This week, I look at the many challenges companies are facing when recruiting executive and senior-level roles, as well as some of the strategies brands are using to fill those spots. Scroll down to use Glossy+ Comments, giving the Glossy+ community the opportunity to join discussions around industry topics.
There’s a big executive shakeup happening in fashion. Companies like Adidas, Asos, Levi’s and MatchesFashion have hired new CEOs in recent years. Meanwhile, companies including The RealReal are currently searching for company leaders to replace outgoing chief executives.
But hiring top-level talent is getting more difficult, plagued by many of the same challenges that hiring at lower levels presents. The pandemic has made remote work a reality, which is affecting where brands recruit and how willing candidates are to relocate. On top of that, as the stakes are higher for high-level roles, months of negotiations are often required before a hire is named.
Tricia Logan, managing partner of the executive recruitment company DHR International, said the hiring process can take anywhere from 60 days to six months, usually hovering around three months.
“When a client comes to us looking to fill an executive role, we have our own network of candidates, and sometimes we have someone in mind right away,” Logan said. “But we also ask our clients where they’d like us to look, what things they’re looking for and what people they may already be thinking of.”
Nick Ventura, co-founder of the T-shirt brand True Classic, said the most effective tactic he’s found for hiring executive talent is searching LinkedIn for people at “North Star companies” who match the role needed. He then sends an introductory message himself. He said 95% of roles at 54-person company have been filled through this method. True Classic was founded in 2019 but swiftly grew to be a $150 million business. The company has had to hire fast to handle its rapid growth. Executive roles that are filled include CEO, CFO, COO and chief product officer.
“Candidates seem to appreciate a founder reaching out,” Ventura said. “I’m always the first to reach out. I’m confident this helps our overall response rates.”
Networks other than LinkedIn can be helpful, too, according to Isabella Sun, founder and CEO of Short Story, the styling service catering to women who wear petite sizes. Short Story was founded in 2021 with $3 million in seed funding.
“We were funded by YCombinator, which has incubated over 3,500 startups. When we’re looking to fill a new position, the YCombinator online forum and Slack channels are the first places I go to seek out referrals and recommendations from other companies in the network.”
Logan said hiring at the top level comes with several unique challenges. For one, companies often have strict non-competes and more complicated contracts for executive employees than junior employees. Sometimes, that means a new executive hire will have to wait 6-9 months before starting a new job, for instance.
But in many ways, the same hiring and recruitment challenges happening at lower levels apply to the top level, too.
“Location is coming into play more than ever,” Logan said. “Candidates don’t want to relocate anymore. It used to be that if the candidate didn’t want to relocate, that’s it. They’d find a new candidate. But that’s not the case anymore.”
A smaller, but related change, Logan said, is that it was almost unheard of pre-pandemic for an executive to be hired without spending at least one, sometimes multiple, days physically in the office to see how the company works. Since then, she’s seen companies hire top-level talent without ever having an in-person meeting.
George Graham, co-founder and CEO of the B-Corp fashion retailer Wolf & Badger, said it’s been especially hard to fill tech-related openings like senior-level developer roles given how competitive the technology industry can be.
“Our strong reputation [as a B Corp] allows us to continue attracting high-quality talent,” Graham said. “However, let’s face it: Hiring well is always difficult and has become even more so over the last year or so, particularly for tech roles. It seems that may change a bit in the coming months, given the recent layoffs at the big tech companies, though.”
Theresa Watts, svp of human resources and DE&I at True Religion, recently recruited Tina Blake in November to be the company’s svp of women’s design and brand image. She said hiring Blake took close to a year.
“It’s a brand new role; we had never had a head of women’s design before,” Watts said. “When you’re bringing someone in for a high-level role, it’s a high-stakes game. You have to be sure their vision for the job matches your vision or that they have a better vision.”
Hiring people at high-level positions often means giving those candidates a peek behind the curtains at still-in-development projects to hear their thoughts on them. Sometimes that can require the signing of NDAs. Watts said True Religion’s strategy is to only show sensitive projects to candidates in the final stages of interviewing, usually for projects close to announcement or release.
Showing candidates those in-development projects can be helpful. During the interview process, Watts said that True Religion showed Tina Blake a then-unannounced scholarship fund for underserved communities, which later rolled out in October. Blake’s enthusiasm and suggestions on improving the program showed Watts that she was committed to diversity, another point True Religion was looking for in a candidate.
Ultimately, Watts said hiring at all levels is more difficult than it used to be.
“Candidates have hard lines about what they will or won’t do,” she said. “You just have to learn to work around them.”
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