Tab icon

So, what’s the market like?

Calendar icon 18th March 2021

At Zeren we work with some of the most ambitious and disruptive businesses in the world.  Each day we speak with Founders, Leadership Teams and Investors about the talent market and the various challenges any growing organisation faces when trying to attract, let alone retain great people.

Over the last 15 years I have worked in a variety of markets across the USA, EMEA and Asia both in the ‘booms’ and the subsequent ‘busts’ and there has been, at any point, a consensus amongst clients and candidates when talking about the state of ‘the market’.  That is not the case currently.

Now is not the time to try and summarise 2020 but with that extraordinary year as a backdrop, we are constantly asked about the state of ‘the market’ and how easy or difficult it is (or would be) to find great candidates.

As ever, the answer is complex so the following observations might go some way towards answering based on what we at Zeren have observed in the 12 months since everything changed…

The rise and rise…and rise of the Head of People

We work with a number of Founders and early-stage organisations to hire Heads of People and HR leaders and over the last 12 months we have seen 2 key developments.  First, the timing around hiring this position in start-ups is getting earlier and, secondly, the role and requirements are becoming more complex, and leaders are looking to put more responsibility on to the Head of People.  Early-stage Venture/Growth-backed businesses are clearly looking to bring in accomplished Head/Director of People profiles sooner than they have been historically, and this looks to be related to the experience many Founders or CEOs have had in the past 12 months coping without a dedicated and qualified People leader.  Aside from the structural and administrative challenges we have all felt as a result of COVID-19, organisations with an excellent People Leader or HRD have been able to react quickly and focus on Talent strategically, even as the world was in crisis.  A great People leader is a strategic partner to the CEO and can advise and of course actively manage, develop, help, and guide the core assets of the business – people.

Hiring is back

The early part of 2020 was busy.  And then it wasn’t.  Hiring across our client base slowed significantly (and quickly) and while we at Zeren were working with clients throughout the depths of COVID-19, it was unmistakeably quiet.  This all changed in the Autumn and the clamour for talent has continued to grow through January and February.  The reasons for this are clear: vaccine-related optimism, the continually astonishing inventiveness of Founders launching new ‘market cycle-proof’ products and services, the funding-power of the global VCs and a huge pent-up demand and positivity of the entrepreneurs we partner with.

Candidates are not anti-risk, they are pro-quality

One of the biggest challenges for early-stage businesses is finding great talent – people who can join the journey early on, bring a future-proof level of skill and experience with a ‘roll sleeves up’ attitude, and a mindset to see opportunity where others see risk.  The last 12 months have led to candidates thinking twice and assessing career moves more deeply than before, and focusing on and really interrogating the quality of a business or opportunity before making the leap.  We see candidates looking for more validation around market potential, leadership experience, competitor analysis as well as funding and sales levels – of course these areas should be, and have always been, key considerations for great candidates – but we are seeing more due diligence being done by candidates, particularly when it comes to opportunities at early-stage businesses.  If the due diligence adds up, then candidates are making moves to join businesses of all shapes and sizes.

The Depth of the European Pool

As more businesses are created and Europe continues to build its Start-up ecosystem, more Founders and Leaders are looking to hire great talent.  The typical requirements that clients ask us for when searching for candidates at almost all levels include 2 elements: experience in a similar high-growth business (de-risk potential; ‘culture shock’) and prior experience in a larger ‘best practice’ multinational environment (bringing tangible knowledge of what ‘good’ looks like).  The challenge here is that the candidate pool is not deepening to keep pace with demand.  Businesses that look at different talent pools are winning here – whether this is creating an onboarding plan to enable them to bring in talent from outside the direct eco-system or, more noticeably, accessing the broader global pool through remote working set-ups.

Go West…

Historically we have worked with plenty of US clients looking to build a presence in Europe, and whilst this certainly hasn’t changed, an increasing number of clients are going ‘the other way’.  Current clients from Dublin to Stockholm to Tallin are asking us to work with them on their talent plans for entry into the US markets – and this is exciting.  European-founded businesses, with innovative technology, backed by major European Venture Funds are really driving forward with global expansion plans, and winning!

Culture is king…still

Drucker believed that ‘Culture eats Strategy for breakfast’ and while that may make for an interesting debate between a Strategy Head and a People Head at the same company, I’ll leave that for another time…Taking all previous points into account and considering the backdrop of 2020, it is not surprising that candidates are looking for businesses that demonstrate a thoughtful approach to culture, values, working practices and an overall Employee Value Proposition.  Tools like Glassdoor mean that Clients are being referenced throughout an interview process every bit as much as the Candidates, and culture is either the secret weapon or the fatal flaw in attracting the best talent.

2021 is set to be a very busy year for our clients – if you would like to discuss how we can help with your talent needs, please get in touch.

Zeren works across the Venture Capital, Growth & Private Equity and Corporate sectors identifying the highest calibre Managers, Directors and Leaders for the most innovative, disruptive, and ambitious businesses in the world.