Textio’s former CEO talks fulfillment — and leadership fatigue

It took Kieran Snyder four years to leave the CEO position at Textio, the recruiting tech company she co-founded.

Textio is like her child, Snyder told HR Dive. To be fair, Snyder has real, flesh-and-blood, human children, so it’s “not quite the same,” she said.

But “disentangling” her identity from the company was difficult. “If the company was successful, I felt successful. If the company had a harder time I felt worse,” Snyder said.

She acknowledged that like life, entrepreneurship has its ups and downs, and she told the board in 2020 that she planned to step down. Citing the past few years of global change and turmoil, Snyder said that “leadership fatigue is real.”

Snyder stepped away from her CEO role, but she also stepped into a new era of self care.

Courtesy of Textio

 

In 2023, she felt she had led Textio to a quantifiably successful point. But to make Textio even more successful, Snyder realized that her role at the time was not sustainable.

“Do I have the energy to lead the way this needs and deserves to be led in the next couple of years?” she asked herself. And it became clear to her that she was “not the right CEO for this chapter” of the company.

On the impact of marrying AI and data to humanity

Snyder remains proud of Textio’s work. One of her top-of-mind memories in her role as CEO was receiving a note from a man, a first-generation immigrant, who had to drop out of undergrad.

“He had lost a soccer scholarship. He was struggling to find a job and he made friends with this recruiter, who convinced him to apply for a job as a recruiter. And the organization where he was hired used Textio to write job descriptions,” Snyder recalled. 

The man soon realized that the original job description to which he had responded was written with Textio, and he told her about “all the ways [the software] gave him the confidence to put himself forward for this position,” she said.

The software had quite literally changed the trajectory of his life — something which Snyder spoke about in awe. Metrics are important, she emphasized, but “most people don’t take the time to tell you that kind of story.”

Textio often presents data analysis regarding bias against workers from under-represented backgrounds. “When we published the first really big data set, we got so many people in the industry saying like, ‘Wow, I feel so seen now. I’ve been gaslit my whole career.’”

On the path to the exit

Regarding her departure, Syder said “it was a really hard decision, until all of a sudden it wasn’t.”

Two days before her successor was announced, Snyder fell ill with COVID-19 for the first time ever. “I’m usually a pretty healthy person. I haven’t been sick in like six years,” Snyder said, drawing parallels to the post-final-exam sickness phenomenon that some college students report.

“I was like ‘powering through’ and then I instantly got sick for the first time in years. I was like, ‘Oh, my body was like keeping score,’” Snyder said. “It knew I needed a break and now it’s gonna force me into a break.”

Lessons learned from Snyder’s exit

Acknowledging not everyone can just quit their job, Snyder said, “I think putting different boundaries in place becomes your only option. Maybe it means you were working nights and weekends and you’re just not going to do that anymore. Maybe it means you try to change what you’re focusing on at work.”

She recalled how last year, she jotted down all of her responsibilities on a two-by-two grid, with four quadrants. One axis represented the degree of importance for Textio’s success; the other axis represented how fun the task was for her. Then she asked her leadership team to do the same; then they shared the grids with one another and rotated who performs which tasks.

“Your goal is to try to get as much of your time as possible into the upper right quadrant, where you’re doing stuff that is important for the company and fun for you,” Snyder said.

As she moves into the role of Chief Scientist Emeritus, Snyder expressed gratitude at having the opportunity to co-found and lead her company. She also remains on the board and continues to share space with her successor, Jensen Harris — the Textio co-founder and former CXO is her husband.

When she and her partner started the company, they hoped the software could create “opportunities for people who hadn’t generally had them at work.”

Will Snyder’s renegotiated relationship with Textio be a “forever” thing? “I have no idea,” she said. “But I know that I need a break.”

Reminiscing on the note she received from a Textio customer, Snyder said, “It’s really special to be able to build something from the ground up that has the impact you hoped it would have in the world.”