Cut & Polish

Why I joined Gem

Just over a month ago, I was officially introduced to the Gem team as their first Chief Revenue Officer. It was during an All Hands segment, and in the Q&A I was asked what the most surprising part of the hiring process had been for me. My answer was spontaneous but genuine: it surprised me that I’d engaged at all. The truth is, I wasn’t planning to make a move. But what astonished me is how clearly this role connected—on several levels—to my purpose. In each of the career decisions I’ve made in my life, it wasn’t about the job I took but about the company I joined, the way its vision and its opportunity aligned with the core of who I am and what I care about. Gem offered something I couldn’t have imagined until I got that first call—in the needs its product meets; in the doors it opens up for talent; and in the connections, and ultimately the teams, it helps make it possible.

Finding the right talent with the right skills is now the biggest threat to any business—so much so that it’s become a C-suite problem, ultimately changing where talent acquisition sits: it’s now at the center of every good company. Getting the right people into an organization—and not just acquiring talent, but also retaining, upskilling, and advancing them—is vital to future-proofing. And if the last few years have taught us anything, it’s that future-proofing for any and all scenarios is imperative. What strikes me is how hiring happens these days. Most candidates that come into an organization are passive; and one of the most difficult things to do is to create relationships with that talent—relationships that help us learn, over the long-term, what they want in their careers, and speak precisely to those things as that dialogue unfolds. 

Because ultimately, hiring is about more than matching people with companies. It’s about doing it in such a way that talent will have lasting careers delivering outsized value for your organization because they already understood the role, the way the business operates, and the way all of that aligned with their career drivers, thanks to those nurtured relationships. There’s been a constant refrain in past roles I’ve held: “We’re behind on sales capacity; we don’t have the people on board to hit the revenue numbers.” Well, yes; capacity was essential. But I also needed a diverse team with specific competencies. I needed to know we’d be meeting their needs. It’s easy for companies to think about quality of hire in terms of what employees can offer them. But quality of hire goes both ways—does the organization fulfill candidates’ wishes for their work lives? 

The huge opportunity for Gem is that it allows for relationship-building well beyond the moment in time that a particular role is open. Outreach, and the candidate cycle, isn’t a one-time event. You keep the conversation going until the next time the role is open—or the next. So by the time you hire someone, the answer to that question—Will this be a mutually-fulfilling relationship?—is clear. What this ultimately means is organizations get more than skills alignment in their hires. They get values alignment and opportunity alignment—because they kept the conversation going with a great person until the timing was right.

When I started my career there was no people-first mentality; the business priority was revenue. But in my last three roles, I wasn’t just reporting on revenue every week. I was reporting on hiring goals and how we were trending against the capacity forecast. I’ve had CEOs get very animated when we were missing our hiring numbers—and for good reason. 

What makes Gem special is it solves all the things that complicated my day-to-day life as someone who hired people. For one, I didn’t have a place to capture and nurture talent. I’m not on LinkedIn all the time; a lot of people who hire aren’t. So the process was stop-and-go. I’d pull up my spreadsheet and think, “Who were the 15 people I was most excited about last time?” Gem conceptualized a database that would’ve taken me out of that spreadsheet and let me stay connected long after someone responded to say they weren’t yet ready to make a move, or well beyond the four weeks that someone terrific was in process. You learn so much about people and their aspirations in that time, and there was nowhere to keep that context for future communications. For another, Gem offers a compelling visualization of the pipeline. I can’t tell you how many times a week I was asked in past roles: “How are we doing converting the candidates we’ve interviewed?” and there was no easy way to answer that question.  

I’ve also witnessed bias from leaders when it comes to who they’re willing to bring into the organization, and I’ve spent a lot of my career trying to reform that. I once asked a CEO: “What are the things you believe to be true of talent from the top colleges you insist on hiring from?” He said: “They have better writing skills and a better ability to communicate.” I said, “Okay, now I have clarity on what’s important to you. I’ll make it part of the process that candidates have to submit a writing sample. Will you consider talent from non-traditional backgrounds then?” That strategy improved both diversity and quality of hire for that organization. It upended a held belief about the source of skills, rather than the skills themselves. 

I’ve spent much of my career trying to connect new graduates who don’t have access to networks with job opportunities, and it’s been rewarding to see young talent with that struggle finally land at some of the companies I’ve worked for. I’d been imagining getting on the ground with a sales bootcamp to help empower talent with non-traditional paths. But as conversations with Gem continued, I realized Gem was a product that could intentionally increase the quality of communication between talent acquisition teams and the broader community. Because of Gem’s reach and the relationships it allows recruiters to cultivate, recent graduates—or anyone, for that matter—uncertain of what’s next or how to get there have a better sense of what’s available to them. As their networks open up, things become possible. That’s a remarkable opportunity. 

