com company that’s venture backed, or it could be an e-commerce initiative of a big company. It’s probably not two guys in a garage—it’s probably a venture-backed company with $20 million in funding looking for the senior management team. Most of our work would be in the CTO or CIO positions.

TechRepublic: How do they frame their requirements to you, in order to help you profile the position they’re asking you to help fill?
Rickards: They come to us with a team with some holes in it. The first step of the process…is to dig in and understand their business model. We seek to understand the existing organization, what’s there and what’s not. We get into a very fine level of detail on job specifications and the key competencies that are required.

TechRepublic: So I see this as a kind of a funnel process, where 25 possible candidates are identified at the top, and through this interviewing process the two or three likely candidates fall out.
Rickards: Can I add a level to this? Before the 25 candidates, there are 200 companies that the person could come from in five different market segments. When we work with clients, because no one has done this before, we ask what’s the job, what’s the position, what kind of skill sets do you need, and where could we go to find those? The tough part is that we have to be very broad and yet prioritize those market segments. Then let’s go find the individuals within those companies and get it down to a 25-person list, and then let’s take it through this interviewing filter.

TechRepublic: What are some of the characteristics you’ve identified that help you recognize good candidates for this new economy?
Rickards: Number one, they recognize opportunity…they recognize the big opportunities, the ones that their organizations should jump on. The second is that they radiate vision, and not just vision in the sense of being a compelling speaker. It’s someone who has a view of where the world’s going to be and will bend over backwards in every medium possible to communicate that to his or her team, clients, and customers. Next is the 80/20 mindset. The key point there is that it’s better to be 80 percent right today than 100 percent right tomorrow. One of the most difficult things for an Internet executive is forging a number of right decisions in a real-time environment with imperfect data. It’s easy to get paralysis if you’re not comfortable with that.

TechRepublic: Do people struggle with this concept that a good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow?
Rickards: The world is evolving around us and we don’t know what the right platform is a year from now. [But a CIO might say,] “Here are the four fundamental pieces we need today, so let’s pick these pieces, maybe on an outsourced ASP basis. [Let’s] get some more data over the next month or two about what our customers want...” To be able to dynamically develop and evolve those systems, that’s a critical piece of being successful.

TechRepublic: “Organizational Improvisation” is another attribute you’ve identified. Folks are playing multiple roles, CEO today, PR person tomorrow, investment banker the next day. There’s not a lot of clarity and definition around the job descriptions.
Rickards: In the entrepreneurial stage, everyone is a player in a jazz band, and you’re playing whatever role you’re asked to play without a real script in front of you.

TechRepublic: So how do you tell a compelling story that persuades talented people to participate in this process, to consider changing their lives to take on this new challenge?
Rickards: In today’s market, the one thing people don’t have a lot of is time. To the extent you have a relationship before you get to “This is the ideal one for you,” you’re more likely to be successful. The good firms will focus on the relationship aspect.
How often do you receive calls from executive recruiting firms? What advice would you give to other IT pros if they chose to work with a recruiting firm to find a new position? Post your comment here or send us a letter.

About

Rick Freedman is the author of three books on IT consulting, including "The IT Consultant." Rick is an independent consultant and trainer, working, through his company Consulting Strategies Inc., to help agile teams and organizations understand agile...

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