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AI Executive Search: Recruiting AI Talent

Recruiting AI Talent May Be Getting Easier

Executive search is hard. Recruiting AI talent has been even harder. And while it remains difficult, the challenge appears to be lessening somewhat. The reason? Multiple rounds of technology company layoffs appear to be reducing the talent shortage. Fewer companies are reporting difficulty recruiting AI data scientists, data engineers, and data-visualization specialists, according to a McKinsey & Company survey. However, fewer respondents (28 percent) reported hiring AI-related software engineers—the most-hired role last year (39 percent). Moreover, a relatively new function has emerged: prompt engineering. 7 percent of respondents whose companies have adopted AI reported hiring prompt engineers in the past year.

Since AI emerged, McKinsey & Company has been conducting a global survey to track the state of artificial intelligence adoption in 1,500 client companies. This year, the survey returned evidence that 2023 is a breakout year in generative AI. According to McKinsey, “A third of the respondents say their organizations are using gen AI regularly in at least one business function.”

“Amid recent advances, AI has risen from a topic relegated to tech employees to a focus of company leaders: nearly one-quarter of surveyed C-suite executives say they are personally using gen AI tools for work, and more than one-quarter of respondents from companies using AI say gen AI is already on their boards’ agendas. What’s more, 40 percent of respondents say their organizations will increase their investment in AI overall because of advances in gen AI.”

The State of AI in 2023, McKinsey & Company

AI Will Radically Reshapethe Workforce

Generative AI could automate 60 to 79 percent of worker activities according to McKinsey, yet that doesn’t necessarily mean AI can do the entire job — with one exception. Service operations are most likely to see a smaller headcount. Nearly four in ten respondents reporting AI adoption expect more than 20 percent of their companies’ workforces will be reskilled, whereas 8 percent of respondents say the size of their workforces will decrease by more than 20 percent.

Million Dollar Talent

Despite all of the transformations created by ChatGPT, one thing is certain. The best AI engineering talent remains handsomely paid. Technology Reporter Cady Metz of The New York Times reported AI Researchers Are Making More Than $1 Million, Even at a Nonprofit.

“Now, a little-noticed tax filing by a research lab called OpenAI has made some of those eye-popping figures public. OpenAI paid its top researcher, Ilya Sutskever, more than $1.9 million . . . It paid another leading researcher, Ian Goodfellow, more than $800,000 — even though he was not hired until March of that year. Both were recruited from Google.”

— Technology Reporter Cady Metz, The New York Times

3-Comma ROI of AI Technologists

With compensation well into the 2-comma range, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) executive searches are not for the faint of heart. AI technologists generate intellectual property in the form of patents. Intellectual property (IP) assets are used not just to protect technology rights, but also to gain a competitive advantage and drive new revenue opportunities.

The Good Search Knows AI

The Good Search specializes in Data Science, Data Analytics, Machine Learning, and Artificial Intelligence. In fact, we are not staffed by typical recruiters. Rather, we employ investigative researchers who offer deep data analytics and computer science expertise. Some even program bots for kicks.

In other words, we understand just enough about what AI technologists do to share their passion — and yes, some of their concerns — as we witness what was once the stuff of sci-fi become reality.

Artificial Intelligence is a collection of leading-edge technologies that allow machines to sense, comprehend, act, and learn. AI enables systems to learn without being taught by humans. While we’re not quite yet at the robots-mocking-humans stage, we’re getting awfully close.

The Secret to AI Executive Search

If you are building out your Artificial Intelligence capability and don’t know where to begin, we offer you 6 easy steps below — the secret to recruiting AI executives.

1. Determine what kind of AI talent you require

The AI discipline comes in many flavors: knowledge representation and logical reasoning, robotics, machine learning, probabilistic modeling and inference, natural language processing, cognition, and applications in domains such as biology and text processing. What flavor do you need? Do you need a leader heading up an AI team or lab? If so, what kind of team? Data scientists, AI developers, computational biologists, or bioinformatics professionals? Do you require your team leader to be an artificial intelligence expert or someone who is technical enough to manage AI subject-matter experts?

