Heidi Ram on current job market dynamics (and tips) for product job seekers, passive candidates, and active employers
Product State Q&A
Heidi Ram is the Product Practice Lead at Martyn Bassett Associates, a Toronto-based search firm specializing in building growth teams for startups and scale-ups across North America. Heidi specializes in recruiting Product Managers, Designers, and Executives.
EC: What kind of dynamics are you seeing between job seekers and employers in today’s market?
HR: Lately, I've been asked this question more than any other, which is no surprise given the wild ride 2023 has been so far!
Everyone is trying to understand the market, whether in the broadest sense or from the point of view of their small piece of the market.
For anyone who is a job seeker, passive candidate, or an employer attempting to make strategic hires, here are a few key insights on where things stand today:
Despite a gloomy narrative continuing to dominate headlines, there’s an uptick of optimism beginning to break through.
An increasing number of Founders and CEOs we're speaking with are navigating this storm and intending to make strategic hires - they're also investing in product.
Most leaders of product companies agree that critical gaps across product organizations and inexperienced product leadership, as an alternative to higher salaried experience, may have concerning consequences for the business.
Six weeks ago, 'fearful' was how one VC described the position of too many Founders, whereas 'cautiously optimistic' is the new sentiment.
Being an Employer
One of the common complaints across employers is the volume of inbound applicants in relation to the relevancy of those candidates to the experience they are looking for.
Many employers have downsized talent acquisition teams or have budget constraints to engage search firms like ours. That translates into pressure on already time-starved functional leaders who are now reviewing piles of applicants in hopes an ideal candidate has applied.
Unfortunately, most leaders quickly realize the hire will not likely be an inbound applicant.
‘Lots of applicants, but no one we would hire’ is a recurring theme among many employers we speak with.
Being a Candidate
If it's tough being an employer, it's even tougher being a candidate.
Fewer companies are hiring.
There’s increased competition for each position.
Learning how to navigate an employer's market when you've only ever worked in a candidate's market.
Add to that staying positive and focused.
If there was ever a time when grit was required, it's now.
EC: What is a job seeker to do?
HR: This competitive market requires any active job seekers to apply a multi-channel strategy to their search. This includes self-directed efforts to engage with hiring stakeholders — leveraging personal and professional network — and introducing yourself to recruiters and search firms likely to represent opportunities aligned with your candidate persona and experiences.
While the process requires a multi-channel approach, the hustle, and effort to keep sourcing and filling the funnel with activity is also critical. It has been said, 'it's a full-time job to get a job,' which is 100% true for most people today.
Learning to curate your message and career narrative is an often subtle difference between an average candidate and one who stands out. The average candidate has a talk track about themselves and often attempts to lead an interview with ‘let me tell you a little about myself’ in response to the interviewer's question.
The candidate often begins their talk track from the beginning of their career, highlighting everything.
Unfortunately, this approach is less likely to be effective because rather than investing time to ensure the interviewer has answers to the questions being asked to qualify you, time is wasted discussing parts of a career not relevant to the opportunity.
Meanwhile, the standout candidate approaches an interview by listening to the interviewer's questions. The candidate answers the question while also asking qualifying questions to ensure they understand the context of the question and what the interviewer is looking for.
This standout candidate presents relevant experiences, highlighting more recent experiences. This back-and-forth exchange becomes a meaningful discussion and will likely result in a second meeting to continue the interview process.
EC: What is a passive candidate to do?
HR: Not all candidates are ‘job seekers.’ Many people who flow in and out of interview cycles are passive candidates - employed people passively open to an opportunity that will fill a void not met by their current employer or to fulfill an aspirational goal.
When it comes to being a passive candidate, it's all about being in a position of readiness. What does this mean?
Being ready when an aspirational opportunity comes knocking on your door means stepping into the ring and fighting for the job, even if you weren't looking for it.
This begins with understanding what you value in the next move — whether it's a specific gap you're trying to close, an aspirational move specific to increased scope of responsibility, or a specific company you've dreamed of working for. You need to be able to recognize it both from what the opportunity is to your career, as well as what it isn't.
Being in a position of readiness also includes having an updated resume that communicates outcomes — and metrics — and separates you from other candidates.
I love to talk about compensation because it's an incredibly complex topic. Product salaries are all over the place, despite whatever the latest salary report du jour tries to convince us of.
If there are two things I've learned in 20 years of recruiting for startups and scaleup, it's this:
1. While money matters, money is never the number one reason a top product candidate moves.
Some people move for the same money, while many will move for less if they perceive the value of the opportunity to their career to be greater than what they currently have.
2. Specificity of experience and subject matter expertise are hard to resist for most employers.
Everyone agrees that product management skills are transferable across product categories, which is why so many product people move for the opportunity to solve new problems they have never tackled before.
However, anything can happen when an employer meets a candidate who is an SME of their product category or industry, knows their ICP, and has already conquered the mountain they are still trying to climb.
And I mean anything.
While the current state of the tech industry suggests salaries are leveling out, we're seeing the leveling out mostly at the IC level, the generalists, and those early in their careers. Top talent, on the other hand, is just that, top.
Our experience recruiting Chief Product Officers, Vice Presidents, and very specialized product talent across categories like cybersecurity, cloud networking infrastructure, and CX has shown us that little has changed in the comp plans to attract candidates.
While much has shifted over the course of this year, it's important to remember that nothing is forever, every market is temporary, and from where I am sitting, the hiring market is not as doom and gloom as it appears.
“Being ready when an aspirational opportunity comes knocking on your door means stepping into the ring and fighting for the job, even if you weren't looking for it.”
- Heidi Ram
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