Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Recruiting Is a Grind

Hiring great people is always hard.  Many entrepreneurs I know look for a magic bullet or short cut hack for recruiting.  The reality is that recruiting is a numbers game.  Ultimately, you just need to work through enough people to make it work.  The below is for an early stage company just getting off the ground (e.g. 2 to 8 people).

1. Timelines.
Once, you as a founder, start spending 30-50% of your time on recruiting, it will still take 4-8 weeks to build up an initial pipeline of people for your company.  Plan on this ramp when thinking through your hiring timeline and plan.  Building a pipeline and closing the first candidates takes time.

2. Numbers Game.
Drawing on your personal network is often the most efficient way to hire people.  In some cases you have worked with a candidate so know they are a quality hire.  Candidates are also more likely to join your startup if they know and trust you.  Barring pre-existing relationships, there is often no way to get around interviewing large numbers of people to fill a role.

We hired a designer at my first startup by grinding through candidates.  Our first attempt was to go through our direct personal networks, but that did not yield anyone.  As a next step, we made a list of companies that had the following characteristics for their design teams: (a) technical designers (e.g. could write HTML/CSS), (b) had good UI design in general, (c) designers not overly specialized (e.g. designers who could do a bit of user experience, visual design, etc.).

Based on this we ended up with 5 companies.  I went through LinkedIn and combed through literally every designer who worked at those companies.  I reviewed >100 available portfolios, prioritized the people, and then reached out to every single person who made the cut.  After 6 weeks we closed our designer, who was pretty spectacular.  It took a lot of repetitive, detailed work to make this happen.

3. Drop Poor Leads Quickly.
If you do not have a lot of experience hiring, you will be tempted to meet every candidate in person for "coffee".  This is a big waste of time and usually can cost you anywhere from 1 to 2 hours including travel time, waiting in line together for drinks, small talk, etc.  I have not found meeting people for coffee in any way increase the likelihood of them interviewing versus a quick phone call.

Instead, as a first step do a quick 10-15 minute phone screen.  If the candidate is a poor fit - you only spent 10 minutes on them.  This save both you and them time.  If they are a good fit, you can have the call run longer or coordinate on the phone for a follow up meeting (be it coffee or a full interview loop, preferably the latter).

There are a number of signs a candidate is not serious about leaving their company (or, alternatively, are not really interested in your company).  You need to identify these people quickly and drop them from your pipeline so they do not waste your time.  A simple example is candidates who are unwilling to talk by phone during their current work day.  This is a clear sign they are not really looking for their next gig, even if they claim they are over email.

The main reasons to drop candidates are:
-Poor culture fit.  You can usually determine this in a 15 minute phone screen.
-Poor functional fit.  You can remove the worst candidates in a 15 minute phone screen.
-Not actually interested in your startup.  They will often let you know if this is the case in a quick phone call.

4. Closing.
Once you have put in all the effort to identify a great candidate, you should focus on the closing process.  In some cases this is easy - the candidate really wants to join your company, you have agreed on compensation, they give notice and join.  In other cases this can be a protracted back and forth due to compensation discussions, multiple offers to the candidate, life issues, or a last minute counter from their existing employer .

Some key aspects to closing include:
-If things start to drag out, set a deadline on both sides to come to agreement or move on.
-Make sure to spend the right amount of team time with the candidate.  This is a balance of letting everyone get to know each other & selling the candidate, along with not taking up too much time the team could be spending on e.g. building product.
-If the candidate announces they are leaving to their existing employer and team it is a good sign.  Once the word is out, they are more likely to join.  I have seen multiple people back out of a job once they have accepted.  You can not count on anyone joining until they show up on their first day.

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