In today’s employee-driven job market, here's what top candidates are looking for. Photo via Getty Images

One of the most disappointing (and costly) things as a hiring manager is when your top candidate declines the job offer. You spend months defining target skills and characteristics, reviewing résumés and interviewing candidates to narrow down to your finalist of choice. You put together what you believe is a strong offer, and the candidate says “no.” What went wrong?

It’s not an employer’s job market anymore. In this transformed workplace, and at a time of historically low unemployment, it is very much an employee’s market, and he/she can afford to be selective. Below are some common reasons candidates turn down job offers and what you can do to prevent them.

No. 1: The interview process took too long

It takes time to identify the right fit, and a typical hiring process will often involve 2-3 interviews with decision makers in different locations. You also want to pinpoint a candidate you like and compare him/her to other candidates. When all is said and done, you’re often looking at an interview process that can take 6-8 weeks. During this time, it’s critical to stay in touch with the candidate. A simple email with a status update will help keep them engaged. This is also a great time to check references, showing the candidate your continued interest.

While you’re focused on filling the position, it’s easy to forget candidates have deadlines, too. A lengthy interview process with periods of little interaction can make a candidate feel you don’t respect his/her time or make your company appear disorganized, something they may be leery of based on past experience. Setting expectations upfront and maintaining open lines of communication are key in this candidate-driven environment.

Equally important to an efficient hiring process is encouraging non-essential decision makers to let go after a certain point. For example, once a small sized business graduates to a midsized company, a CEO should not make the mistake of thinking they have to talk to every single prospect. They need to approve them. Delegating and trust are key.

No. 2: You didn’t ‘sell’ the opportunity enough

It’s easy to forget interviews are as much about the candidate interviewing you as you interviewing the candidate. While you want to assess the person’s skills and cultural fit, the candidate wants to know how the role will match his/her personal and professional goals. Heck, they want to know how it stacks up against other jobs for which they might be applying!

Career growth is something every candidate wants. It’s critical for the hiring manager to discuss training and personal development opportunities. This is particularly important for millennials, who are often more motivated by the ability to learn and grow than they are by an increase in financial compensation. It’s also important to talk about the company culture and what makes you stand out. Bottom line: You want the candidate to leave the interview knowing he/she will be appreciated by your company and will get an experience that can’t be found elsewhere. To this end, expressing genuine interest in their life outside of work (loved ones, what makes them tick, etc.) can make all the difference.

No. 3: Lack of employer brand appeal

Companies spend a lot of time branding their products and services but don’t always think about how they look to future employees. Your M.O. is how you show candidates what it’s like to work for you. This includes their overall interview process experience, reviews on websites like Glassdoor, as well as posts your company and employees share on social media.

Let candidates get to know your company through posts. Show your team having fun together, being involved in the community and as customer-focused professionals. Employees also give hints about their work experience in their own social content. If they’re happy, it’ll show in their online activity.

These first three reasons for why a job offer might be turned down are all about how a hirer makes a candidate feel, but the fine print matters too.

No. 4: Job duties

It may seem like a no-brainer that a job description should be well-written, but more often than not, it’s unclear what will be expected of said employee. When you do the internal work ahead of time, getting alignment on what’s required and the intricacies of the existing (or new) position, it leaves little room for misunderstanding and/or disappointment post-hire.

No. 5: Compensation and benefits

Lastly, a strong compensation and benefits package is critical in securing your top pick. For some roles, that will mean an offer heavily weighed on the salary side. For others, it will be uncapped commissions or the opportunity for equity. Make sure the package is competitive with the industry, and will appeal to your ideal candidate and make him/her want to join your team.

Remember to think “outside the box” with extra benefits like flexible work hours, the ability to work remotely, PTO/unlimited sick days or vacation. The cost to implement these perks is low, but they often mean more to the candidate than higher pay.

In today’s employee-driven job market, top candidates are looking for a comprehensive package, growth opportunities, and a welcoming work environment that will provide lasting happiness and satisfaction.

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Hazel Kassu is the managing director of Houston-based recruiting firm, Sudduth Search.

