Panel The Basics of Recruiting for a Young Company

Nate Smith @ Lever, Rob Pegoraro @ Freelance, and Robert Sweeney @ Facet

Startup Grad School Stage
Ascent Conference 2020

Rob Pegoraro [00:00:01] Good morning, everybody. Welcome to our we can’t call this a debate, right? I think the brand equity of that word has gone a little downhill in the last 24 hours or so. Welcome to our conversation about the basics of recruiting for a young company. With me, we have Nate Smith, founder and CEO of Leever, Robert Sweeney, CEO of Fassett. So why don’t you all start off by of course, you have to give your elevator speech. Tell us about the problems in recruiting you’re trying to solve with your companies and then we’re going to get into it.

Nate Smith [00:00:32] I am so Lever is a company that builds hiring software for other companies, so we make a Tom acquisition suite of products that you use to manage your internal hiring. That includes putting up your own job board on your website for people to apply to tracking all those applications, as well as doing outbound activities. A lot of companies are looking to bring in town proactively. So going and finding talent from a variety of sources, including your network through referrals, finding your own network out on the Internet, and then attracting those talent and nurturing them with tools a lot like marketers use or connecting with their prospects.

Robert Sweeney [00:01:21] OK, and so I’m Robert Sweeney. I spent the first 10 years of my career as a software engineer at Microsoft and Netflix engineering manager, my claim to fame is that I invented binge watching. I made the autopilot feature Netflix and Fast Facet is my second startup version was a venture backed SAS Analytics and got frustrated with recruiting company and also as a software engineer, very spammy and really inefficient. So I built Fassett to be a passive search engine for candidates. So you can define exactly what you’re looking for in a job as a candidate, and then you only get matched to the jobs that match your salary, location, text act, what you’re looking for. And so you work with companies to help them source candidates that aren’t actively on the market.

Rob Pegoraro [00:02:31] All right, so I wanted to start with something you, Robert, said in our conversation arena before this, which was it would have been really nice to get a crash course in recruiting early on in my first startup. What are the things which you wish somebody had told you back then and made? You’re welcome to China, too, on this.

Robert Sweeney [00:02:48] Yeah. So one of the mistakes I made a lot of mistakes and as a first time founder and one of the things I wish I had known is that that recruiting is a lot like sales. You can’t just post a job and expect people to show up in a place where you might get some applications. But the best people are going to be the ones that aren’t actively looking for a job and probably aren’t going to see your job. So it’s like sales. You’re doing sourcing, you’re building a pipeline, you’re moving candidates through your editing process. And it should be a significant portion of your your day as a founder. It’s one of your primary responsibilities is to build your team. And so expect to spend 20 to 30 percent of your time on that when you’re when you’re in hiring mode. And I think I wish I’d I’d known is not to hire people just because they say they want to work at your company. They flattery happens a lot is found guilty that they think you’re going to be great. They’re doing and they really ought to be part of it. And you just got to ignore all that and just focus on. The skills and experience that you need and that position. And I think the last thing that I wish I’d known in the top three is that speed is your biggest advantage as a small company. It takes most companies once you get beyond a certain size or a certain amount of bureaucracy at companies and see if you can get an offer to a candidate and seven to 10 days, then you’re going to be 90 percent of the companies out there. And being the only option on the table is a huge advantage when it comes to closing candidates.

Rob Pegoraro [00:05:04] Very good point. Nate, what would you answer to that?

Nate Smith [00:05:09] Yeah, I’d agree with a lot of what Robert said in particular. The last point he made around speed, I think is extremely key for early stage companies. When you’re getting going, you will be competing against other people who can offer more money. You necessarily need to sell people on some variety of this is a great learning opportunity for you. This is a role that you’re really excited about. This is a really exciting team or what we’re working on is really exciting. So you really going to have to highlight intrinsic motivations other than money. A lot of times those things are learning opportunities or the ability for that person to have an experience that they really want to have in their work. And, you know, it’s really difficult to do that once someone’s already anchored on another offer of a lot of money, because at that point, the conversation pretty typically does come down to money. It’s very hard to to sell people at that moment. So what I would add to the tip about speed is not only do you need to operate with speed overall, you need to go to an offer quickly. I would also say one thing I learned that was really important is you actually need to sell candidates very, very early in the process in order to frame the conversation before other people do. It’s sort of another form of speed. It might justifiably take you months to hire certain jobs, especially if they’re your first person who’s going to be a manager or an executive and you don’t necessarily know how to hire someone that is at that level. You might need to talk to a number of people. But when you talk to someone good, you should start the process of selling early because typically your instincts will end up being really useful and you will know that that person is better than a lot of the people you’ve talked to. That’s when you lean into selling right away. They’ll always be more time for evaluation. And so don’t be shy and start telling people why they should work for your company really early on a process.

Rob Pegoraro [00:07:20] All right, let’s get into some nuts and bolts practical advice, because it seems that there’s still a lot of a lot of the stuff has changed, the hiring process there for sure, a lot fewer handshakes and that these days, what’s a good job hosting look like these days? And where do you put it so you can get someone’s attention and start optimizing the hiring process for speed?

