Hiring your First Head of People

January 30th, 2023 | < 1 Min Read


My name is Kristian James and I run a niche HR specialist recruitment agency called Hawkwood based in London. We work exclusively with technology, creative and media brands; with technology becoming our core focus as time as progressed.

I personally have 8 years’ experience recruiting for HR roles and have supported countless growing technology businesses to hire their first Head of People.

Whilst it’s true that this article has been written with gaining brand exposure for Hawkwood in mind, I have made it my objective to provide a balanced, honest, useful guide here that is far from “call Hawkwood and we’ll do the rest”.

Whether you do, ultimately, partner with us to make this hire or not, the point is that the better understood this process becomes, the better for all of us – candidates, yourselves and agencies trying to successfully recruit the role.


Ambitious organisations are now prioritising hiring a Head of People at an earlier stage than ever before in a bid to help them cultivate a progressive, high-performing culture and attract & retain the best talent.

This is not a document designed to justify why you should hire one. We’ve covered the benefits our clients have obtained through doing so many times before in different mediums. For now, we’re going to assume you’ve made the decision and are simply seeking some guidance on how to approach it in the best way.

Additionally, there are many wonderful job titles within HR but, in the interest of simplicity, I’ve opted with “Head of People” for this document. For the avoidance of doubt, the detail below would apply to a “People Director”, “Chief People Officer” or any other HR job title that is applied to the most senior HR practitioner in the business.

The HR Market

For many years, HR was perceived as a reactive, fire-fighting function that solves people-related issues. As time has gone on, smart organisations have realised that HR can, in fact, prevent these issues from arising in the first place with a robust, forward-thinking people plan.

This awakening has resulted in HR professionals gaining more influence over the senior leadership team due to the increasingly obvious productivity and cost savings of fewer complex employee relations issues.

That said, some leaders are still reluctant to give up control and embrace the new, changing face of the world of work. The positive impact of people-related initiatives can be harder to measure, and less immediate, than other business metrics and, therefore, HR budget & general involvement in a decision can sometimes seem harder to justify.

For example, if a hypothetical business’ employee retention increases, what percentage of this is attributed to the rollout of a new popular training program vs the fact that business performance has been good and bonuses are therefore due to be paid across the company in full next quarter?

Having spent so much of their career trying to justify their role, the thing HR professionals crave more than anything else is, typically, working with leadership teams who genuinely see value in what they do, and who will trust in the process of seeing a positive ROI on investments in their people.

The macro-environment that we live in is ultimately what has fuelled the evolution of HR.  The importance of a strong culture is now much more widely understood, the market for talent is more competitive than ever before, employees are increasingly trusted to work with freedom (e.g. remotely) and professional coaching has more credibility today also.

For this reason, the demands on HR professionals have changed at a dramatic rate and a contemporary HR role actually requires a somewhat different set of skills.

Whereas previously, knowledge of employment law and attention to detail may have been prioritised in the search for a Head of HR, whose main focus would have been resolving delicate employment issues. Today, a high-performing Head of People must be able to confidently deal with these issues whilst also coupling creativity and business acumen – how do we make work fun whilst also hitting our company objectives, for example?

This rate of change in demands has, unfortunately, caught some off-guard as they have failed to effectively educate themselves in this new incarnation of HR. The most prominent development areas, according to client feedback, are: commercial acumen, influencing skills and using technology & data to build rapidly-scalable people processes.

Whilst some less-adaptable candidates have essentially taken themselves out of the running for innovative senior People roles, demand for People professionals as a whole has increased at an unprecedented rate.

These two factors have led to a talent shortage within HR. A talent shortage both in terms of the overall number of HR professionals relative to demand, but, more crucially, also a shortfall in terms of what some HR professionals are equipped to deliver vs what organisations demands of them.

This context is important for you to understand as hiring your Head of People is likely to be a lot more difficult than you expect. In fact, we often have clients contacting us needing support after they have spent 6+ months attempting to identify and onboard the right person.