Regardless of which side of the hiring table you're sitting at, these are the skills startup and SMB employees need to have. Photo via Getty Imahes

Here are the skills best suited for startup employment, says Houston expert

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As an executive recruiter, two questions I regularly receive are how to get a role in a SMB fast growth company after having been in a larger, and oftentimes global organization for a significant amount of time, or how to change career paths — whether it’s into another department (e.g., operations to sales) or breaking into a different industry altogether (quite frequently from oil and gas to the tech space).

I have helped several candidates successfully navigate one or all of those scenarios, but also was able to do so myself when I transitioned from owning a booking agency in the beauty industry. And in my experience, those who were able to leverage transferable skills, provided their new employers with a unique perspective and significantly broader lens, especially in terms of strategy.

With the state of our economy influx — as some industries announce layoffs and others continue to experience labor shortages — I have culled together the following tips for hirers and job seekers alike.

First of all, let's identify the traits of someone well suited for SMB or startup culture:

  • Tenacious, a self starter, and someone who thrives on being busy at work.
  • Revered as a go-to person. When leadership needs something done, this is the team member they know they can rely on to do it well and on time.
  • Volunteers to step outside their comfort zone and take on new responsibilities.
  • Intellectually curious and thrives on learning new things.
  • Identifies problems, but also takes initiative to solve them or recognize workarounds without expecting someone else to.

Looking to break into the startup scene? Consider highlighting and/or acquiring these industry agnostic skills:

Conviction

I always recommend people interviewing for any position create a “verbal resume” or addendum to accompany their traditional one. These are examples of projects or scenarios you successfully navigated in past roles that make the case for your ability to meet the prospective employer’s expectations.

Job descriptions often list the most important requirements first. Identify similar skills that were expected in your previous positions and examples to cite in conversation. I also recommend briefly bullet-pointing the most impressive ones on the resume. Going through this process will help you personally identify if you are able to confidently take on the position.

We often undervalue certain perspectives we might bring to a role if they are something that comes easily or is done regularly. Do not assume hiring companies know your role-relevant skills and do not be afraid to share notable accomplishments.

Steadfast

Smaller companies often rely on positions having wider scopes than at their larger counterparts. This requires worker flexibility instead of sticking to a rigidly defined role.

As a recruiter, I am hesitant about placing candidates with experience only from larger organizations where typically people are not required to wear as many hats. Smaller companies require people to be self starters and to exemplify tenacity in order to make it through the messiness that fast growth startups often possess. It is exciting, challenging, and rewarding for the right person.

Be able to identify times you were proactive, especially if you identified a problem or a breakdown in process, developed a solution, and then executed it. With fast growth, this has to happen often to support scale. There is not the luxury of going to senior leaders and saying, “I cannot do my role because of this problem and I need it fixed.” They need candidates who are able to identify issues, but who also love the opportunity to fix them. Especially if you used to working in a corporate environment, identify times you raised your hand to take on something that was not required, initiated opportunities to collaborate with new teams, or stepped outside your comfort zone.

Pliable

Be flexible around compensation, especially if breaking into a new industry. I almost never recommended a lateral move in compensation, and even less so, a step down. But it is important to acknowledge that there are exceptions. If you are changing industries or breaking into a new part of the company altogether (e.g., engineering to sales), you will need to expect to not be compensated similarly to others who may have as many years of work as you but more experience in the specific role/industry.

The company is taking a risk on you and knows there will be a learning curve. For the right candidate, that assimilation will be quick and compensation will eventually balance out. Smaller companies in startup mode can sometimes find it challenging to compete with larger organizations’ salaries, especially if a candidate has a longer tenure (7 to 10 years or more) at the same company.

At the executive level though, the reward of gaining experience and successfully navigating the startup scene, can pay off exponentially in the long term for people especially in equity bearing roles. Oftentimes, I have seen candidates make the move and initially the role does not offer equity or additional incentives. However, over time, their performance can be rewarded with it.

While other SMBs might believe you will make the transition successfully and may offer packages with it from the get go. Where this recommendation gets sticky is candidates historically do not stay in a role very long if they have a reduction in pay. It is much easier to say you can do without for a period of time than to actually do it. Carefully assess if a cut is something your budget can truly bear.

