Sam Gordon and Sophie Eden are disruptors in an unlikely field: headhunting. Crossover from corporate to scaleup and back again is the big trend, and larger executive search firms have been slow to take advantage, as they pointed out at a recent Leap 100 breakfast.
But what truly set the duo apart when they founded Gordon & Eden in 2014 was the focus on digital. The company’s speciality has always been to build “cutting-edge, digital, technology and multichannel leadership teams”. Smart move: digital is no longer just front end, rather it is integrated into every aspect of a business.
The sheer pace of change has created a talent gap, and this is where Gordon & Eden comes into play. Rather than Mayfair, traditional home to recruitment, the founders based themselves in Shoreditch, providing the sole digital executive search firm in the area. The pair themselves have unique backgrounds: Gordon is a former drum’n’bass producer; Eden once auditioned for S Club Juniors. Gordon & Eden hasn’t reinvented the wheel – rather, its founders have entered an established market, found a niche, and conducted day-to-day operations with impressive efficiency and diligence.
The top employees are likely being hit with 20-plus career pitches per week. With that level of competition, sharpness and persistence have become cornerstones of the executive search market. Eden repeatedly prefaces her comments with: “this may sound obvious, but…”. Yet some firms make avoidable slip-ups, she says. They may raise that crude issue of salary too late, overlook how quickly processes move, or fail to meet candidates after a job offer has been accepted. “It is not uncommon for candidates to be bought back during their notice period, or accept another role,” she warns. Rubbing shoulders with tech startups on a daily basis has made the founders acutely aware of their target audience’s needs.
This is not industry standard, however. “Too often clients won’t delve into detail with their prospective executive search firm,” Gordon laments. “Dig deep into their track record in specific roles. Be aware that reinvention is rife within the industry – and former retail executive search consultants, for example, may claim to have worked in ecommerce ‘for years’. Ask whether the pitch team are the ones who will be doing the work, and investigate ‘off-limits’ (the firms they can’t search into due to existing relationships).
Finally, ensure clarity on triggers for fees and deadlines.” Employers must also be willing to resist the allure of marquee brands. “Startup CEOs at the helm of an ecommerce business, for instance, may think hiring ex-Amazon staff will solve all their problems. Likewise, it is common to be attracted to those CTOs who frequent the conference circuit, when their best attribute may be the ability to market themselves.” With a record amount of cash flowing into the UK tech sector last year, startups have the buying power to secure top professionals previously lured by larger firms.
In most cases, candidates hold all the cards. Businesses of all shapes and sizes can ill-afford to rest easy. “Think about activities outside the hiring process,” Eden says. “Branding – PR, social media, video content – can help make the business more attractive.” Equally, don’t make assumptions. “Candidates have been won or lost over something as seemingly trivial as the commute,” Gordon says. “With a world of opportunity for top digital talent, you can’t leave any small details to chance.”