2. Check your network for AI talent

Top AI leaders know other AI technologists and researchers. It is a tight-knit community, particularly at the highest level. Venture capital-backed startups make it a practice to leverage employee referrals from AI technologists and from entrepreneurs-in-residence at the VC firms that invest in AI such as 500, Accel, Data Collective, Intel Capital, Khosla Ventures, Lux, NEA (New Enterprise Associates), and Y Combinator. Companies who come to us usually have tapped out their networks.

3. Grow your own AI executives

In Winning the War for AI TalentCIO Magazine contributing writer Esther Shein reports,

Desperate times, it is said, call for desperate measures. Many organizations are dealing with the AI talent shortage by forming partnerships with universities and by training and building from within.

Gifted AI professionals come out of the top engineering schools. In fact, there is a lineage. Renowned professors cultivate gifted students who go out into the world and do great things. It makes sense to build relationships with the schools generating AI talent.

4. Map AI and machine learning talent*

*A significant percentage of AI engineers are elusive creatures. You won’t find them on LinkedIn. They don’t have to hang out there. The people who matter know who they are. However, that doesn’t help a company trying to build a team of gifted AI engineers.  That’s where a recruiting research firm comes in. Mapping the talent takes painstaking research, going into patents, research papers, assorted working groups, and other places where AI engineers gather.

Most recruiting sourcing teams lack the expertise to do the kind of investigative work required to uncover the best-of-the-best and they lack highly-placed sources who are, themselves, AI experts. That’s where our recruiting research firm Intellerati comes in. It pays to invest in expert talent mapping to build out a list of prospective candidates and to keep that list refreshed.

5. Recruit luminary AI leaders to attract AI talent

While there is a shortage of AI leadership talent, AI executives with requisite leadership and communications skills are so rare they’re frequently referred to as unicorns. They demand the highest compensation and can tailor a job to their own liking. Many are genius academics taking a break from leading AI labs at top universities to go play for a while in an AI sandbox at, say, Amazon.

The compensation packages for rare AI leaders are so high they may knock the wind out of you at first glance. But in addition to generating IP, these highly sought-after leaders also serve as talent magnets, rapidly attracting AI professionals to scale their teams.

6. Acquire an AI startup or lift out an AI team

Acquiring a company for AI talent is a tricky business. Harvard Business Review cautions it is very hard to do well. Harvard Business School professor Boris Groysberg and HBS Research Associate Robin Abrahams write,

“Companies looking to expand quickly into a new geographic or functional area often choose to merge with or acquire other companies. But the risks of such moves are well-known, and the success rates are dismal.”

In their article, Lift Outs: How to Acquire a High-Functioning Team, they advise that lift-outs may be a better strategy.

“There is an alternative, one that’s gained attention in recent years: a lift out, which entails hiring a high-functioning group of people from the same company who have worked well together and can quickly come up to speed in a new environment . . . They enable a quick ramp-up in talent without the logistical and psychological stresses of an acquisition or the socio-dynamic challenges of creating teams from scratch. The advantages of long-standing relationships and trust help an experienced team make an impact much faster than could a group of people brought together for the first time. There’s no need for team members to get acquainted with one another or establish shared values, mutual accountability, or group norms. Instead, the team can hit the ground running and help the company as business opportunities arise.”

Gain a Competitive Advantage in AI Recruitment

Mapping AI talent, investing in AI leadership, or lifting out a team are ways to gain a competitive advantage. But each one of those approaches takes talent acquisition capabilities that few corporations have in-house. Inevitably, many of those companies find their way to The Good Search.

The Good Search has been recruiting technology luminaries who are creating the next great thing for going on 20 years. We specialize in artificial intelligence, machine learning, data science, data analytics, computational biology, and bioinformatics because, deep down, we are data nerds. We are headhunters who recruit differently.

But we are, by no means, the only search firm in town. To help you in your quest for the right firm, we’ve assembled a list of search firms for you along with details on how to select the right search firm for your company. You also might want to check out our post How to Tell if Your Company Is Ready for AIWe’re here to help.

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Krista Bradford

Krista Bradford

Krista Bradford is CEO of the retained executive search firm The Good Search and of its research division Intellerati. A former award-winning television journalist and investigative reporter, Ms. Bradford now pursues truth, justice, and great talent in the executive suite.View Author posts

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