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Leah Salinas is a managing director with Houston-based executive hiring firm Sudduth Search LLC.

Recruiting can be difficult — but finding the right partner can make the process a lot smoother. Photo via Getty Images

Houston expert: How to get the most out of your recruiting partner

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I’ve been in the retained recruiting industry for nearly two decades, with a four-year stint in the middle as an internal director of talent at a management consulting firm, so my knowledge is primarily based on the point of view of an outsourced recruiter. What’s more, my professional advice is relevant to most companies, but not all.

At Sudduth Search, our clients are generally investor-backed companies in the lower and middle market. Most are startups— both early-stage and large but all are growing rapidly—and we mainly search for director to C-level executives. And just like not all companies are the same, not all recruiters are either. I don’t believe there is a “plug and play” one size fits all recruiter; you need to find one that works for you and your culture. That being said, there are indeed ways to ensure you ARE getting the most out of the recruiter with whom you engage.

Ok, now that we’ve got the boring stuff out of the way, let’s get into some real talk. How should you choose a firm and launch your search?

Get on the same page

First and foremost, make sure the recruiter you choose is the right cultural fit (a.k.a. emotionally intelligent and not a jerk). Will the recruiter represent your company and ethos well? If you’re put off by the recruiter’s sales tactics, or the recruiter regularly isn’t prepared, they’ll likely treat your search the same way. If YOU wouldn’t hang out with your recruiter outside of work, chances are your best candidates won’t want to talk with them either.

Expertise is key

Can the recruiter explain the process they follow, step-by-step? Recruiting isn’t luck. The best results come from following a proven process, being diligent, and detail-oriented. If your recruiter is “winging it,” and pushing candidates they already know, that’s not what you need. Heck, you could do that yourself and save a lot on fees. Have them walk you through their specific strategy so you know they aren’t just hoping to find the resume you’ll like.

Know your niche

Let’s also touch on recruiters with a specialty focus, something I get asked about more often than anything. Here’s what some of my prospective clients say: “We want someone who specializes in purple unicorns from the rainbow ranch industry.” For comparison sake, when you hire a lawyer, do you limit your search to ONLY those who work with purple unicorns from said industry? No, because we all know there could be a conflict of interest with competitors. Plus, if an attorney knows the law and how to apply it, it shouldn’t matter if they have a narrow focus. Similarly, if a recruiter specializes in exactly what your company does, or what the related position is for, their focus will be very narrow, making it difficult not to trip over past (or current) clients during the process. And it’s always possible your recruiter will be looking to poach from your team when they’re done with you. If a recruiter knows how to recruit for a multitude of positions within various industries, their methodology is probably what makes them successful; they’re not just spinning a rolodex, hoping it lands on the right candidate (and yes, I know I just aged myself).

Once you’ve chosen your recruiting firm, let’s talk about how to maximize their value:

  • Your recruiter should provide you more than just fodder and a resume for the recommended candidates. An important part of the process needs to include the recruiter giving you a thorough overview, analysis and opinion of the candidate. Answers to questions such as: What is their motivation for changing jobs? Why are they interested in your position? Why have they had a short tenure? How much revenue do they manage? You need to understand the candidate’s motivation for entertaining a new position and any gaps between jobs or questionable moves should be addressed. My hope is that my clients can forgo the boring interview questions and get straight to the meat of whether they like the person, and believe that particular candidate will be successful in the role and an asset to the team.
  • Your recruiter should scour the market without just focusing on people looking for a job, but also passive candidates. Most of our searches have a minimum of 50 candidates, and some have 300+. As a client, you should have the ability to see all of the candidates being considered. You’re paying for the search; you need to know that the recruiter has completed their due diligence and pursued as many leads as possible.
  • Passive candidates take longer to decide if they’re interested in your open position. Give them time to go through that thought process of deciding if they are interested. If you rush the recruiter, and the candidate feels pressured, you’re probably going to miss out on some stellar talent.
  • Your recruiter should be talking to the candidate all along the way, to keep them engaged and better ascertain whether the candidate is still interested and will accept an offer if given one. Nowadays, the market is a bit crazy, so you’ll never know whether the candidate is being recruited elsewhere. However, if the recruiter is doing their job, they should have a good idea whether the candidate will make it to the finish line and accept your offer.
  • Weekly calls: I know, I know, you don’t need another meeting on your calendar. But trust me, this is the best way to execute a successful, efficient search. The recruiter should provide weekly updates, including challenges, feedback and progress with particular candidates that look favorable. You, as the client, should be open and communicative with your concerns, questions or otherwise.
  • The recruiter should help you through the offer negotiation process to ensure there are no surprises. The last thing you want is to make an offer and then find out the candidate is entertaining three other offers. Ok, even with 20 years of experience, I sometimes get surprised. But I do everything possible to prevent that from happening. You should know exactly why the candidate wants or is willing to make a job change, from the first time you talk to them. While salary expectations can vary, you should never get to the point of offer and be shocked by the amount it will take to secure their commitment.
  • So what if you are a start up, does all of this advice apply? Absolutely, because with fewer people, early leadership hires are even more critical to your ability to succeed and raise capital.Startups and early-stage companies need to think creatively when making offers. If someone is prepared to take a risk on you, they deserve to at least make the same money they did before.Or maybe you can you offer them success-based compensation, like equity or tracking stock? If the person you are hiring is not motivated by success-based compensation, then they are probably not cut out to be at a scaling company. It takes someone who is self-driven, who can see the end result and figure out how to get there. They must be willing to put their own “skin in the game” in order to see the whole company succeed. They are the type that thrives on being challenged. If they don’t, then let them go as they will likely bolt if the going gets tough and you are better off knowing that ahead of time.

I think that covers most of it. I’m probably going to make a lot of recruiters mad because I just made their jobs harder. But I believe it’s a recruiter’s responsibility to bring as much value to their clients and the recruiting process as possible, and to ultimately attract the best talent possible. And if you do need a purple unicorn from a rainbow ranch, please call Sudduth Search, we’ll find you one.

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Jen Sudduth is the founder and managing partner of Houston-based executive hiring firm Sudduth Search LLC.

Hiring an executive at a pivotal time — specifically amid The Great Resignation — can be overwhelming. This Houstonian has tips from her decades in the business. Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko from Pexels

Houston expert weighs in on how to identify the right transformational leader

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In my 20 years of working in executive search, I’m not sure there has ever been a tougher time to be a leader, whether that’s running a big company or being in charge of a small team. I don’t have to tell you that chronic stressors are impacting employee engagement and wellbeing, and have been for a few years.

Transformational Leadership is not just about leading high-growth companies; it’s about leading through change, and driving change when it’s needed. Right now, the Transformational Leadership that’s needed is directly tied to the pandemic, returning to work, and now “The Great Resignation and Reckoning.” Transformational Leaders must foster a culture where workers WANT to be loyal and want to help the company succeed.

How do you identify leaders who will create the conditions for which employees are rightfully asking, and who will encourage resilience, both personally and professionally?

Here are some of the attributes Sudduth Search seeks when hiring Transformational Leaders:

Collaboration in the conversation. Even in an interview, if the person is not listening as much as they are talking, or is even talking over the interviewer, it’s a red flag. Possessing enough social awareness to know when it’s time to talk is critical for effective leaders.

Leaders who display openness and humility. Leaders who convey that they are “all knowing” no matter how obvious it is that no one has all the answers is a risky hire. Be on the lookout for candidates who admit when they don’t know things and talk about how they solved the situation regardless.

Courageous leaders who prioritize ethics and principles. Good leaders are trusted and respected for the decisions they make when they prioritize ethics. Ask them about difficult situations they’ve been in, and how they prioritized their beliefs.

Transformational Leaders are healthy and happy. I’m not going to tell you that every leader is healthy and happy 100% of the time, but strong leaders have high emotional intelligence and self-awareness, and an ability to step outside of themselves and self-regulate.

Intellectual bravery. Transformational Leaders disagree or challenge the status quo in a proactive way. They might challenge something that has been said in a setting where everyone just accepts the statement as a given or they might state something that isn’t popular. Transformational Leaders spur this kind of communication, they encourage employees to think outside of the box, and they dare to be wrong. Bureaucracy hinders creativity. Transformational Leaders set the tone and decide the norms.