Who is this document for?

It’s worth clarifying that hiring a Head of People is only difficult if you are looking to hire an above average one. A job advert campaign and clumsy interview process will likely still deliver against the objective of hiring a mediocre candidate, if that is all you are looking for from your search.

This document is intended for business leaders seeking to hire a best-in-class Head of People, hence the detail and care taken to fully explain every facet of this process.

How this hire can go wrong

If businesses wish to hire a high-calibre HR professional they must foster and display an environment conducive to them succeeding. This isn’t to say that everything has to be perfect, of course, but if you have deep-rooted cultural issues, a Head of People cannot resolve these without the full backing of the leadership team. You must therefore display strong commitment to change.

A good Head of People will collate feedback from employees; some of which might be difficult to hear. For the relationship with a Head of People to thrive, business leaders must show an openness to listening to this feedback, leaving their egos to one side, and committing to resolve genuine issues.

Leaders must also be ready to embrace a long-term view of success. Initiatives such as improving employee benefits may cost more in the short-term, but may also improve your ability to hire good people, retain them and keep them motivated. Successful employee benefit reviews should produce a positive ROI but, in all likelihood, it won’t be immediately visible – immediately being the operative word here.

The final and most important topic to cover here is the level of experience you decide to recruit in. Too senior and they may get bored or be unwilling to deal with day-to-day operational matters, not senior enough and they are likely to have insufficient impact.

In fact, the level of experience you recruit at is one of the most crucial decisions you will make and is a relatively complex one. Let’s cover it in more detail now…


The level you should hire at

HR is a very nuanced profession – the CIPD qualification means relatively little in the grand scheme of things, and the role is largely one of communication, empathy, business acumen and creativity, so the correlation between competency and experience is less linear than in other (more technical) professions.

Key things for you to consider are:

How resistant to change are the leadership team and, therefore, how much gravitas will your Head of People need? Knowing your leadership team, how is this person going to gain influence? Will they need to dust-off a few war stories or will it be based more on articulate, thoughtful communication?

How much operational work do you expect them to do? Paying a Head of People salary to do lots of HR admin isn’t an effective use of funds. With that in mind, are you ready to invest in building them a small team, assuming your Head of People can demonstrate a projected ROI? If not, a senior individual is unlikely to do this role for long as they will be overly bogged-down in day-to-day issues and you are therefore susceptible for churn.

If you’re thinking about hiring a People Manager instead

A Head of People will want and need to affect change to justify their worth to you. If you are fundamentally closed minded to the kind of initiatives mentioned earlier and see HR as more of an operational, fire-fighting role, then the sensible thing would be to hire a People Manager instead who will be more comfortable with this.

That said, you must accept that this kind of role will only appeal to a certain type of individual. This is likely to be either someone of low-ambition who has less desire to affect change, or someone overly-junior who sees a “Manager” role as a good stepping stone.

The former’s lower ambition will likely result in them staying in the role for longer, and the experience they have will equip them better to deal with ER-related issues but they are unlikely to ever demonstrate the potential value in a proper people strategy to you.

The latter will probably bring more enthusiasm and could have potential to change your mind on the value of HR over time through adding value. That said, after 12-18 months in the role they may look to move on unless you begin to give them more freedom to implement contemporary HR initiatives, as their development stalls.

Key considerations for Head of People candidates when changing roles

Below are the three primary considerations for senior HR professionals considering a new role:

Credibility of the function

Does the role sit on the leadership team? If not, senior candidates will see this as potential confirmation of a lack of perceived value in the impact of HR.

Who does the role report to? HR professionals always prefer to report to the CEO as this gives their role greater scope to have company-wide impact and support the vision of the CEO. HR roles reporting in to Finance often symbolise a view that HR is more of a reactive, support function and less of a priority to the CEO, hence them delegating it to their CFO.

Additionally, if HR is also going to be responsible for overseeing facilities management or office management, this can reinforce a message that HR is seen as an admin function rather than a value-adding one.