At a previous company, we used to ask: “Why now? Why you? Why us?” Candidates would give a presentation that captured those things. What I learned from someone’s answers to those questions was their ability to introspect about their strengths and how those strengths aligned with the company. I learned how they’d build culture, how they’d evolve careers for other people. But you don’t need to put someone through a hiring process to learn these things. Talent nurture gets you the same information. Richard Cho, Gem’s Chief Recruiting Officer, has ongoing, open-ended conversations with talent he believes is company-critical. And it may be six months or a year between communications; but because Gem holds the entire history of those conversations and refreshes profile data, he has the context for every new reachout. That person feels remembered and appreciated. And by the way, that's why people join companies—because they’ve been seen and heard for what they want to accomplish. It’s also exactly the way Gem showed up in my interview process. 

There are things about Gem that are familiar to me. Talent relationships are like relationships with prospective customers—you’re not going to sell the prospect in the first conversation; but if you develop a trust relationship with them that honors their pain points and their timing, they’ll buy one day. Given my sales background, that makes instinctual sense. Gem also does what my previous company did with data, except with talent: aggregates their information from otherwise-siloed sources, enriches what we know about them, and allows us to activate communication in a personalized way—efficiently, because it automates the manual tasks teams used to have to do. One of my frustrations in sales was team members’ habit of asking prospects strings of questions when they could instead research them and show up masterfully with curated content. Gem serves up prospective candidate information even before you reach out, so you can have a conversation that has a hypothesis associated with it. All of this resonates with the ways I believe we should be handling and interacting with talent.  

Yet the thing that’s most surprised me about the recruiting industry as I’m learning it is how fundamentally underresourced the function is—despite being one of the most important functions when it comes to a company’s ability to grow, and diversify, and innovate. The fact that many organizations are currently trying to figure out how to take money out of the recruiting function concerns me. It means they’re neglecting to see how essential it is—missing the opportunity to build and nurture talent pools, future-proofing for the talent they’ll need when hiring picks back up. (And it will.)

Gem has the opportunity to change the quality of the relationships organizations build with talent, and the ways they collaborate amongst themselves in the hiring process. Prospective candidacy isn’t a one-time event. You’ll think back and ask where all those silver-medalist candidates went that didn't get the job. I can tell you from experience that hours are spent in meetings with talent acquisition teams trying to rationalize where they are with candidates and satisfy business leaders’ requirements for their open reqs. There's an enormous amount of unquantifiable cash spent in those meetings, while Gem has the full-funnel insights—from reachout through offer-out—for teams to make much faster, more apparent, data-backed decisions. 

Ultimately I said “yes” to Gem during a market downturn for two reasons. One, I believe great companies get even better in hard times. Trying circumstances present an opportunity to strengthen value creation strategies and operating foundations that put the company in a stronger position to generate growth in the long term. The other is that people will continue to be the center of growth—for any company in any industry, in any economic conditions—and the competition for talent isn’t going anywhere. It's changing, and the kind of talent we need and when we need it may continue to shift. But finding good talent will always be something a company needs to do. Gem appreciates, and thinks about, the long term. 

There’s a great deal of work to do, and I’m rolling up my sleeves with relish. It includes everything you’d expect from a CRO—looking at our operational GTM motion; refining motions to reflect segments; building repeatable, transferable formulas; creating efficiencies and scalability. Customer retention and renewals are important to me. Enablement is critical in my book. I’m asking how we show up in the market, because we have the opportunity to be thought leaders. Gem has a unique capability in both our sales organization and C-suite: a lot of folks in these roles have done the job of sourcer or recruiter. They know the opportunity; they can empathize and connect with the recruiting professionals they get on the phone with. The CRM hasn’t historically offered recruiting teams what it should, and we’re uniquely positioned to enable recruiters to do their jobs effectively with a better tool. For myself, I’ve already learned so much from this team about what I didn't do and should have done in regards to enabling past talent teams I’ve worked with. 

I now get to play a role in helping other companies strengthen the very team that will lead their people growth. That was a throughline of excitement in every conversation I had in my hiring process. Gem is a company that’s people-first. That’s in my wheelhouse, and it’s why I chose Gem. That goes for our customers and prospective customers, and that goes for our team: I want to help create an environment in which Gems can take on challenges well beyond their current skillsets to continue growing themselves. I want to be part of providing the space for them to do that, and positively influencing their career trajectories. My proudest moments have been when someone has said: “You were always our advocate; you gave us the tools we needed to do the job, and you took the obstacles out of our way.” My job is to help everyone who comes into this organization flourish and feel a sense of belonging. That’s the greatest opportunity I have in front of me. 

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Chief Revenue Officer
October 3, 2022
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