They encourage difficult, but important conversations. Transformational Leaders encourage people to think beyond their roles, and think about the company as a whole. These kinds of leaders include employees in important conversations, they admit when they don’t know something, and they are not afraid to ask for feedback.

Authenticity. As mental health experts warned it would, the pandemic is triggering a loneliness epidemic. But even though most everyone is online, working more than they are maintaining active social lives, they feel equally isolated in their professional lives. Employees miss the camaraderie of the office. Celebrations, light hearted get togethers, spontaneous lunches with the whole team. What’s more, they miss feeling connected and having colleagues know where they’re at. Transformational Leaders haven’t been shy to implement alternatives, and they won’t forget to bring back team outings and office lore when it’s safe to do so.

Perhaps the most important factor to consider when hiring leaders is cultural fit, which means you can work with them, you feel comfortable communicating with them, and you are aligned on ethics and values. Dig into any question marks or topic where you might be misaligned.

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Jen Sudduth is the founder and managing partner of Houston-based executive hiring firm Sudduth Search LLC.

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Houston family's $20M donation drives neurodegeneration research

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Neurodegeneration is one of the cruelest ways to age, but one Houston family is sharing its wealth to invigorate research with the goal of eradicating diseases like Alzheimer’s.

This month, Laurence Belfer announced that his family, led by oil tycoon Robert Belfer, had donated an additional $20 million to the Belfer Neurodegeneration Consortium, a multi-institutional initiative that targets the study and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.

This latest sum brings the family’s donations to BNDC to $53.5 million over a little more than a decade. The Belfer family’s recent donation will be matched by institutional philanthropic efforts, meaning BNDC will actually be $40 million richer.

BNDC was formed in 2012 to help scientists gain stronger awareness of neurodegenerative disease biology and its potential treatments. It incorporates not only The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, but also Baylor College of Medicine, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

It is the BNDC’s lofty objective to develop five new drugs for Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders over the next 10 years, with two treatments to demonstrate clinical efficacy.

“Our goal is ambitious, but having access to the vast clinical trial expertise at MD Anderson ensures our therapeutics can improve the lives of patients everywhere,” BNDC Executive Director Jim Ray says in a press release. “The key elements for success are in place: a powerful research model, a winning collaborative team and a robust translational pipeline, all in the right place at the right time.”

It may seem out of place that this research is happening at MD Anderson, but scientists are delving into the intersection between cancer and neurological disease through the hospital’s Cancer Neuroscience Program.

“Since the consortium was formed, we have made tremendous progress in our understanding of the molecular and genetic basis of neurodegenerative diseases and in translating those findings into effective targeted drugs and diagnostics for patients,” Ray continues. “Yet, we still have more work to do. Alzheimer's disease is already the most expensive disease in the United States. As our population continues to age, addressing quality-of-life issues and other challenges of treating and living with age-associated diseases must become a priority.”

And for the magnanimous Belfer family, it already is.

3 Houston innovators to know this week

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Editor's note: Every week, I introduce you to a handful of Houston innovators to know recently making headlines with news of innovative technology, investment activity, and more. This week's batch includes a podcast with the founder of a new venture firm, a former astronaut and recent award recipient, and a health care innovator with fresh funding.

Zach Ellis, founder and managing partner of South Loop Ventures

Zach Ellis explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that South Loop Ventures plans to invest in promising companies from across the country and bring them into Houston's ecosystem to grow and scale. Photo via LinkedIn

Houston has a lot of the right ingredients for commercialization and scaling up companies, so when Zach Ellis moved to town to stand up a venture capital firm that made investments in diverse founders, he decided to go about it in an innovative way.

South Loop Ventures, which Ellis launched two years ago, invests in pre-seed and seed-stage startups across health care, climatetech, aerospace, sports, and fintech. While the first handful of investments, which have already been made, are into Houston-based companies, Ellis explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that the firm plans to invest in promising companies from across the country and bring them into Houston's ecosystem to grow and scale.

"Any investor wants to feel like they are looking at the best possible investment opportunities in which to deploy capital," Ellis says on the show. "So that's reason No. 1 to cast your net as widely as possible.

