How To Work With Your VC’s Recruiters: Q&A with Carlie Smith

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Venture capital firms have more to offer than money. OpenView Partners’ Carlie Smith reveals how your startup’s backers can help you hire better.

OpenView Venture Partners’ Carlie Smith
Carlie Smith is a talent manager at OpenView Venture Partners, a venture capital firm that invests in expansion-stage software companies. We got on the phone to discuss the role your backers can play in building a scalable (and effective) hiring process for your startup.

“Finding talent is critical to the success of a business, so everyone must be part of the process.”

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How do you work with the companies in OpenView’s portfolio?

I lead our go-to-market recruitment process, so my role is to partner with companies in our portfolio to help them scale from a talent perspective. That can mean hiring the first marketer, helping scale an enterprise sales team, recruiting as they set up a new business development program, and really anything in between. With OpenView, we recruit what we call the “meat and bones” of a company. We don’t focus on executive search, but we do work with executives or hiring managers to help them build out their teams.

Why do a startup’s hiring choices matter to its investors?

Hiring matters to backers because you need the right people to build a large, successful, enduring business. At the stage that our firm invests, these startup companies are in pre-growth mode and typically preparing to scale aggressively. If you don’t have someone dedicated internally to the talent function, or you don’t have cohesive hiring practices in place, it can take up that much more of your company’s time, energy and resources. We help to put that in place. So if you need to hire 50 or 100 people in a year, we’re an added resource to make that happen. We help the companies in our portfolio attract, interview, and hire the best talent. To give you an idea of the of impact we make for our portfolio companies, we hired just under 100 people in last year alone.

Is it the same process for every company in the portfolio, or is the process and your involvement different for different startups?

Every company is different, but because we’ve worked with many expansion-stage businesses, we’ve developed a process that adapts to each one and helps us make the partnership valuable.

First, the company prioritizes hiring needs. Then, we work directly with hiring managers on the highest-priority searches. The interview process will differ depending on the role and the industry, but we work within the portfolio company’s parameters to make sure there’s a cohesive experience for the candidates and stakeholders involved, whether we are working on the search or it’s being recruited for internally.

Some companies need more help than others, so we’ll provide them with recommendations and best practices. This could mean anything from hammering out what the interview process should look like and who should – and should not – be involved to how to build an efficient feedback loop, how to deliver an offer, or how to create a great overall candidate experience. Our goal is to help our portfolio companies hire the best people, adopt the best practices, and achieve hiring success in a competitive market.

As the company matures and scales they’ll build out their own talent function. Ideally at one point, they will not need our recruiting help anymore, because they’ve build an efficient and effective talent team in-house – with our help and advisement. In that case, we will continue to send candidates and partner on best practices, but will not necessarily work on direct searches.

“If you need to hire 50 or 100 people in a year, we’re an added resource to make that happen.”

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Do companies sometimes have recruiters in place already?

It completely depends on the company. Some do and some don’t. If they don’t, we’ll work directly with the executives and hiring managers. If they do, then we’ll still work with hiring managers, but also with the hiring function to ensure it’s a cohesive experience for everyone involved.

Do you maintain a pipeline of warm candidates?

A big part of my job is knowing the best people within the space we focus on: expansion-stage software companies. We are continuously networking and building those relationships, because doing that creates opportunities to connect individuals who are exploring new opportunities to companies and roles that are interesting to them. We’re able to make many referrals that way, both to our portfolio companies, and to those in OpenView’s extended network.

What mistakes do not-yet-funded or newly-funded companies make when it comes to hiring?

One challenge companies grapple with is not having a solid interview process in place, specifically a process that is based on objective decision-making and behavioral questioning. Often, managers simply haven’t been trained in interviewing, so they don’t know how to probe deeper into a candidate’s experience and get beyond the baseline. You can’t scale successfully, from a talent perspective, if you don’t have a standard hiring process in place.

Another common challenge is having too many people involved in the hiring process. At a certain number, which is typically 4 or 5, you get diminishing returns. Not only to you as a company, but also with the candidate experience.

Finally, some companies don’t yet have a mindset that recruiting and hiring is part of everyone’s role. That’s really, really important – finding talent is critical to the success of a business, so everyone must be part of the process. Companies that have this mindset adapt better and more quickly to a scalable hiring strategy.

“Reaching out to a VC is a really good way to connect, learn, network, and discover best practices.”

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What advice do you have for HR managers or recruiters whose companies have just gotten funding – and may now have to work alongside their VC investors’ recruiting team?

Use the partnership to your advantage. If they have one, your VC’s recruiting team will know the challenges faced by companies at your stage of development or in your sector. We are here to be a resource when it comes to candidates, compensation data, hiring best practices, job descriptions – you name it, we’ve most likely seen it. And, if we don’t have the info or resource you need, we are willing to recommend someone who does.

VCs are well connected. If you’re interested in a particular industry or space, connect with a VC that focuses on it. They have insights from investors, industry leaders and influencers. Reaching out to a VC is a really good way to connect, learn, network, and discover best practices.

Learn more about the recruiting support OpenView provides to its portfolio companies.

From an interview with Christian De Pape.

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