Discovering Talent

In my last post, I wrote about the importance of ‘Defining Success,’ and how spending the time up front in defining a role, and it’s success metrics, pays dividends when you are shortlisting candidates from the market.  

I wish I could say the hard work stops there, but if you’re truly in the business of Building extraordinary product teams, you’ve just landed yourself a new job.  Say hello to the always-on hiring mentality!  To be fair, you may already be there, and if you are then your quest for ‘Discovering Talent’ just got a little easier.  But fear not if you have no idea what Im talking about, I’m going to give you some pointers to get you started. 

So, your new role is now live.  But what’s your machine for finding and shortlisting candidates?  Welcome to the Source phase…

The Substitutes

What happens in a football match when a team is losing and they’re reaching the late stages of the game?  Or your star striker has got injured on the pitch?  The first place the coach looks to is the bench.  Who have they got in reserve that can change the fortunes of the game, or cover the responsibilities that noone else can?  Without a bench, the game is lost, and you’re unable to make a change to create an advantage.  The best hiring teams I know have their own bench, a database of potential candidates they can reach out to at any moment.  These aren't just names on a list.  They’re former colleagues, former staff, referrals from trusted sources, or a killer candidate who didn't quite make it in the last round of recruitment.  You need a bench and you need to keep it warm.  What does a football coach do with the players that aren't starting the next match, or won’t be a regular starter on the pitch?  They keep them motivated, they talk to them all the time about their role, where they fit in, or what opportunities lie ahead.  And you need to do the same with your bench.  Stay in contact, have the occasional call, meet for a coffee - and be ready to strike when the stars align.  If you don’t have a bench, don’t fret.  You can build a strong bench over time, starting with your next role.  History tell us that championship winning teams are never overnight successes, managers patiently build their squads so they can push for trophies.  The same principle applies to you and developing your bench for the future.     

The Referrers 

I’ll work to the assumption that you already oversee a great product team, or several teams.  It’s also likely you have a range of amazing colleagues across your business.  Failing this, you’ll at least know a handful of people in your company who are bonafide geniuses.  So, who do they know in their network that would be perfect for your newly launched role?  Talk to them all, every single one of these people, and do it in person.   And flatter them - because you know they are awesome, its pretty certain they know someone awesome too!  Ask them in person, because if you ask everyone at once, you’ll get no response - Ask everyone, zero responsibility taken.  Ask someone individually, its a personal ask from you to them, and responsibility is accepted.  Noone wants to spend energy thinking about your ideal candidate, or scouring their LinkedIn network for 30 mins.  It's an effort right?  But make it a personal favour and you’ll stand a greater chance of getting somewhere rather than nowhere.  And once you have some referrals, validate them for your shortlist, or add them to your bench to talk to another day.   

Another really good tactic for internal referrals when you launch a new role is to hold a sourcing session with your product team.  “Who wants to play a big part in finding your next colleague? Me, Me!”  You’ll find a big appetite to help you if you give your team a voice in your recruitment process.  Its in their interest too!  Set up a 60 minute session with your team and give them a challenge to go through their networks together and work up a shortlist of ten referrals each.  For a team of five, that’s fifty potential candidates for your shortlist - in an hour!  And all you had to do was give a brief and organise the session!               

And if you really want to take this up a gear, don’t be afraid to ask new colleagues for candidate referrals as soon as they join.  For your own team, this can be an onboarding activity.  Ask them to share the details of ten or so people they know who you should be talking to about working for you, or your business, in the future.  If you make ten new hires in a year, that’s a hundred potential new sources of talent for the future.  I like those numbers!

Finally, if you’re hiring within a bigger organisation, talk to your people team.  Are there any corporate incentives for referrals of new talent?  Does someone get £1000 if they find your next product manager?  Is there a bigger incentive for high profile roles?  Don’t be afraid to remind people of this carrot when you are asking for referrals.  

Honestly, there is no greater source of talent than your own people.  Use them!  Its a great place to start when kicking off your search or bench-building.    