"At the same time, you want to give any investment that you make greatest chances of success," he continues. "The biggest factor of success outside of the team and the capital you give them, is the customers that they can call upon. In bringing targeted companies to Houston or connecting them with Houston, you introduce the opportunity for them to achieve rapid scale and work with world-class partners very efficiently." Read more.


Toby R. Hamilton, founder and CEO of Hamilton Health Box

Dr. Toby Hamilton has secured $10 million to grow his company. Photo via tmc.edu

A Houston company that is working on a value-based model for primary care has fresh funding to support its mission.

Hamilton Health Box announced the completion of a $10 million series A funding round led by 1588 Ventures with participation from Memorial Hermann Health System, Impact Ventures by Johnson & Johnson Foundation, Texas Medical Center Venture Fund, and the Sullivan Brothers.

The company, founded in 2019 by Dr. Toby R. Hamilton, will use the funding to fuel its expansion into rural areas to help assist those living in Health Professional Shortage Areas, or HPSAs. Read more.

Ellen Ochoa, former astronaut and center director at the NASA's Johnson Space Center

Ellen Ochoa was recognized for her leadership at NASA Johnson and for being the first Hispanic woman in space. Photo via NASA

Two astronauts recently received Presidential Medals of Freedom from President Joe Biden for their leadership in space.

Ellen Ochoa, the former center director and astronaut at the NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, and Jane Rigby, senior project scientist for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, were honored at the White House on May 3.

Ochoa spent 30 years with NASA, which included being the 11th director of JSC, deputy center director of JSC, and director of Flight Crew Operations. She served on the nine-day STS-56 mission aboard the space shuttle Discovery in 1993, and became the first Hispanic woman in space. She flew four more times to space with STS-66, STS-96, STS-110, and more.

“I’m so grateful for all my amazing NASA colleagues who shared my career journey with me,” Ochoa says in a NASA news release. Read more.

Houston health care institutions receive $22M to attract top recruits

coming to Hou

Houston’s Baylor College of Medicine has received a total of $12 million in grants from the Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas to attract two prominent researchers.

The two grants, which are $6 million each, are earmarked for recruitment of Thomas Milner and Radek Skoda. The Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) announced the grants May 14.

Milner, an expert in photomedicine for surgery and diagnostics, is a professor of surgery and biomedical engineering at the Beckman Laser Institute & Medical Clinic at the University of California, Irvine and the university’s Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center

In 2013, Milner was named Inventor of the Year by the University of Texas at Austin. At the time, he was a professor of biomedical engineering at UT. One of his major achievements is co-development of the MasSpec Pen, a handheld device that identifies cancerous tissue within 10 seconds during surgical procedures.

Skoda is a professor of molecular medicine in the Department of Biomedicine at the University of Basel and the University Hospital Basel, both in Switzerland. He specializes in developing treatments for myeloproliferative neoplasms, which are a group of blood diseases including leukemia.

Other recruitment grants provided by the institute to Houston-area organizations are:

  • $4 million for recruitment of Susan Bullman to the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. She was an assistant professor at Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, where she studied the connection between microbes and cancer.
  • $4 million for recruitment of Oren Rom to the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. Rom is an assistant professor of pathology and translational pathobiology at Louisiana State University Shreveport.
  • Nearly $2 million for recruitment of Lauren Hagler to conduct RNA cancer biology at Texas A&M University. She is a postdoctoral scholar in biochemistry at Stanford University.

The institute also awarded grants to five companies in the Houston area:

  • $4.7 million to 7 Hills Pharma for development of immunotherapies to treat cancer and prevent infectious diseases.
  • $4.5 million to Indapta Therapeutics for the Phase 1 trial of a cell therapy for treatment of multiple myeloma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
  • $2.75 million to Bectas Therapeutics for development of antibodies and biomarkers to overcome a type of resistance T-cell checkpoint therapy.
  • $2.69 million to MS Pen Technologies for development of technology that differentiates between normal tissue and cancerous tissue during surgery.
  • $2.58 million to Crossbridge Bio for development of an antibody-drug combination to treat certain solid tumors.