Sep 5, 2023

The State of Tech Talent: 50 Talent Leaders Share Where Top Candidates Want To Go

by Anthony Kline

At TheGP, we think the flow of talent sends an even stronger, forward-looking signal than the flow of capital. While we rely on our own talent team for invaluable insights, we regularly tap our broader network for external perspectives across top venture funds, established tech companies and breakout startups. In August, we surveyed over 50 talent leaders for their observations on the hiring market and candidate trends. Here’s what we heard from them: 

  • On candidates’ priorities: In the hiring process, candidates are asking tougher questions about revenue, burn rates, etc. There’s lots of disagreement around where “safe havens” lie, but above all, candidates want stability and job security. 

  • On jobs in AI: Top talent isn’t specifically interested in OpenAI as much as we expected, but everyone is interested in working for AI companies at large. 

  • On the pace of hiring: 70% of talent leaders reported an uptick in hiring. 

Let’s dig in deeper. 

Candidates are prioritizing stability over an upside

Over 80% of the recruiters we surveyed cited stability and job security as the top considerations for today's tech candidates. The famous Sheryl Sandberg mantra—”If you're offered a seat on a rocket ship, don't ask what seat, just get on”—has been pushed aside in favor of asking very tough questions around 409A valuations, organization design, ARR, burn and churn. Candidates now know that sometimes rockets crash, so they want to deeply understand a company’s health and durability before joining. 

Nowhere feels truly safe, but startups are outshining Big Tech as beacons of security

Career stability had long been synonymous with a job in Big Tech, but that’s changed in the wake of the pandemic, layoffs, and the larger economic downturn. Many recruiters in our survey noted that candidates see well-funded, early-stage startups with a clear path to profitability and strong product-market fit as potentially safer bets than more mature companies. As one respondent put it, “Later stage seems to be hiring less, laying off more and generally more impacted by the economy and stock market.” Overall, candidates now see well-funded startups with healthy cash burn as a safer bet. 

Candidates are interested in AI and startups working on high-impact problems 

Candidates want to work in AI, but notably, top talent isn’t specifically interested in OpenAI as much as we expected. Newer AI companies such as Observe, Anthropic, Adept, Pinecone and Cohere are gaining significant traction among candidates, but mostly with individual contributors. In our survey, recruiters also reported that there’s a growing focus on values and social consciousness in the job market, with candidates increasingly considering the mission and purpose of a company. They’re drawn to startups that are working on high-impact problems or making a difference in areas like healthcare, climate tech, and social good. 

The hiring season is upon us, and many believe it will last.

In our survey, 70% of respondents reported an uptick in hiring activity in comparison to 6-12 months ago. Some attributed this to seasonal trends, while others tied headcount to revenue attainment, but the consensus is that the industry-wide hiring freeze is thawing. As one respondent put it, venture-backed startups paused to reassess their headcount, secured sources of funding, and now seem ready to use that capital to grow in a more “thoughtful” way.

In conclusion 

The hiring landscape appears to be rebounding, but today's candidates are prioritizing longer-term job security and scrutinizing startup opportunities much more closely. They want compelling teams, mission-driven visions, and opportunities in AI/ML, but also want to ensure the underlying business fundamentals are sound before taking their next leap.  

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