Do you know what it takes to be a leader? Dave Carvajal does.
The startup world is an exciting place. With constant change, novel experiences, innovation, and collaboration, working at and leading a startup requires a certain level of adaptability that — according to Dave Carvajal, founder of the executive search firm Dave Partners — not everyone possesses.
“There is a clear distinction between entrepreneurship and leadership. Not every entrepreneur can cross the chasm to become a leader,” Carvajal explained.
But why trust Dave Carvajal’s opinion? Simple: It’s what he does for a living.
For over 20 years, Carvajal has helped companies develop their recruitment teams and fill their open positions with boundless energy and charisma. After working for two years in Prudential’s investment-banking analyst program at the beginning of his career, Carvajal found his true calling in the world of talent acquisition. He left the world of spreadsheets and derivatives behind to work for one of New York City’s top executive-search firms. Later, he joined HotJobs.com, now known as Yahoo HotJobs, as a co-founder and Vice President of Human Resources, building out the team and exceeding projected goals within the company. Carvajal then moved on to cultivate the team at TheLadders, now known as Ladders, where he continued to make a name for himself in the recruiting industry.
After a shift in perspective and passion, Carvajal decided to leave the corporate world for a more entrepreneurial venture, becoming the go-to expert for filling leadership roles and curating executive teams for newly created technology startups. Helping companies, such as Tumblr and Shutterstock, build out their internal recruitment and leadership teams, Carvajal knows what it takes to be successful as an executive at a startup — and has even written a book about it titled, “Hire Smart From the Start: The Entrepreneur's Guide to Finding, Catching, and Keeping the Best Talent for Your Company.” On top of helping entrepreneurs find success in the startup world, Carvajal’s book also taps into his philanthropic side — 100 percent of the proceeds from his book will be donated to Room to Read to promote literacy in the developing world.
However, before you can use Carvajal’s advice to help land a leadership position, you need to figure out if being a leader is right for you.
There is a clear distinction between entrepreneurship and leadership. Not every entrepreneur can cross the chasm to become a leader.
Are you ready to lead?
Start by doing some serious soul-searching to determine if leading a startup is what you really want. Carvajal suggests asking yourself the following seven questions:
Do I really want to do this?
Am I prepared to roll up my sleeves?
Can I handle the time commitment required, including possible all-nighters?
Am I willing to do what it takes to make this successful?
Will the sacrifices I need to make be worth it to me?
Is this a team that I fit well with?
Do I believe in the values, mission, and culture of the company?
Once you are 100 percent certain this is your next step, you need to know what recruiters, like Carvajal, look for in startup leaders. What are the key qualities that separate successful candidates from the rest?
To be an executive leader, you need humility
Carvajal’s job is to take fledgling, technology startups and find candidates to create an efficient executive board with the goal of exponentially growing the companies’ revenue by millions of dollars.
In order to find the right leaders to reach these formidable goals, Carvajal utilizes psychology to identify leaders who possess the right combination of competence, confidence, and skill. Studies show that people with a high level of confidence in their abilities often overestimate their actual skill level. Using this logic, one of the best qualities to look for in an executive leader is a quality that, according to Carvajal, is largely underestimated in American business today: humility.
“The best leaders are committed to continuous self-improvement. In order to learn and grow, you must have an openness that humility allows,” revealed Carvajal. To be a leader at a startup requires people who are able to “adapt, collaborate, both lead and follow, and inspire others around a vision.” There needs to be a level of agility that allows leaders, and, by extension the company, to zigzag and build a meritocracy where the best ideas rise to the top.
The best leaders are committed to continuous self-improvement.
For Carvajal, this means “learning agility, being scrappy, leading by example, and demonstrating equal comfort as player and coach,” are all things that matter at startups.
Admittedly, these soft skills are hard to demonstrate via a resume and during the interview process. So, how do you show headhunters and employers that you have the qualities they are seeking?
Demonstrate your ability to build structures
To be considered for a startup leadership position, you need to highlight the areas of your experience where you successfully have established structures and previously led teams or business units. According to Carvajal, there are two types of people in the workforce: those who are good at building structures and those who are good at following the structures created before them. The candidates who have spent a majority of their career in large, corporate environments may not be adept at creating the structures that a startup needs to grow and flourish.
“If I can find someone who has experience building structure and scaling organizations in terms of the infrastructure, processes, system, and people, I would much rather choose the person with that proven experience than take a chance on someone who’s never done it, has very rarely done it, or has done it without success,” Carvajal explained.
While Carvajal admits it’s not a complete deal-breaker to have little experience in this area, highlighting instances where you helped develop an internal structure, led teams on different types of projects, or created teams within your company will propel you forward in the application process.
“Proven like-to-like experience in scaling and building structure is the best example to show on a resume and demonstrate in an interview,” Carvajal adds. He also noted that to stand out, a candidate should be able to adeptly talk about a problem set they’ve tackled and how their experiences of both success and failure inspired new approaches and ways of thinking.
But, what if you don’t have solid, concrete experiences to bring up? Don’t worry! There are still ways to showcase your best self in hopes of landing the job, according to Carvajal:
Learn: Research how the greatest companies make the best hires. Focus on what these companies do and want — not what you do and want.
Network: Get to know the best people in your industry. The best jobs are often not advertised, and since headhunters target the best people in the field, it’s beneficial to be in those circles.
Get your resume professionally written: Your resume should read like a marketing brochure, highlighting your benefits to the employer. Most resumes are a poorly written collection of accomplishments that read like a technical manual — not the cohesive career story you want to sell to employers.
Create your own personal blueprint: Write down what drives, motivates, and inspires you at work to anchor yourself when applying for new positions.
Use social media: Share original content around how you have succeeded in overcoming some challenge, achieving high measure of growth, or even explaining what you learned after a work failure — and how you would apply that knowledge next time.
While this seems like a lot of effort, Carvajal did share this tidbit of advice to help keep your leadership job search — and your career — in perspective:
“Provide value. Keep your head down, stay focused, and remain driven to help achieve the company's mission.”
Does your resume showcase your leadership potential? We can help with a professionally written resume!
To learn more about hiring, recruiting, and making yourself the best candidate for an executive position, check out Carvajal’s latest book, “Hire Smart From the Start: The Entrepreneur's Guide to Finding, Catching, and Keeping the Best Talent for Your Company.” All profits go to the literacy charity, Room to Read.