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Explore a Career in Talent Acquitisition in Tech - Discussion with Michelle McHargue, Talent Partner @Cowboy Ventures

Ever wondered what the job of someone in Talent Acquisition is like? How do they find great candidates and who would enjoy working as a recruiter? Well that’s what this episode of Learn Educate Discover focuses on, where we meet up with Michelle McHargue, Talent Partner at Silicon Valley based Venture Fund Cowboy Ventures to understand what her job is all about.

Here are our notes from the discussion with Michelle. Check out the podcast below if you prefer listening (like we do!)


Tell me a little bit about yourself

I have been recruiting for the last 15 years working for companies like Yahoo, Google, Adobe, Amazon’s Lab 126. But, this is not the path I had initially planned to take. I studied to become a nurse. Life did a little detour for me and I help people in a different way!

What do you think stood out in you that other people thought would make for a good recruiter?

I did have that ability to make people feel welcome, and make them talk to me. That is a good skill for any recruiter. Be somewhat social. These are skills I have had since I was quite young.

Why did you decide to go into recruiting for technology companies?

I started back in 2003 when technology was about to boom. One of my friends got a job at Google and asked me to join her for one of the recruiter positions. And then you get addicted to technology. The key that I have made throughout my career transitions has been networking with people I met throughout my career.

How would describe the field of talent acquisition?

Our job is to find the best talent out there to work for us. You are the almost the spokesperson of the company. Who you bring in is the fabric of the company.

Do recruiters specialize in recruiting for various functions?

I have recruited for marketing, sales, engineering and product. Now, I’m focused only on the technical aspect. The longer you stay in a particular field, the better you get.

What are the different styles of recruiting?

There are agencies and corporate recruiters. From my experience, agencies are calling all the time. It is almost like a sales role where you are not only working for somebody but you are also working for your commission. When you go in a corporate recruiting role, it is more of a team oriented role. The feeling is a little different.

Do companies try and give some mandate to recruiters on how to be with candidates?

Not so much. Company wants us to take care of the candidates so they experience the wow factor. You need to be the right person representing the company.

How has your role at Cowboy manifested itself?

When I first joined in this role, it has evolved ever since. I have hired anyone from a technical manager, to executive coaches. It is much broader and I love it. No two days are the same.

Can you describe where your role fits in at Cowboy Ventures?

Cowboy is an early stage tech fund. There are the five of us. We have three investment partners. They listen to wonderful entrepreneurs who look for capital. I help founders with their recruiting strategy, people strategy and how to really tackle the shortage of talent.

How do you build your network?

Because I have done this for so long, I have been going to conferences and trade shows since my early years. I leverage my friends and friends of friends as well. It works like a multiplication effect. You need to decide how to efficiently use your time in networking — whether to go to every conference or not. I also do use Linkedin a lot. I have the Linkedin Business Pro account.

If you had to rank the tools/services used to find candidates, what would that be?

For technical roles:

1) Linkedin

2) Github

3) StackOverflow

4) Alumni boards

Boxes and Arrows, and Linkedin for designers/UI people.

Can you walk us through a typical hiring cycle process?

First, I’ll sit down with hiring manager and have what we call a recruiter strategy meeting. In that meeting, we discuss the nice-to-haves, must-haves and the dream list. Also, what are the flexible requirements in the list. This helps you weed out applications.

What is the extent of match that you look for when speaking with candidates?

It is difficult to gauge candidates on a phone. So, if a candidate has potential and also can fill all the boxes, I highlight the name to the hiring manager. So, then the manager checks the candidate on the technical skills.

What is your next step after the strategy meeting?

I start looking for people I already know in my network and from there, it triggers. I also put it out as my Linkedin status.

Can you describe what a typical day looks for you?

I am always talking to people and finding people to plug into our companies. So, everyday I’m thinking about the founders and their companies and what kind of people would suit their needs best.

What is the most important challenge that you face in recruiting?

Not being able to find the right candidates fast enough.

How do you go about the situation when a candidate has great offers already?

I circle back with the candidate and apply a little bit of gentle pressure of trying to get them. But, at the end of day you want the best for the candidate.

Do you think good recruiters have to be good at reading people?

Yes, they do. I think recruiters need to be able to have that Spidey sense. Sometimes you may not be 100% right, but if you have good gut instinct, it helps.

How tightly knit is the recruiting community?

Yes, we are a tight community. You build this circle and friendship. We do talk and keep things very confidential.

What is the measure of success in Talent success?

We look at time to fill the position. Sometimes it is around 90 days, sometimes 100+ days. You need to keep both sides engaged — the hiring manager as well as the candidate. I’d also like to add that partnership with the hiring manager is a measure of how well the recruiter has done for that organization.

What is your favorite mode of interviewing?

I like a little bit of initial phone conversation and then meeting in person over coffee if it makes sense.

Do you have a favorite question that you like to ask?

Asking “what is your ideal job” is one of my favorite questions. People sometimes say something that is not related anywhere close to what they are applying for. You get to learn a lot about different people through this question.

What do you think are the most interesting aspects of working in this role?

The fact that you are able to meet so many new people. I have built a lot of friendship that I have come in contact with. Just to work with a variety of companies in my career, I have been exposed to a lot of things happening in the valley.

Have you seen recruiters make any common mistakes early on in their careers?

You should carefully look at a person’s background. Be diligent in that process.

What is the typical career path in this role?

It is a natural progression towards HR. Or you can move into management.

What kind of person do you think will enjoy this job?

Someone who can really deal with different changes. You are dealing with a variety of emotions that come along with people. Somebody who likes talking to people helps as well.

Would you advice an introvert into this role?

Yes, I have seen some of the most talented recruiters being introverts. It can help a lot, especially when recruiting roles such as engineering where many candidates tend to be introverted too. So being introverted can help connect better with candidates.

How would you advise aspiring recruiters to go about finding the right company?

I would tell them to network. You can have a lot of conversations with other recruiters about the details of the company and the recruiter’s role there.

Are there any resources that aspiring recruiters can use to learn more about the space?

There are many online groups (LinkedIn Recruiters, SF Recruiters) that people can use. And then networking is the key.


To listen to the full discussion, check out the podcast below:

Thank you for listening! If you have any questions for Michelle or for us, you can email us at or tweet at us @led_curator.

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