Interview: Lynda Liner on Entrepreneurial Recruiting

The following is an interview with Lynda Liner, Senior Executive Recruiter with Victoria James Executive Search, for my Entrepreneurial Planning graduate course. Lynda and I have known each other since 2015 when she recruited me for a position in a small business. We discuss entrepreneurial recruitment for A-Players.

Q. Please share with me a little about your background and experience recruiting.

A. Thank you, David, for the invitation to share insights into the recruiting industry.

My early introduction to recruiting was joining a well-known international retained executive search firm as Assistant to the Administrative group that allowed me to learn the industry literally from the bottom up and benefitting from support from mentors while advancing and working each layer of recruiting: research, strategy, candidate development, interviewing, client management – total experience and education in Best Practices and Values I continue to apply today. The CEO of the recruiting firm gave me advice I’ve never forgotten, “Always remember, recruiting is a contact sport.

Things happen when you engage with people.”  And has influenced my dedication to the best possible experience and service to our clients and our candidate professionals.

Q. Your areas of expertise, as I understand it, are in the sales and marketing disciplines. In your experience, how important is it that entrepreneurs find the right talent for roles in these disciplines in a startup? Why do you believe this to be true?

A. The “right” sales and marketing talent will ultimately be responsible for the forward success of an organization. A start-up would initially focus on sales and marketing as the backbone and frontline of an organization and primary management partnership to establish a solid foundation on which to build the organization’s mission, philosophy, culture and simultaneously developing a strategy and action plan for their product or service.

To confirm the importance of identifying the right talent for sales and marketing, in my experience, having placed numerous marketing professionals in middle to senior management roles, I’ve observed large and small companies, from start-up and established, realize positive outcomes, e.g., increased revenue, brand awareness, acquisition, other - as a result of successful key...

Is your startup hiring?

If it is, you are likely asking yourself who it is you truly need to hire.

You often have many needs, but you also have a limited payroll budget. The temptation is always to hire the most technically skilled person for the job, for the least amount of payroll. Getting the biggest bang for your buck sounds logical, but is it?

If you have started your hiring search by developing job descriptions that incorporate both hard skills and soft skills, you’re off to a good start. When those resumes start coming in for review, there are other things to consider. For example, are you looking for generalists or specialists? Do you want individuals with a small company background or big company background? How about experienced versus inexperienced? It depends in part on your business needs.

If your business operation has formalized processes and procedures, you will likely want to hire a specialist because they are likely to be focused on maintaining efficiency in their areas of expertise. If your business is more flexible than formalized, you might find that a generalist is a better hire because they can tackle almost any task with some degree of efficiency and effectiveness (Wasserman, 2012). Generalists bring a broader skill set that may help you get your business off the ground, but as your business grows the job requirements will likely become more specific, and you may find the need more specialists to support your day-to-day operations.

Related to the consideration of a generalist versus a specialist is the place at which the applicant’s prior experience has occurred. While some argue that those with a lot of experience in a small company are a better fit for a startup because they have been in the trenches and likely understand the challenges (Wasserman, 2012). Conversely, those who have a big company background can bring a wealth of knowledge about operational processes that might be beneficial to a startup (Wasserman). The experience that comes from each background can add value to a startup founder, but the big company versus small company experience is just one part of the equation.

Perhaps the most challenging...

Thinking Hard and Soft

Skills are both quantitative and qualitative.

Quantitative, or hard skills, are measurable and can be, for the most part, expressed with numbers. These are skills that can be taught, defined and measured. Accounting, architecture, computer programming, and auto mechanics are among many hard skills. Hard skills are acquired in on-the-job training, formal education, and apprenticeships. And when you complete your training you are thought possess the skills for which you have been trained. You have a certificate or diploma that asserts in an objective manner that you have attained a certain level of proficiency with consistent results.

Qualitative, or soft skills, are also measurable, but not necessarily by quantifiable means. Most soft skills are considered personal attributes such as patience, tolerance for ambiguity, empathy, courtesy, flexibility, decision-making, reliability, or language proficiency (Ramsoomair & Howey, 2004). Of course, these skills can be taught, too. You might have learned them at home, on the playing field, or in a classroom. However, defining and measuring the impact of these skills is much more difficult. You might be able to take a course in soft skill, for example, but assessing your proficiency in that skill defies most testing. Because, whether you possess a soft skill and use it well is often subjective.

In the broadest sense, some might argue you can learn hard skills but have a more natural tendency toward certain soft skills based in part on your personality. For example, you might be well-educated and have a lot of experience in our field, but if you don’t work and play well with others finding and keeping a job might be a challenge.

You might worry less about finding and keeping a job as an entrepreneur, so you probably think less about soft skills. Yet soft skills are an essential component of your ability to launch a business.  Soft skills, for example, are necessary to both build and maintain social and business networks. Such skills also support your decision-making in day-to-day operations and guide your strategy development. It’s difficult to recognize your own soft skills, let alone those such skills in partners and prospective employees. But,...