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What the role of an executive looks like in a startup

(and why it is important for startups to know during recruitment)

What do you think of when you think of an executive? Probably a high-level manager making broad decisions that filter down through the ranks where the actual work gets done. You might imagine such an executive making business deals, sitting in meetings, making strategic decisions and attending industry conferences – and you wouldn’t be wrong.
This is indeed the role many executives play, but this image we have in our heads of what the role of an executive looks like is actually a limited one, confined within the framework of large-successful companies. Startups that are just gaining traction need executives as well, and their roles look very different.

What it means for recruitment

Many startups we’ve worked with have approached the recruitment process convinced that they weren’t trying to hire an executive at all, when in reality they are looking for someone to be the first in a new department – someone who can get things moving and perform hands-on work while adhering to a larger strategy. Is that you? If so, you should know that it doesn’t matter what you call the position – if it requires the skills of an executive, it needs an executive recruitment process.

But this difference between startup executives and others has a significant impact on executive recruitment. Finding, attracting and eventually hiring executive talent is a special challenge for recruiters under any circumstances. It’s a process that requires nuance, finesse and is absolutely critical to get right, since executives play such an important role in every organization.

For startups, this challenge is exacerbated by the unique positions that executives have to fill within these young organizations and the fact that startups don’t have the same market presence or attraction that a larger company might leverage to attract high-quality talent to them.

For startups, getting the process right and hiring exactly the right executives is even more important than in later stages of activity since the performance of one individual executive has far greater impact on the company as a whole. This dynamic makes it all the more critical to go through a proper and thorough recruitment process that accounts for the job market, the DNA of your organization and the potential of each candidate.

Startup execs

So, what are these differences that you need to take into account when recruiting executives for your organization? What is it that makes executive recruitment so much different from what most expect it to be?

First things first, it should be obvious that startup executives need to be much more hands-on than their corporate counterparts. With a smaller team and a rapidly changing environment, startup executives need to take initiative to move things forward and also have the technical knowledge to intervene in and back up all the ground-level work that happens underneath them.

However, even in the pre-management phase, you should also be looking for the soft skills of a manager in your executives. As long as you’re able to grow your organization, you’ll eventually be expanding and placing employees underneath them.

In short, startup executives need to be particularly talented in several arenas:
· Human relations
· Initiative
· Business
· Lateral vision
· Project creation and management

Startup executives are quite different from what you might traditionally think of as executives. They can be high-level managers who manage other managers, but they can also be managers of activity on the ground level, often being responsible for jump-starting an entire department of your company (what we like to call: being “hands-on”). 

Are you looking for someone to take charge and jump-start a brand new division or initiative within your startup? With everything you’ve learned here, is that someone going to fill the role of an executive? Your answer will determine what kind of recruitment process you should be running.

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