Tim Walsh of Foundation Talent on Recruiting for Tech Companies

Recruiting for Tech

Tim Walsh specializes in digital marketing, sales, product, and professional services. In 2012 he co-founded ConnectedSearch, a boutique search firm in Boston and he spent eight years as the top-performing search consultant for a recruiting firm in Cambridge, filling more than 400 positions. Currently he’s a partner at The Foundation Talent, a recruiting firm specializing in VC and PE-backed tech companies. We recently checked in with him to get his take on the major trends and innovations in recruiting today as well as find out how both recruiters and job candidates should navigate today’s job climate.

How has recruiting changed since you started your career as a headhunter?

My recruiting career started in 2003. LinkedIn didn’t exist yet. Needless to say, it is the biggest game-changer the industry has seen in the past 13 years. It’s given everyone equal access to talent. But, despite better access, engaging and ultimately hiring top talent is still a challenge that requires dedicated effort and skill.

What is the current climate for recruiting marketing and sales talent for tech companies?

Since the recession of 2008-09, the job market has rebounded. We’ve been experiencing a strong job market for the past few years. Excellent sales people are in demand regardless of the state of the job market. The same can now be said for great marketers, as most marketing roles have evolved into data-driven positions that are crucial to generating sales.

In today’s candidate-driven job market, tech companies are finding the competition for sales and marketing talent to be tough. Sales and marketing folks who are actively looking for a new opportunity are often receiving multiple offers. The dollar value of these offers is usually similar, so companies are trying to differentiate on culture, perks, and opportunity for career growth based on the trajectory of their business.

What are tech companies looking for in the people they hire?

Beyond the basics (smart, motivated, team player, etc.), tech companies want to hire people who have “been there, done that”. The more specifically relevant a candidate’s experience, the better. For example, a SaaS company looking to hire a sales person might not consider someone who has SaaS sales experience UNLESS she has sold to the line of business (e.g. VPs of Marketing) the company sells to. Or a company that sells to consumers might not consider a marketer who has only done B2B marketing.

What types of job seekers are they passing over?

Often, it is the job seekers who don’t have the precise experience the company is looking for. It has increasingly become a “square hole, square peg” world. Also, a candidate’s years of experience comes into play. Companies don’t want to hire someone who’s overqualified (they may get bored in the role) or too junior (they won’t be able to hit the ground running). Lastly, culture-fit is important to most companies. If a candidate has all the skills to do the job on paper, but the company feels they are not a match for its culture, it will typically pass on hiring the person.

What skills do you wish more job candidates would bring to the table?

Two areas seem to be lacking in many candidates. One is ability to clearly communicate, verbally and in writing. In our text message and Twitter dominated world, short-hand communication rules, often to the detriment of any type of longer-form communication. The other is analytic skills. Most businesses today rely HEAVILY on data. Even if you have a background in the liberal arts, you should be comfortable embracing data and know your way around Excel. If you don’t, taking an Excel course is probably a good investment for your career.

How can sales and marketing professionals make themselves more attractive to tech companies?

For sales professionals, companies want to hire people with a track record of success. So, it’s important to highlight performance metrics on your resume (and on your LinkedIn profile). What is your percentage of quota? Where do you rank on your team? What are some of the key deals you’ve closed? Companies are going to ask these questions in an interview, so you should include them on your resume.

For marketers, metrics are also important. What ROI did your campaigns deliver? Or, how did they perform against goal? What size budget did you manage? Beyond metrics, it’s important for marketers to stay current with relevant tools, such as Hubspot, Marketo, Google Analytics and similar programs.

What are the smartest things a company can do to attract top talent?

I think opening a dialogue with top talent is the best place to start. This dialogue shouldn’t start with a recruitment pitch. It is more of a long-tail approach. For example, a VP of Marketing should make a point of attending local industry networking events. These events are great for meeting and engaging top talent. The VP should stay in touch with prospective candidates, maybe even solicit their thoughts on programs the VP is considering running. Developing this kind of relationship with a prospective candidate will greatly increase the chances of landing that person when the time is right.

The other thing a company can do to attract the best people is to maintain a high bar for talent. Great people want to work with other great people.

How should companies be using online resources to search for and learn more about potential recruits?

LinkedIn Groups are a good place to look for candidates. Also, LinkedIn’s publishing platform gives you access to content a potential recruit is publishing on the site; these posts will give you more insight into a person’s area(s) of expertise. (And will also give you a good way to engage them, allowing you to lead with your thoughts on what they’ve written).

Most recruiters will also cross-reference recruits they find on LinkedIn on Facebook and Google. If you can learn about a potential recruit’s professional and/or personal interests, it can allow a recruiter to reach out in a more personalized way, increasing the odds the person will engage.

What are the dangers or risks of over-relying on online resources?

Utilizing online resources shouldn’t be a recruiter’s only method of reaching and engaging potential candidates. For many professions — namely IT, sales and marketing — there is “recruiter fatigue”. These people are contacted regularly by recruiters, so they tend to tune out the messages over time. Recruiters need to think creatively — how can they make their outreach stand out from the crowd? Polite persistence also goes a long way. Many recruiters today will email a candidate once and won’t follow-up with a call, another email, etc. People are so busy that a lack of response after one outreach does not necessarily mean they aren’t interested in talking.

What trends or innovations are you following in the world of recruiting today?

One major trend that has been happening slowly over the years is an ongoing dip in the response rate of potential recruits. This is due in part to “recruiter fatigue”, as well as the increased reliance on email and text as means of communication. Rarely will a potential recruit answer their work (or cell) phone and there has been much written about most people’s aversion to listening to voicemail. So, one of the biggest challenges facing recruiters today is how do we reverse this trend and get more people to engage?

The continued adoption of mobile into companies’ recruitment plan is an innovation that’s continuing to evolve, although mobile adoption in recruitment is not as far along as it is in other areas (see: ordering shoes from Amazon on your phone). Candidates should be able to apply to any job on their mobile device by submitting their LinkedIn profile in a one or two click process. Not all companies are there yet, but soon, they will be.

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