The Challengers

Who came a worthy second place when you closed the recruitment for you senior UX Designer last summer?  I'm sure it was gut-wrenching to tell them they just missed out.  If you’d had double the budget you would have hired them as well as your other candidate.  Well, don’t be too proud to give them a call.  If you gave them some great feedback, connected on the relevant professional network, and provided them with some support since, then that call suddenly got a lot easier.  And no worries if you didn’t.  Having gone deep in your interview process, chances are they liked you just as much as you like them.  What do you have to lose in calling them about this new opportunity?  Best case scenario, they throw their hat in the ring immediately.  Worst case scenario, they get a massive ego boost and you get reacquainted - just make sure they get added to the bench you’ve been building…

The Chancers

Your role is live on your corporate website and social channels.  Now you’re getting a steady stream of applications through.  It's great, but you need a filter.  Don’t be overwhelmed by the volume of applications, and remember what I wrote about in ‘Defining Success’.  What are your dealbreakers?  The mandatory skills or experience you need to have in the role?  If they don’t have them listed in their application, then you can quickly disqualify them for this role.  You’re too busy delivering extraordinary products, so don’t waste time on chancers or people you know in your heart wont be able to perform in the role.  If someone does catch your eye but doesn’t quite hit the mark on paper, there’s always a bench that needs warming!  

The Searchers

And now I come to working with third party recruiters to build your product team.  For many businesses, they’re an essential part of the mix.  You’ll know a recruiter you really trust, who invested themselves in your business and just get what it takes to be a part of your team.  They’ve recruited some fantastic people for you in the past and when they do call about a candidate, you’ll always stop everything and listen.  Perhaps they came from the product world too and they just understand your language.  If this is the case, stick with them.  You have to evaluate the cost of recruitment from start to finish.  It's a massive overhead if you’re not really sure about what you want, and you’re inefficient in your sourcing and selection.  Let your trusted recruiter carry that responsibility for you, they’re a keeper!  

If it's your first time working with a recruiter then you need to make an investment in your time.  Invite them into your business, tell them about how you want to recruit, the personas you know will do well in your team, and what you really need from this role.  And agree terms in writing - that’s your responsibility too, do this before they start their search.  Understand their value offer and approach, and set expectations between you and them so you both know what to expect from each other, and the commercials involved.  And then keep investing time.  Speak with them frequently, give them quick feedback on their candidates, right or wrong.  Yes they are an expert, but not in your business so reset the path when you need to.  You would do the same for a new member of your team and you need to think about your recruiter in the same way.  Invest the time and you’ll reap the reward from the partnership.  If you’re not feeling it - and you’ll know - you don’t feel listened to, and the quality just isn't there, then let them down gently.

The link between Defining Success and ‘Discovering Talent’ is a little bit like setting up a lead generation system.  Once you’ve got your target customer identified, you need to think about the routes to get them into the business.  You set up those routes and watch the leads roll in.  But what happens if you shut those routes down?  That’s right.  No leads, no sales opportunity, no forward growth for your business.  No marketer would ever shut down their routes, they have an always-on mentality.  And you need to think the same way about ‘Discovering Talent’ for your team.  You can do so much yourself just by setting up a system for these sources I’ve been talking about.  Give it a try on your next few roles, and see what you learn.  And if the leap seems too big and you need a bit more advice, then drop me a line at and I’ll help you get started on Building your extraordinary product team.  

Disclaimer:  If any of the above sounds generic, I apologise.  What Im trying to demonstrate here is the entry points to get you started.  There are, of course, hundreds of routes to finding diverse product talent for your product team, all essential to making sure you are building the most inclusive product possible.  We’ll save that chat for another day, I promise.  

What's inspired me recently...

I’ve been in reflective mood over the new year and something that caught my attention and has really helped me as I’ve settled back into professional routine is the perspective of ‘Taking 100% Responsibility.’  Like many people, I can get stressed out and frustrated, and while I’m good at hiding it, the burden of these feelings always weighs heavy on my shoulders.  But what if I didn’t stress or worry about the things that I can’t control?  What if I chose to take responsibility for how I feel, and how I act, in those situations?  How much lighter would that load feel?  Turns out quite a lot actually!  Since daily life took off again in early Jan, I’ve had so many more good days than bad, and that’s all been the result of a small attitude shift in how I see the things before me.  I’ll give all the credit for this to Jake Humphrey and Prof. Damian Hughes on the High Performance Podcast, they’ve shared some wonderful advice on this topic.  So here is Jake, who describes taking 100% responsibility better than I ever could…

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Glen Duncan

31st May