How do you work with a seed or multistage VC talent/recruiting team and how exactly can they help? What happens when a new investor comes in and you meet a new talent team? This guide will help you understand what talent partners do, what they don’t do, how to leverage their superpowers and help get you the most out of this resource.
A talent partner is typically not someone who does full lifecycle recruiting for the portfolio companies. Why not? One person can’t recruit for multiple roles for 30+ companies. It just doesn’t scale. What this person actually does is create scalable resources, products, and training that give companies an advantage in the marketplace. Whether it be advice on sourcing strategy, choosing a specialized recruiting firm, or deciding on HR recruiting tools, this person can help you move smarter and faster. We like to think of this as “teaching the founder to fish vs. giving them the fish.”
When should I engage with my talent partner? I don’t have any open roles.
Better to build a relationship with your talent partner before you have crucial roles open. This way you’ll have an established relationship and a sense of how to work together when you are ready to execute. It’s never too early to think about your hiring strategy, diversity and inclusion, and building a compensation philosophy.If you aren’t hiring, it’s still a good idea to get to know your contact and talk about future hiring plans.
I’m not sure how to get the best out of this person if we aren’t hiring right now.
At any funding stage, your talent partner should be able to articulate their strengths/superpowers. They might have deep tech, enterprise sales, or consumer recruiting/talent experience. Most companies at the seed stage are focused on hiring engineers. If your talent partner doesn’t have experience managing a technical interview process and sourcing engineers, they still should be able to help you with resources and subject matter experts. It is critical to know what they do best so you can leverage their experience during the early stages of hiring. Here are a few things to work on with your talent partner prior to executing searches:
Develop a compensation philosophy (see ) and set up basic compensation bands. Create a consistent, scalable for technical roles or other relevant functions. Get familiar with leveling guides. If you are hiring engineers, start . This way you will be ready to write a job description with the right title/competencies. Figure out what recruiting and HR tools you need – the basics (ATS (applicant tracking system), sourcing platform, performance management, etc). Your talent partner has probably done demos of many of these tools and can get you started.
How often should I meet with my talent partner? Aren’t they responsible for a lot of companies — I don’t want to monopolize their time.
A well organized and well informed talent partner knows what the priorities are for each company. If you are a first time founder and need more hand holding with your first few hires, then articulate this when you meet the talent partner. A regular touch base is appropriate and recommended in the beginning. Once you have made a few hires and are comfortable with a process, then communication with a talent partner becomes more ad hoc.
What if I need basic HR help? My talent partner seems talent acquisition focused vs. HR focused.
Talent acquisition/recruiting and HR are two distinct skill sets. However, your talent partner should have experience triaging HR issues and know the basics. Don’t be afraid to ask them if they can help with HR issues. Chances are they can navigate the basics (employee relations, management training, setting up payroll, benefits basics, etc). If they don’t have experience with the HR function, there are plenty of HR consultants who help startups on a project basis. Your talent partner can likely provide these resources.
What if we are non technical founders and need to hire a Head of Engineering? Can our talent partner help?
Absolutely. However, the talent partner will probably not run the search process if they work at a fund without a large “platform” team. Here’s what the talent partner can do:
Introduce “best in class” engineering leaders who have done this role. These are not “candidates/job seekers” but people in their VC network who are great examples of a strong candidate and can help you calibrate for your own screening process. Make introductions to search firms who specialize in engineering. Most boutique search firms are happy to chat with a founder about what they are looking for and market trends. Assuming the search is “head of” or “VP” it is probably going to require hiring a search firm. For more information regarding what this entails and the different types of search firms, check out the . Help set up a technical interviewing process. Who should be involved and when? Compensation/offer creation - how do I know what to offer and how much to negotiate? Onboarding - what do I need to do to make this person successful after they start?
Can the investing partners help with talent? I thought that was one of the reasons we raised $$ – they have great contacts.
Absolutely. Leverage your lead investors to do the following:
Sell/close candidates who are close to the finish line but not 100% convinced they want to join your company. Makes introductions to “best in class” executives in certain functions. For example, if the founders are not technical, the investors can help introduce senior level engineering and product experts. Keep in mind that they aren’t necessarily making candidate introductions but showing you what “excellent” looks like.
We just raised an A round and our new lead investor has a team of 5 people? I already have a relationship with our seed stage talent partner but she’s a one-person show. How do I manage this?
In a perfect world, your seed stage talent person has a relationship with your new investor. After the series A term sheet is signed, she reaches out to the talent team at the new lead investor and debriefs them on current hiring challenges, how to work well with founders, high priority searches, recent org changes, etc. However, this doesn’t always happen. Founders should ask the new talent team the following:
Who is my main point of contact? What are your talent strengths and weaknesses? If there is a team of 5 people, make note of each of their superpowers – even if you have 1 point of contact it is important to know the distinct strengths of the team. What are all of the talent-related resources available to me? Make sure you understand all the resources that are available to you. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Who can help me with HR vs. talent?
At Series A, companies usually hire an HR person to manage the following: benefits, compliance, employee relations, internal comms. This is a very different skill set than someone with a talent/recruiting background. Your talent partner can help triage HR issues but they are not an interim HR department.
I’m attached to my talent person from our seed fund – I’d rather just work with her.
The overall goal of a talent partner is to work herself out of a job. It is perfectly acceptable to continue to get help from your seed talent partner but keep in mind this person is usually a one person show with limited resources and bandwidth. Your new investors probably have resources you didn’t know existed (sourcing capabilities, talent mapping capabilities, etc). Some larger funds have a team of people solely dedicated to sourcing IC engineers. Make sure you fully understand all the capabilities available to you. Assuming your relationship with your initial talent partner is strong, she will always be a sounding board and a reliable resource.
What if I get conflicting advice from two talent partners at different funds? Who do I listen to?
The short answer is “both.” As the old saying goes, “there’s more than one way to skin a cat.” Recruiting strategies and philosophies may differ so listen to both and go with your gut. Leverage your co-founders and exec team to make tough decisions.
Let’s say you are trying to close a head of product who is an absolute rock star. You want to stay in range of the salary/equity bands (preserving internal equity) but the candidate is asking for well over what the market pays. You may hear “go for it” from one talent person and another pushes you to stay in range. Trying to come up with a solution where you can 1) close the candidate, 2) maintain internal equity and 3) get the candidate excited about the offer, may seem impossible but there are creative ways to close the gap. If your talent person or “team” is experienced, they will do their best to come up with the best solution. There should be more than one solution.
Your VC talent partner can be very helpful as you meet the challenges that come along with building a great team. Knowing how to leverage your talent partner and or talent team is crucial. We hope this guide helps navigate these challenges.
Thank you to the talent partners who provided input on this guide.