When executive recruiters look to fill job openings, they typically focus on wooing talent away from competitors within the same industry.
Not so in the Internet world.
"What's different is there isn't a clearly defined pool of candidates," said Robert Bellano, a director at cFour Partners, which does executive recruiting for Internet-related companies. "No one has six years of Web-design experience. Some of the quantitative things you have to give way on; it's more qualitative issues."
That's just one of the differences between recruiting for established businesses and recruiting for businesses in an industry that hardly existed five years ago. Because of those differences, a cottage industry of executive recruiters and recruiting firms has started popping up.
It does demand a different mindset. Allen Esrock, vice president of Larkin Associates, another Santa Monica-based executive recruiting firm focused on Internet-related companies, said he typically does not look inside the Internet industry where even executives who aren't looking for a new job may have two or more offers at any given time. Rather, Internet recruiters look to other companies in related fields.
"The thing you want to do is look at the vertical market the company exists in and pull somebody out of that vertical market," Esrock said. "If you're 'Realtor.com,' you might want to start pulling people out of the real estate business, then teach them the nuances of the Internet business."
Esrock said Internet-related companies are typically more amenable to hiring neophytes when others in the business are well-versed in the technology. "If the CEO or other people don't have years of Internet experience, they should hire in the Internet experience," he said.
Another unusual aspect of Internet recruiting is that candidates who held key positions at failed Internet ventures are not eliminated from consideration.
In more established industries, "failure is more important as a negative," said Geoff Champion, managing director of the global advanced technology practice of Century City-based Korn/Ferry International, the nation's largest executive recruiting firm. "Then, if you failed, one had to look at you as 'Why did he fail in a pretty well-structured environment?' The whole business of the Internet and (electronic) commerce is, there is no structure, and there are a lot of failures."
Champion said the failure of many Internet-related companies can be attributed to new technology or limited demand rather than to the failure of a single key executive.
Recruiters said that because the technology is often so new, other traits such as strong leadership skills and the ability to quickly change directions are considered just as important, if not more so.
Jennifer Happillon, another director at cFour Partners, said the candidates she works with must be able to react quickly to new business ideas because an Internet-related company "cannot afford to analyze and discuss business possibilities for six months, because it's dead (by that time)."
One of the challenges in recruiting, said Esrock, is that he and his colleagues often are not replacing workers who have left a company or position, as is true in more traditional recruiting. They are, in many cases, filling newly created positions, and it is not always clear what the new hire's duties will be.
"One of the differences is that in many new-media jobs, the positions haven't previously existed, either within the existing organization or within the workforce in general," he said. "In essence you're doing a search for a new position, which are sometimes not particularly well-defined."
Korn/Ferry's Champion and other recruiters said that in the Internet world, more so than in traditional fields, there is a greater emphasis on finding a candidate who fits the company's culture.
"You're looking for people with energy, dynamism the type of person that can become a rallying point for his or her people, because you're going against some pretty considerable odds in most cases," he said.
Although many people picture Internet start-ups as staffed by twentysomethings, that is no longer the case. That energy and dynamism is increasingly coming from seasoned pros.
"I think there is a professionalization happening in Internet companies," Esrock said. "The idea of four kids in a garage I don't want to say it's pass & #233;, but as those companies age, they are bringing in people with more experience, or from more established Internet companies."
Bellano of cFour Partners said that Internet-related companies tend to start off with just creative and technical people, and then recruit executives with more business experience who also tend to be older when they grow sufficiently large.
As for recruiting business types, "You can go back to traditional companies," he said, "but again you want someone who is adept at being able to work in a different medium."
Champion said he pays little attention to age when recruiting executives. "I've met some pretty old 20-year-olds in my life," he said. "I don't think age has anything to do with it. It was to do with your dynamism and style."
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