A HR professionals’ tenure with an organisation will live or die by the culture. For example, training will only be effective if people feel motivated to do good work and if they’re trusted to experiment and, inevitably, fail in practising their new learnings.

Organisations devoid of psychological safety, those with low-trust cultures and toxic behaviours render a Head of People’s role untenable if left unresolved. If you have cultural issues you must fully own them and reassure your new recruit of your desire to change; assuming it is true, of course.


What level of resources will be made available to help them to deliver on expectations? This takes in to consideration the budget to hire HR support or an In-house Recruiter, as well as budget for learning & development, employee benefits and software, among other things.

Recruitment preparation work

It is strongly advised to produce a written job description before embarking on your search. This will demonstrate that you are taking this piece of recruitment seriously and therefore reinforce the message that HR is a function you deem as important to the success of your business. It will also increase accountability between you and the candidate in terms of aligning expectations.

The JD must sell the vision for the function whilst also being entirely honest. There is plenty of content out there covering how to write a good JD so we won’t cover that in length here but, broadly speaking, it should include:

  • Summary of the business – what you do, success so far, size
  • Purpose of the role – a brief intro to why you’re hiring this role
  • Reporting line
  • What you want this person to achieve – key responsibilities
  • Key character traits and experience you are seeking
  • Employee benefits

What a Head of People can do for you

To help you prepare your JD, we have included a list of things a good Head of People can deliver:

  • Coach the leadership team on people-related matters
  • Implement learning & development initiatives to drive performance, internal promotions and retention
  • Embed personal development and employee succession plans
  • Drive an effective recruitment strategy resulting helping with direct candidate attraction and a drop in recruitment spend
  • Improve the new-starter onboarding experience therefore improving early performance and employee engagement
  • Implement employee engagement initiatives to better retain your workforce
  • Benchmark your salaries and benefits to ensure you are competitive
  • Build automated, scaleable HR processes
  • Improve cross-divisional collaboration
  • Deal with ER issues in a discrete and professional manner
  • Embed employee objectives and ensure consistent follow-up
  • Foster a more diverse and inclusive approach to hiring and recognition
  • Integrate newly acquired businesses in to yours from a people perspective
  • Support on new office openings

Sourcing candidates

Your preferred method of generating candidates is likely to be directly (i.e. not via an agency). This is perfectly understandable as it will likely be cheaper.

The most effective place to advertise this role will be on LinkedIn. HR professionals are typically very active on LinkedIn so you will likely get good exposure to your target market with a well-written advert.

Beyond advertising, it is also advisable to consult your network for referrals. This could include posting a request on LinkedIn and contacting anyone you know who may know someone suitable.

Given this is your first time recruiting this role it is advisable to interview at least 5 qualified candidates to get a true sense of what is out there. This should heighten your odds of making a successful hire. If your initial direct efforts don’t yield at least 5 suitable & interested candidates, you may need to post a second advert on a platform like Indeed or Glassdoor or brief a recruitment agency.

Working with an agency

When selecting an agency there are a few key considerations which we will cover below.

Are they a HR specialist recruitment agency? If so, do they have an industry specialism as well (e.g. technology clients)?

HR Specialist or not?

Many non-HR recruitment agencies are eager to recruit HR positions as they believe that placing a warm HR contact in to a client will strengthen their relationship with said client given HR typically hold the keys to the recruitment budget. This should give them greater control over the recruitment of other vacancies in to the business, such as tech, product or sales.

A Recruiter with limited experience recruiting HR professionals specifically is likely to resort to a strategy of largely brand matching (finding HR professionals from other start-ups like yours).

