Operator spotlight: Executive search leader Lynn Carter

Looking for practical help and advice on an operational area that may be outside your realm? Each month we spotlight one of our talented operators, who’ll share their expertise and offer insights and ideas that may help improve your own operations. This month we spoke to Lynn Carter, Head of Executive and Strategic Search at Confluent.

What are some of the biggest challenges recruiters face today? 

LYNN: Even in the best economic times recruiters should have a narrative around the company, executive team, funding, and the specific role they are presenting. But given where we are today, messaging needs to be particularly compelling, with an understanding that candidates may be more reluctant to consider leaving a role at this time. More communication and context, and more relationship building and engagement will be needed to get candidates to tip forward to consider opportunities. 

It seems like every company is trying to build a diverse and inclusive culture. How can companies increase their applicant pools to attract more candidates from underrepresented backgrounds? 

LYNN:  This is a hard and thorny, but important question to answer. I wish I had a magic answer on the exact steps it takes to be successful in increasing applicant pools and creating more diverse teams. I don’t, but here are some things to consider:

  • Start early. Many candidates from underrepresented backgrounds want to join companies that have employees that look like them. So if you don’t prioritize diversity and inclusion from the start, you risk creating an even bigger problem down the road when you try to attract candidates from underrepresented backgrounds to your company. The good news is that you can get started right away by being intentional about your hiring practices and company culture.
  • Focus on inclusion first. To not just hire, but also retain diverse talent, it’s important to build a company where employees of every background have the opportunity to thrive. Consider what your company is doing to build an inclusive environment. How are you building your employee resource groups and surfacing meaningful ways to support your employees from underrepresented backgrounds? These things demonstrate your commitment to building an inclusive workplace. Your own employees will be a champion for your company, attracting their network to the company when hiring.
  • Think about your leadership team. Have you worked hard to diversify this team with good results? If so, encourage these leaders to be involved in outside groups, meetups, and conferences that support underrepresented talent. If you haven’t made headway on diversifying your leadership team, focus there because it is very difficult to think about hiring diverse talent into a company whose leadership team itself is lacking in diversity.
  • Ensure an equitable hiring process for all candidates. Talk with your hiring managers about unconscious bias, building an objective and consistent interview process, and supporting employees from underrepresented backgrounds after hire. Candidates from underrepresented backgrounds face unconscious biases in the interview process and in the workplace that other candidates don’t, so bringing this to the forefront with your interview and management team is an important step. And for early stage companies that might not be able to invest in unconscious bias training, simply having your team read and discuss some statistics about inequality in hiring, pay and promotion is a good start. Here is one recent article that you can reference that lays this out pretty clearly for gender bias in tech: Women in tech statistics: The hard truths of an uphill battle
  • Consider different dimensions of diversity. In tech, diversity is frequently associated with gender and race. To be sure, it’s important to prioritize gender diversity and racial/ethnic diversity in your workforce, as well as the intersection between the two. (Women of color, for example, often face different barriers in the workplace than do white women.) But there are other dimensions of diversity to consider: educational and/or work background, socioeconomic status, age, disability, parental status, and more. 

What’s one thing we can do to make it easier for women and URM to get tech jobs?

LYNN: While there has been some progress in women and URM hiring recently in tech we have a long way to go. One simple thing is keeping must-have criteria in a job description to 3-4 bullet points at most. The reason that I say this is that all too often my recruiting team will kick off hiring for a technical position, and the hiring manager will list out 10+ must-have technical skills that the candidate has to have before being interviewed. This means that most of the applicants will not be considered. In addition, oftentimes women and URM candidates opt out of applying to these roles altogether when they don’t feel that they match 100% of the criteria requested. 

What’s your #1 trick for recruiting the best people?

LYNN: The most thoughtful answer I can tell you for finding the best people is to never settle, no matter the sense of urgency you have to fill the role. If you get to the end of the process and you are not excited about the candidate in front of you, remind yourself that someone who ultimately is not a fit for the role and company will have an enormously negative impact. Conversely, working hard to identify and attract a strong candidate pipeline, and sometimes waiting for the right person who will hit it out of the park, is hugely impactful. 

So what’s the one tried-and-true trick to get the right person interested in your company and role? Your network. Tell everyone what you need and why this is so important to your company. You will be amazed that sharing with the world your mission and the impact that this position will have will yield fantastic results and uncover fantastic talent who you may not have considered without the recommendation. 

There are no guarantees when it comes to placement, but are there certain criteria, experience, or traits you look for as indicators of future success? Things that may not appear on a resume, but bode well for a candidate?

LYNN:  It’s an overused term, and can be difficult to assess when reading a resume, but I would say grit. What obstacles has this person overcome in their personal and professional life? This can show up in a variety of ways, including working their way through school, participating in a collegiate sport, living in a number of countries, or changing roles or domains significantly in their careers.  

What’s one piece of advice you’d offer a company looking to improve its hiring process?

LYNN: Hire a great recruiting team. Look for recruiters who dive deep into understanding the products and businesses, and have been a true partner to hiring managers to lay out a strategy to hire great people. They should be extremely curious about people and the businesses they serve, as well as relentless in the pursuit of the best hire.

What’s one amazing insight no one knows about recruiting?

LYNN: It’s the best job in the world. Connecting with amazing people and bringing them together with others to build great businesses is fun and rewarding. Don’t get me wrong — it’s hard work, and it requires a great deal of optimism and energy to bring a company vision and role to the market, as well as to convince people who are already in a successful role to consider making a switch. But it’s a great feeling to help people discover new opportunities and then see them thrive with a new set of people in their professional lives. 

AOC often talks about the skills she picked up as a bartender, and others talk about what they learned working retail. What were some of those formative jobs for you?

LYNN: I’ve had a lot of these! I was fortunate to have parents who emphasized hard work from a young age. My siblings and I all worked as janitors at my dad’s orthodontic office in the evenings in middle school, which made getting my first job in a restaurant my sophomore year of high school seem pretty luxurious. Then I worked for two years in retail selling athletic shoes, which I enjoyed. It was the first job where I had a bonus incentive to learn and sell certain shoes on the floor. I loved that, and realized I was good at talking with people about what they needed and helping them to make decisions. And the best thing? I was made a manager with keys to the store by my senior year, which meant I could get my friends into the mall after hours.

What are some books you’ve enjoyed recently?

LYNN: I’m a crazy reader; it’s one of the things that I most like to do with my free time. I have a range of interests, from tech to biotech to history, so you’ll see me pick up almost anything and get deeply involved (and then tell you all about it). I recently finished Farther Than Any Man: The Rise and Fall of Captain James Cook by Martin Dugard. And now I’m reading The End Is Always Near: Apocalyptic Moments from the Bronze Age Collapse to Nuclear Near Misses by Dan Carlin. Dark, I know, but seemed appropriate for the times. 

What’s something at work that makes you roll your eyes every time you hear it?

LYNN: When someone says that something can’t be done. This just fires me up. I don’t know if I actually roll my eyes, but I instantly go into problem-solving mode to come up with a solution. 

What’s the one condiment you could never live without? 

LYNN: Does salt count? If so, probably that. And don’t worry, I’ve got pretty low blood pressure.
We believe culture, diversity, and operational excellence are a key part of building truly great companies. Learn more on our website or by connecting with us on Twitter and LinkedIn.