Finding your “Hiring Superstar”

Let’s start with a quick quiz: Which of these are true for your organization?

  • We have a lot of open positions coming up (due to growth)
  • Hiring takes more energy than necessary from a lot of people in the organization, including our most senior people
  • Hiring for open positions takes too much time because we have to build the candidate pool from scratch every time
  • Candidates perceive our hiring process as slow, onerous, and/or non-transparent
  • Many candidates we have hired haven’t worked out
  • Managers are reluctant to act on low performers because they are worried about the time it takes to backfill departures

If you checked the box on even two of these items, you have a serious struggle on your hands. You are not alone. We are seeing many progressive organizations face up to the fact that talent scarcity is a key rate-limiting factor to growth and delivering impact. In many of these small but high-growth organizations, the ED (or other senior leaders) drives searches for senior roles and is often the bottleneck given all the other things on their plate.

So, we asked ourselves… What could a small, high-growth organization do differently to tackle this perpetual hiring gap?

We’d like to propose a practical solution that could help organizations change their game on talent: Make it someone’s job. The right someone. A Hiring Superstar… whose job is to help you hire superstars. 

This doesn’t have to be a full-time position—it could be 25% of someone’s job. The important thing is that there is someone whose job it is to fill open positions with the right people.

Many organizations end up keeping hiring and talent on the ED’s plate (or on a very busy managers’)—who, in a period of high growth, may be overwhelmed themselves. The key is to carve out dedicated time/capacity from someone senior who can really focus on this and improve the quality of the outcome and of the hiring process itself.

You may call this person by different titles—some call this person the “Head of Hiring,” while others might call them the “Hiring Lead.” If it is a part-time role, the person might keep their original title. (For purposes of this article, we will use “Head of Hiring.”)

Whatever their title, what they are responsible for is the same: This is the person who wakes up every single day obsessed with making sure roles are filled with rockstars and that you’ve got an ample supply of people, both internally and externally, at the ready for future needs. Put another way, they’re obsessed with recruiting and hiring the people you need to get the results you want.

Head of Hiring: What do they actually do?

OK, you’re intrigued. You’ve got positions sitting open for too long and you’re frustrated by how much time senior leaders are investing while still making too many hiring mistakes. You know your managers are reluctant to move out low performers because of reasonable doubt that they can efficiently find a better fit. You know this stuff is hard (and will never be perfect!), but you’re thinking your life and organization could be a heck of a lot better if the right person woke up every day with dedicated time, energy, and skill to work on it. But what does a Head of Hiring (or something like it) actually do?

The Head of Hiring is the strategist in charge of growing the supply of our most important resource: amazing people. They are a senior leader on the team, a living embodiment of the best of the organization’s culture, are deeply committed to racial equity, and have developed excellent instincts about people from their own management experience. They can spot real stars based on a deep understanding of the work of the organization, distinguishing the stars from people who merely talk a good game.

They need not be an HR professional, but must enjoy the work of recruiting people every day. They would figure out how to build pools for specific roles; craft interview questions, simulations and hiring rubrics; and meet and build relationships with candidates and connectors. They would also make sure everyone involved in the hiring process is on the same page on what they’re looking for, and are trained in the art of interviewing.

Finding the right person for the role

Whether it is 25% of someone’s job or a full-time position, who you assign to that role is critical. Look internally first.

Is there someone on the team who is…

  • A great manager with ample experience recruiting and developing superstars
  • Well-respected by other leaders and staff for their people skills and understanding of/alignment to organizational mission and strategy
  • An innate networker—loves meeting and getting to know new people
  • Proactive—for instance, whenever there is a job opening, they always send leads to the hiring manager
  • Strongly committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion in hiring
  • Organized and able to ensure that candidates don’t get “stuck in the process”
  • Aligned with the ED and executive team on hiring philosophy

Is there someone on your team that would check many of the above boxes? If yes, sound them out on the Head of Hiring role. Or have them “rotate” into the Head of Hiring role for 6-12 months—they could help you get through your current hiring hump and establish the foundations required for your organization and you can subsequently hire someone else (maybe from the outside).