This approach can lead to a successful placement. However, there are a few drawbacks of dealing with a non-HR specialist Recruiter:

  • Just because a HR professional worked at a start-up doesn’t necessarily mean they succeeded there. They may, therefore, not be a good option for you despite appearing to be on paper. An experienced HR Recruiter will be more accomplished in interpreting their experience and discerning the limits of their capabilities.
  • Your experienced HR Recruiter will have greater empathy for HR professionals and will usually be able to give you robust feedback on things that are likely to put them off; equipping you to repackage things before going to market. This could include any of the issues detailed in the “Key Considerations of HR professionals when changing roles” section above.
    • The crucial point here is that the role can be repackaged before going to market. Once a candidate has originally discounted a role from their consideration, they are unlikely to change their mind. Having this valuable feedback from your Recruiter upfront, can prevent you from unnecessarily diminishing your talent pool.

HR Specialist within Tech or not?

Most HR recruitment agencies will have successfully worked with a number of Tech clients, irrespective of whether or not the Tech sector is their primary focus. Thanks to LinkedIn, all agencies have access to largely the same candidate pool so this does level the playing fields somewhat, even if they aren’t a Tech specialist HR Recruiter.

Therefore, your key consideration should be the level of relationship the Recruiter has with their candidates. Despite the best advice (and reading this doc!) when recruiting a Head of People role for the first time, the process is unlikely to be flawless, so you will need to lean on your Recruiters expertise and quality of relationship more than some other searches.

A Recruiters ability to manage their candidate’s emotions could be vital in keeping this potential hire on track – they may need to mediate tough messages and reassure candidates on the financial security of your start-up business, amongst other things. A candidate is more likely to listen to a Recruiter they know well and respect than someone they are working with for the first time.

Some final thoughts on partnering with an agency

There is lots of discussion around the optimum number of agencies to partner with in a search. Our honest view is that it entirely depends on the circumstances, but the below should offer some insight that might help.

When more than one agency is involved, no individual Recruiter is fundamentally responsible. Therefore, if your vacancy appears harder to fill than others in their current portfolio, you may be end up deprioritised in their thinking in favour of making easier money elsewhere. This is the blunt reality of the contingency recruitment model.

When a client commits to one Recruiter and really depends on them to deliver, commercials aside, the weight of expectation on the Recruiter is heavy. Believe it or not, this often proves a larger motivator than the relative financial reward of one search over another.

However, this is entirely dependent on a Recruiters attitude to their work. For example, if a Recruiter is not overly invested in their own personal reputation, then they are unlikely to sweat too much over coming up with candidates for you, as there is less at stake for them.

Whilst it’s not an exact science, a Recruiter who has spent 3+ years in a given niche is generally going to be more invested in their reputation than someone with less skin in the game. The simple reason is that they are established and more likely to still be in that space a year from now. As we all know, many people try out Recruitment for a brief stint and then leave to do something else. These people are, by nature of their career plans alone, unlikely to be as committed to establishing themselves as a Go-To Recruiter.

Whilst we would generally advocate for partnering with just one agency, we would also advise enforcing some timelines (2 weeks approx) to give you a viable “out”. If the Recruiter is producing unsuitable candidates or an insufficient number of candidates, you must swiftly engage another to avoid losing momentum on your search.

However, prior to doing this we would strongly recommend asking the Recruiter for market feedback/insights in to the challenges they have faced. It may be that they have encountered certain challenges, fed them back to you only for their suggestions to be disregarded. At this point, we would urge you to reflect on their feedback and maybe solicit a second opinion on their thoughts from a trusted contact if you are in doubt.

If there are genuine credible market challenges which suggest your expectations are unrealistic, briefing a second agency will not only not resolve them, but it will actually make matters worse. The reason for this is that your original Recruiter is likely to deprioritise your role at this stage as their chances of making a placement will be further diminished by new competition, on top of the pre-existing challenges.

Additionally, your newly-briefed Recruiter will also likely approach your vacancy as a “low-priority” from the get-go given that another Recruiter has already tried and failed on the search.

The assessment process

The manner with which you conduct your assessment process will tell the candidates a great deal about how you operate.

If you wish to secure a high-calibre individual, it is vital that you give a good account of your business as you will be up against competition. Innocent mistakesade through lack of experience in hiring a role like this will be forgiven, however, general negligence and poor communication will be very off-putting.

