Why now is the time for executive talent teams to shift into proactive strategy

In our most recent roundtable discussions with in-house talent leaders and VC/PE talent partners, the word “proactive” kept surfacing again and again—roles are shifting from tactical execution to strategic planning—and it makes sense.

In our recent benchmark report, we found that executive hiring velocity has slowed in the past three months, and more recently plateaued in Q1 ‘23.

So, knowing this landscape, what can Talent Partners and Heads of Talent do now to set themselves up for success when hiring velocity inevitably picks up again?

Many of you have landed on some form of proactive pipelining

While we’ve heard a few definitions, it boils down to identifying executive talent today who could potentially fill a role tomorrow. Whether that’s a net-new, backfill, fractional, advisory, or board seat position, you’re looking for top executive talent before it becomes an official search.

Here’s a detailed look at the start-to-finish process.

Know Who You’re Looking For

1. Work Internally to Identify Talent Gaps 

Based on discussions with executive talent leaders, it’s clear most of you have certain searches that are more prevalent or cyclical than others. Understanding internal patterns and collaborating with either Deal Team members or internal stakeholders to anticipate talent needs allows you to effectively gauge which proactive pipelines are worthwhile to build. Knowing where to invest your efforts up front will give you confidence that your pipelining efforts will be time well spent.

2. Market Map to Determine All Available Talent 

Once you have a clear idea of potential talent gaps, many of you are market mapping to visualize who currently exists in the talent marketplace. We’ve heard from multiple Heads of Talent that this is generally the most time-consuming step in the entire pipelining process, as the goal is to capture a comprehensive overview of the talent landscape for a specific industry, market sector, or from a pre-determined list of companies. 

Assessing the talent landscape to understand the players your company or portfolio company regularly interacts with and competes with could be a good starting point. Many of you also build out candidate archetypes during this stage–looking for common themes across recent successful hires, isolating interesting experiences in candidates’ backgrounds that prime them for new opportunities, and then developing ideal candidate profiles.

However you approach it, market mapping puts you in a position of readiness when you do get a talent request, rather than starting from zero. You not only know what good looks like before it’s time to hire, but are also armed with salary data and intel on competitors that might help your recruitment strategy.

3. Source New and Relevant Contacts

After nailing down ideal candidate profiles, sourcing is the next order of business. If you already have an existing, robust network, you may already know the top executive players you’d like to pull in. If not, there are plenty of sourcing tools your teams’ are using to find people, in addition to a growing number of executive talent marketplaces. You all seem to agree that the more contacts you add to your proprietary database, the more value you get out of it for future searches. 

Organize Your Contact Database

4. Determine Key Attributes to Characterize Your Candidate Pool

After you get a better sense of what the talent market looks like for the functional role you’re interested in, many of you begin to preliminary assess recently sourced contacts for key characteristics and competencies most important to your organization.

For an executive marketing function, it could be sector-specific experience like FinTech. Or, it could be leadership capabilities managing a team of a certain size. If there is a strong preference that candidates be based locally around a company headquarters, geographic criteria become relevant. Alternatively, growth experience, taking companies of a certain stage through an M&A or IPO event, might be the most pressing. 

The criteria will likely differ for each role you’re trying to fill, and the more you can standardize the data points you want to look for, the more repeatable the market mapping process becomes for your team over time.

5. Filter a Large Talent Pool Down to a Smaller Slate
Once you have a large enough market map of sourced contacts, it’s time to narrow down the list based on your ideal candidate profile. If you could put any executive in seat, with no restrictions, who would it be and why? Do internal collaborators from other teams also agree?

Once you have alignment, you should have a clear view of which candidates look like a fit right now, which ones you need to qualify further, who may be better suited to a different opportunity, and who your team is unlikely to pursue when a role does materialize. This simplifies your next steps and prevents you from spending time on candidate outreach that is unlikely to lead anywhere.

6. Periodically Refresh Your Data 

A core frustration of executive talent leaders is keeping candidate data clean and up to date. The second a candidate changes companies, your existing contact data goes stale. That’s why it’s important to dedicate team resources to spend a certain percentage of time each month on data cleanliness tasks like adding new contacts to market maps, refreshing contact data you know has changed, and updating skills tags to reflect the latest career developments. These activities will save you time later prepping for candidate calls, personalizing outreach, or exporting a slate for external review. 

(If you don’t have the time or internal resources to dedicate to cleanup tasks in Thrive TRM, our team can help).

Take Action Ahead of a Search

7. Build Relationships with Candidates From the Smaller Slate
Many of the Talent Partners and Heads of Talent we speak with routinely engage in proactive outreach to potential candidates to understand their interests, experience, and likelihood to transition to a new company. Leveraging a prioritized candidate list in platforms like Thrive TRM allows you to focus these efforts toward top-fit candidates, and jumpstart relationship-building with candidates who have high potential moving forward.

8. Move Some Diligencing Steps Up Earlier Into the Process
We’ve heard that backchannelling a potential candidate is a key part of your due diligence process. But identifying the right contacts to reach out to in your target candidate’s network takes time–and recent layoffs have only made this process more difficult. Did a previous boss or colleague work with a candidate long enough to be in a position to assess them? Do you have to go back a bit further? Who would be best to give you an accurate description of someone’s leadership style?

The more connection data you can add to your network database earlier in the process, either while you’re adding contacts to your market maps or conducting proactive outreach, the easier backchanneling and referencing steps become later on when you reach due diligence. 


The proactive pipelining process is a time-consuming, multi-step strategic activity. It takes dedicated internal resources and an intentional shift from reactive executive hiring to forward-thinking strategy. Because executive hiring velocity has slowed in the past three months, and plateaued in Q1 ‘23, there’s strong reason to believe the lower volume of searches you are running today compared to a year ago will continue for at least another quarter.

If your search volume is lower today than it was a year ago, now seems like the perfect time to revamp your proactive pipelining process.