Here are some sample goals and metrics for the Head of Hiring:

  • All highest priority roles filled within X days of decision to hire/posting.
  • X people in the pool/pipeline for positions we are likely to be hiring for soon.
  • Initiatives are in place to ensure the pipeline is racially diverse*
  • All new hires are meeting or exceeding expectations in their roles by the end of their third month on staff.
  • Managers are satisfied with support received in the hiring process
  • Candidates are highly satisfied with the hiring process (including those who were not eventually offered a position)

*Note that we encourage organizations to set specific diversity goals for hiring and/or candidate pool-building in line with their organizational goals such as “at least X% of our new hires identify as a person of color or indigenous.” However, while crafting these goals, do seek legal guidance as there might be state/jurisdiction-specific issues to consider.

Let’s stop for a minute and think about what it would be like to have the right person owning this work. Sounds pretty good, right? So… what’s in the way?

The myths keeping us from making this someone’s job

When we thought about this question for ourselves, and in conversations with clients, we found three key myths that needed to be addressed on how we resource and staff our work on talent.

Myth #1: We can’t afford a full-time Head of Hiring… we are too small for that to be someone’s job

Real talk: What’s important is that you make hiring superstars someone’s job. It doesn’t have to be a full-time role. It could be 25 or 50% of someone’s job. Each organization will have its own considerations for the best possible role configuration considering factors such as number of open positions, turnover rates, and the organization’s stage of development. We recognize that taking away even 25% of a senior person’s role to focus on hiring will have some adverse impact on programmatic work, but we strongly believe that benefits that come from hiring high-quality staff more than outweigh the short-term hit.

Here’s some guidance to help you scope the role:

Organization Size ~15 employees 15-25 employees 25-50 employees 50+ employees
Capacity ~25% of an FTE 25-50% of an FTE 50-100% of an FTE 100% of an FTE

(At this point, you might have enough scale to consider a full-time Chief Talent Officer position that includes the Head of Talent role plus other responsibilities.)

Ideal candidate The #2 or a senior manager Someone from within the organization Someone from within the organization Could be an external candidate
Level N/A >Director- or VP-level position (may report to a direct report of the ED) C-level (Chief Talent Officer) who reports to the ED
Role Focus Hiring, hiring, hiring (with a diversity, equity, and inclusion lens) Hiring plus 1-2 other areas (internal equity and/or staff learning are most common) All aspects of Talent Management (hiring, development, and retention) and internal equity and inclusion
Notes Making it the #2’s job keeps ED from being a bottleneck May not be the #2’s job as they are likely to have a significant programmatic lift of their own May oversee a small team and/or all of HR.

Myth #2: Our CEO/ED is the Head of Hiring! Our CEO/ED is the ultimate networker and connector.

Real talk: There is a body of literature and conventional wisdom that suggests this, but it just never plays out in the real world. The CEO/ED can set the tone and ensure talent is a top organizational priority. However, it is unrealistic to expect them to devote the time and attention needed to fully manage the nitty gritty work of constant connecting and pool-building successfully with everything else on their plate. With a Head of Hiring in place, the ED’s role on hiring goes from being the “Owner” to “Helper” (in our MOCHA parlance).

Myth #3: Hiring is everyone’s job!

Real talk: Every manager and staff member does have a role to play in building the teams we need to be successful. But as we all know from experience that when something is everybody’s job… it’s ultimately nobody’s job. When nobody owns it, the work ends up being put on the back burner and attended to only when it’s too late. The Head of Hiring doesn’t replace the need for managers to take an active role in pool-building and interviewing (or even leading some searches themselves), but a person focused on hiring can catalyze and support those efforts, making everyone more efficient and successful.

In conclusion…

We believe that how we build and sustain the supply of amazing people in our organizations is a top priority for any organization. And luckily enough, it is one that’s most within our grasp to tackle. Making hiring the right person’s job is a practical solution that would keep you ahead of the curve on talent. Since talent is the lever that makes everything else possible, even a modest investment on closing the hiring gap has a big multiplying effect on the back end. We would urge you to think hard about finding your own “hiring superstar” who will help fill your organization with superstars. While in larger organizations, the scope for the role might be large enough for a full FTE (such as a Chief Talent Officer), even a 15-25 person organization would benefit from explicitly assigning “hiring” as 25% of someone’s role (that “someone” not being the ED).

Does it make sense for your organization to hire a CTO? Check out our article on what the role entails, with links to sample job descriptions, interview questions, and a hiring rubric.