The key principles underpinning a high-quality assessment process for this role are:

  • Broadly speaking, HR candidates are seeking assurance that people are valued within the business. Assuming this is true, hiring will be seen as a vital business process and treated with the level of care that it duly warrants.
  • Aside from this, it is vital that you instil trust in potential candidates. A healthy working relationship with the leadership team will be essential to their success in a new role like this due to the change they will need to affect within the business. Trust and goodwill can be further reinforced by sticking to the proposed timescales when it comes to feedback and final decisions.
  • Candidates will also want to hear a well-thought out motive behind making this hire. Many VC’s advocate hiring a Head of People early on, but the Founder(s) must have their own, specific reasons that show depth of thinking – something that will get this person excited to turn up every day!
  • Whilst different stakeholders will each have their own respective people priorities, it is important that there is cohesion between the various leaders as otherwise a Head of People will inevitably fail to live up to one or more of the stakeholders demands.

Things to do before you start interviewing

Decide on who will be part of the interview process and in what order

As the hiring manager, you should feature no later than at the second stage of interviews. Your role will be vital in getting candidates bought-in, so it is best to make an appearance sooner rather than later to avoid losing good candidates from the process.

Your Head of People should meet the key stakeholders, but it also should not be necessary for them to interview with more than 5 people in total. An interview process with too many stakeholders involved can suggest a lack of decisiveness and therefore an environment devoid of psychological safety – in other words, nobody wants to be accountable for a hiring decision in case it goes wrong and they are blamed.

Instead, we would recommend your Head of People interviewing with fewer people but spending more time with each. As the hiring manager, we would advise that you meet them twice. Your relationship with them will be a huge determining factor in their success and you may see a different side to them at the second stage, once they feel more comfortable. Additionally, this second meeting will give you a chance to reclarify expectations to ensure alignment.

Decide on some key competencies you wish to assess

Competency based questions can be an effective way of interviewing a candidate. Research key competencies and decide on those you think will be most relevant to success in the role. Then, prepare 2 to 3 competency-based questions to assess these specific areas.

Once decided, develop an interview scorecard to record your assessment of each of those competencies. This will reduce unconscious bias and should help you to hire more objectively based on who is best equipped to do the job, rather than the person you simply get on with the best.

Establish what success in the role would look like

What is the mission of the role? Understanding this will help you to sell the role to potential candidates but will also offer a helpful benchmark of the level of individual you need to hire. Can you envisage them delivering on that mission? How much support from the leadership team will they need to do so?

This also presents an opportunity for discussion around expectations – you can question the candidate on what they think is realistic to achieve at set points in time. This will help to ensure that everyone is aligned in their thinking which will be key in fostering a good working relationship with your Head of People.

Decide if you would like them to prepare a case study or not

Many organisations use case studies as a way to see the candidates in action. This includes setting a brief for them to present to you, ahead of an in-depth discussion around their proposal.

Deciding on this upfront ensures that you can give the candidates enough time to prepare (weekends will be the best time to do this assuming they are currently working). If candidates are asked to prepare something extensive at very short notice, there is a chance they may withdraw from the process.

We will cover effective case studies in more detail in the next section.

Case Studies

The use of case studies can allow organisations to better assess:

  • Creative thinking
  • Approach to problem solving
  • How they prioritise
  • Their ability to present
  • How they think on their feet under questioning
  • Their written communication
  • Their ability to analyse and interpret data

Generally speaking, a good case study will present a realistic scenario they may face in the role so that you can see them in action; thereby visualising how they would likely perform once hired.

The most effective case studies usually tackle a specific problem, thereby creating a forum to get good depth of discussion happening and a chance to truly assess their thought process.

Many start-ups go with a simple “talk us through your first 90 days in the role” brief. This will offer an insight in to how effectively they present to an audience, but not a great deal else.

