Here is an update of a guest column written for an executive search newsletter. It’s based on my experience recruiting top early career stage talent. Enjoy!
Despite a cloud of economic uncertainty, companies are hiring with an eye to the future. They are seeking the CEOs of tomorrow. Though entry-level hiring for new graduates is still lukewarm, there is the undercurrent of a talent grab in the elite category of high-pedigree, early-stage career stars — those with a strong foundation of experience, combined with excellence and the with the potential to catapault to top leadership roles.
When companies look into their talent pipelines, there are massive demographic gaps, due to two economic downturns of historical proportion. The in-flow of new talent came to a halt after the dot-com crash of 2000-2002 and again after the meltdown of financial markets in 2008. Spending for training and leadership development also dried up. As a result, there is a dearth of qualified internal talent for expansion roles and succession planning.
Thus, when companies go to market for fresh talent, they are typically not seeking aging BabyBoomers, as it is likely they already have a sufficient population of highly-experienced, long-tenured team members in their ranks, many poised to retire or shift into a different work/life mix that might include consulting rather than traditional full-time employment.
For business continuity purposes, there is a focus on what I call “precision” hiring for early-to-mid career stage, high-potentials who have achieved very specific levels of industry and functional experience.
What are the characteristics of those candidates most likely to rise to the top?
- Track Record of Personal Excellence. With fewer years of work experience to evaluate, companies place a high value on personal characteristics, academics and even youth activities. What impresses? Good study habits. 4.0 GPAs. Teenage entrepreneurship. College leadership roles.
- Athletic Achievements. Coincidentally, the top stratosphere of the “MBA Draft” is heavily populated by sports standouts. Many of those boardroom bound are All-Americans, national high school titlists, college team captains or triathlon competitors.
- Navigational Skills. Many NextGens graduated in the depths of a downturn, but did not let that deter their success. One MBA candidate foresaw the absence of on-campus recruiting and jump-started his job search by foregoing an internship in favor of summer school, thereby accelerating his graduation date. He strategized and won a lucrative slot well before his classmates hit the streets.
- Passion. The MBA stars have a strong sense of their core competencies and how that contributes to enterprise success: Accounting, as the language of business; Valuations, as the core of decisionmaking. Dealmaking. Project management. Relationship-building. Love of a specific industry.
- High Work Ethic. Self-made achievers always win the attention of hiring decisionmakers. Many high-output candidates multi-tasked full-time jobs with a full-time class schedule and campus activities. And many from difficult childhood backgrounds sought mentorship and methods to bootstrap themselves into promising college and career programs.
- Generosity, not Greed. This is a generation that shares, rather than hoards, information. They will tell their friends about a desirable career opportunity, even when they themselves seek a slot in the candidate pool. I have seen an admirable focus on success of the team, rather than individual wins at any cost.
- Willing to Sacrifice. NextGens are willing to backtrack and make trade-offs. To accommodate a spouse in medical school. To be close to family in times of illness. To gain experience where they perceive a weakness in their game. They are flexible and seek such options in career planning.
- The “Internationalists.” With the increase in off-shoring and growth through M&A;, many companies now have a dominant global profile – but an employee base with domestic-only expertise. Fortunately, there is an up-and-coming population with global experience and a strong desire for international assignments. It’s a diverse group that includes those who grew up in the diplomatic core, former high school foreign exchange students, children of immigrants and expatriates, those who study abroad and others.
Some questions for employers to consider: What is your MBA port of entry? How are you attracting top engineers and designers? What is the career growth path? How do you integrate top, fresh talent without causing a mutiny among the current team? Do you have the level of role that will attract a NextGen CEO? Or will a lower velocity player be a better fit?
May 20, 2012