The most effective studies follow this pattern:

  1. Provide information or data illustrating a situation (e.g. employee engagement survey results)
  2. A specific brief (e.g. based on these findings, what process would you go through to improve our score for (insert specific area of EE results)? What would success look like?
  3. Specify format (PPT/discussion?), time allotted, equipment provided and names and job titles of who they will present to/discuss with

Key things to look for in candidates during the assessment process

This section will cover 3 key character traits we have found common in successful start-up Heads of People. These have been contributed by Daniel Illes (ex-Chief People Officer of Drover; a car subscription platform) and resonate with our own personal findings from recruiting these roles.

Before we go in to them, it is worth briefly noting that we have found that relevant industry experience is, generally speaking, an advantage, as is hiring someone who has worked in an organisation of similar scale/growth trajectory.

Commercial acumen: A strong people leader needs to have a thorough understanding of the business they are serving because this allows them to effectively coach business leaders across multiple disciplines. All business decisions have people implications and the best outcomes are a product of a careful balancing exercise of commercial needs and empathy toward individuals. Individuals who have worked in an early-stage business or a broad generalist role such as customer success or product can thrive in a people role due to their business acumen.

High emotional intelligence and strong communication skills: Daniel believes that a People professional must be able to accurately predict how actions and decisions will impact people’s feelings and motivations. They should be able to make people feel comfortable and foster psychological safety. They should also have the confidence to speak their mind and disagree with senior stakeholders when necessary.

Bias for action: The notion of best practice in HR is far less clear than in other disciplines like Product Management: a terrible decision in one context might just be the right course of action in another. A good People leader must resist the temptation to craft a perfect world – getting started followed by gradual iteration is key.

As mentioned, we would recommend preparing competency-based questions designed to assess the above points and scoring them out of 5 in a candidate scorecard.

A final thought on the assessment process

Without doubt, the primary reason Head of People hires are unsuccessful is due to ambiguity around expectations within the role.

For this reason, we strongly urge you to have a well-defined brief and a strong idea of what success will look like at the one- and two-year points of this person’s tenure.

In line with this, it would be wise to also consider the budget you will allocate to this individual to share with them at this stage. Additionally, we strongly recommend being honest with them about company specific challenges they will encounter within this role.

Likewise, you must make sure your interview approach is conducive to fully extracting the information you need from a candidate to determine whether their personal values are aligned to those of your company, and whether they possess the key characteristics outlined above.

If you are struggling to get this level of detail from them due to them adopting a formal interview style or a feeling that they are holding-back, then this would be deemed as a very high risk hire so we would recommend walking away.

If your search is going horribly wrong

Recruitment is hard and often things don’t go to plan. It may be that your interview process has put candidates off or you have subsequently decided that you were, in fact, interviewing candidates at the wrong level. In this instance, rather than compromise, it is best to go back to square one.

However, you must accept that candidates may well have observed that the position has been recruited for some time unsuccessfully. This can cause candidates to suspect that something is not quite right and lead to extra caution when applying.

To avoid exasperating this, before engaging a new set of candidates it is important that you reflect on your own role in proceedings and prepare an explanation to offer to candidates who enquire about the reasoning as to why the search hasn’t worked so far. Additionally, if you are using a Recruiter you must consult them for feedback from the market too as this will help you to build a clear picture.

Once you understand the root of the issue, honesty is the best policy and usually serves well here; as long as the justification for your actions is reasonable – nobody is perfect, after all.

If you are unsure where you went wrong, revert back to earlier in this article where we discussed what HR professionals consider when changing roles. If you are still unsure, there is no harm in contacting previously interviewed candidates and requesting honest feedback from them directly.

At this point, if you are using an agency you must consider how you are going to motivate them to restart the search as they may begin to deprioritise the role, if they haven’t already. Once again, be honest about what you have learned and how you will change this time.

How a HR Consultant might be able to help you

A HR Consultant can support your business on a flexible Freelance basis, helping you to better understand how you should approach hiring your permanent Head of People.

They can consult on the level of individual you need and even help you to source, interview and onboard them.

In line with earlier themes, they can also provide you with honest feedback around your approach to people and culture and how this might affect your search for a good candidate.

In the event that you have already started your search for someone permanently only to falter, a good HR Consultant can help you repackage your role and address any issues preventing you from making a successful hire.

Most HR specialist recruitment agencies (including Hawkwood) will have a good network of seasoned HR Consultants who are available to help you here.

Extending a job offer

Before embarking on the assessment process, you should have a salary expectation figure from your Recruiter or the candidate directly, thereby ensuring that you are only considering people within your budget. With this in mind, the figure you offer them should never come as a disappointing surprise.

Through the assessment process, if you deem it unlikely that you will match their salary expectations, you must let them know as early as possible, rather than at the end of the process. This gives them the option to continue in the process or not, and is best practice in that respect.

Should you wait until the end, the candidate will likely feel as though they have been led down a garden path; one which they may not have invested further time in had they known where it would lead. This is all the more bitter once they have invested lots of time preparing a case study.

How you might justify a lower potential offer:

  • Use objectivity over subjectivity – it cannot feel like personal criticism and should instead be focused on tangible experience gaps
  • Give them hope for the future – talk through genuine plans you can put in place to get them up to their ideal figure
  • Consider offsetting it with a bonus or more stock – only if this makes commercial sense

The advantage you have of raising potential salary issues at an early stage is that you will probably still have other candidates in the process to choose from. Therefore, if they decide to withdraw you are not back at square one.

Should you wait until the end, the point where you may have rejected all others and have your heart set on the one remaining candidate, you are in a significantly weaker negotiating position.

Getting proper commitment from the candidate to proceed at a specific reduced figure during the process should lead to a very simple offer acceptance assuming everything else is taken care of.

Package considerations

Once again, HR professionals want to see that HR is valued within the organisation. It’s worth flagging that once in situ, they will likely have access to all salary data across the business so will inevitably compare.

Assuming they are sitting on the leadership team, they will be curious as to whether they are being compensated in line with other people on the SLT. This does not necessarily mean that their salary has to be in line with those, however, you must be ready to justify why they are not in an objective manner (see above).

Stock options can also be used to demonstrate real commitment to this individual and the HR agenda as a whole. Your Head of People will be somewhat disillusioned should they find that your Head of Finance has stock options and they don’t, unless of course, you can justify this objectively.


As you have likely discerned, clarity of communications and expectations is the ultimate key to making a successful hire in to your Head of People position. This theme continues through to the onboarding process; a process that will play a vital role in equipping your new recruit to succeed in their role.

We do not have time to cover this here but will be publishing a similar document on this topic shortly, so keep an eye out for that.


Recruiting a high-calibre Head of People is fraught with difficulty. It is a function in rapid transition, that is candidate-short and their success is less-easy to measure than some other role types.

Strong leadership is about authenticity and openness – interestingly, these two principals also apply most directly to this hiring process. We have spent a great deal of time covering the need for transparency & clarity to build trust with your Head of People but cannot stress this enough.

In growing businesses, things do change and, with that, so do expectations and priorities. As long as you are honest with them about the current state of play, what might be on the horizon and how that might affect them, then a good, committed Head of People will accommodate a changing landscape.

Lastly, we advise you to enter in to this next chapter with an open mind. The benefit of certain HR initiatives may not be obvious immediately, but rather than rule them out, spend time researching for yourself and deploy empathy to see things from the point of view of your team. The truth is that high performing businesses have a healthy culture so it is worth the effort.

More generally, if you would like to discuss this hire with an experienced recruitment partner, then please contact me on 0207 190 9555 or at [email protected]

Hawkwood have successfully recruited first-time People hires in to start-ups such as ScreenCloud, Capital On Tap, Nutmeg, Add to Event and countless others.

Our candidate network comprises of People professionals from seed-stage start-ups right through to the largest publicly-traded Tech companies around.

We’re a team of passionate, committed Recruiters who would, naturally, love to be part of your next phase of growth, so please get in touch to discuss how we can help.

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