Nate Smith [00:07:42] Well, I’d say and feel free to disagree with me on this, Robert, but I’d say that posting jobs on job boards is not a good use of time for a small company. You very well probably should have your jobs on sites like LinkedIn or Anjali’s or places that Glassdoor, places that people know startups tend to have presences. I wouldn’t really waste time with a lot of others. There might be a couple networks that are a little better than others for certain kinds of skills. Stack overflow does tend to be pretty good, but by and large it’s a waste of time. You’re mostly going to get extremely low qualified people. There’s a dynamic in in town acquisition in hiring, where most of the people who are searching for a job are the people who frankly aren’t as employable. And therefore, most of the time when you get applicants, they’re not relevant. And the people who you do want to hire already have a job. So they literally never apply to a job after their first job. And those are usually the people you want to hire, especially at an early stage startup. You only get a few hires. Every one of them has to count. So I would say that, sure, you should put your jobs in your website because occasionally someone will be really passionate about your company or they’ll have heard about you in another format, like potentially in sales. You were talking to someone and they actually fell in love with you and they want to work for your company. It’s happened. That’s a good system. So you want to have your presence out there, but you don’t want to rely on it. You want to just have it available for the people who already know about you or hear about you through a more meaningful interaction. And then beyond that, I would I would say that where you want to spend your time is in finding people through the typical places. You find people with certain skills. A lot of that’s LinkedIn, but also to a certain extent, GitHub or other social networks can be really valuable resources. And you want to go out proactively and find those people. You also want to work your network. And there are certain roles in which you’re not going to know a lot about them. This is particularly meaningful for executive roles where I would say you want to bring in an executive recruiter as soon as you can afford to. I’d say I actually waited too late to start working with executive recruiters, but those specifically are for the executive team that you bring in. And so it might not be for your first year or two of operation, kind of depending on your growth. And when is the right time to bring in someone with a lot of experience at that level?

Robert Sweeney [00:10:25] So I agree with a lot of the advice that they gave, it’s like putting up a new product for sale on a website, you’re not going to get people just showing up to buy your product. You have to go out and actively source. And so for me, that was like specifically buying a premium subscription. You might have to splurge on Illington recruiter’s subscription, although they’re really expensive and just searching, searching for people with the right skill sets, people that look like the type of person that you want to have on your team. They have the right experience, the right resume. And then just start messaging them. That worked really well for me. It did take a lot of time. And but you craft your your your message as a sales pitch, like Nate said. So a lot of the recruiting process should be selling. And it starts from that very first message you said. And so you’re you’re looking for like a couple of paragraphs just to get them to start a conversation with you, like maybe some common interests or common connections and then lead into, like, why your your startup is something that they want to be part of,.

Rob Pegoraro [00:11:40] As if you were having a conversation at the reception we would have up to this event.

Nate Smith [00:11:45] Yeah, exactly. Although the one thing I would caution is that I’ve seen a crazy number of these messages from various companies and a lot of times people write down the things that you might be really proud of that you would say to say an investor such as, look, we have a lot of customers or we have a lot we have really fancy investors. We have a lot of money like those kind of things, especially when you’re earlier on. Actually don’t sell that well, frankly, because other companies have the same stats, but better they’re not that differentiating. So you probably have them somewhere in there because you want to, at the end of the day, get that person to believe that you’re legit. So you probably have a sentence in there that’s like I used to work at a big company or I have this credential or my company raises this money or we have this customer. That’s really exciting. But that should be one or two sentences, Max. The majority the majority of the emails should be something with a lot more truly unique. Potentially, it’s something about your culture that’s really meaningful, that’s different, or it’s something about the particular spin that you have on what you think makes a good company or a good person in this role. You really have to kind of reach for. Is everyone else saying this exact same email? Because people who are really great get literally emails like that every single day and you do have to stand out from the crowd.

Robert Sweeney [00:13:16] Yeah, that’s something you have to you have to understand, especially in technical recruiting. I was getting five or six messages a day when I worked at Netflix and it hasn’t changed really. And so there’s a ton of noise out there. And I agree with Nate, like, you need like one sentence that said that helps them know that you’re a legit company, like maybe you’ve got a prestigious investor or if it’s a milestone, but the rest of it should be about the prestige of the role or something that appeals to like there that might appeal to their career aspirations, growth opportunities, a greenfield product development mission of the company, things like that.

Rob Pegoraro [00:14:01] So what what is a what’s the interviewing process like these days? Is it what we’re doing now, video conversations, when people do phone calls, the word for that? What are the best practices these days?

Robert Sweeney [00:14:15] So what facet does as we we’re recruiting company for technical recruiting company. We worked a lot of early stage companies. And so we see a lot of what companies are doing right now. It’s yeah, it’s it’s all over Xoom. We do help coordinate that and provide the settings and things like that. It can be challenging. There’s always technical issues. It seems like distractions. We have got an amazing candidate like Google and like an incredible ten year, ten years of experience get past our position because she was distracted, because there’s construction going on outside of our house. So I would say a lot of that lies on the interviewer. So you as a company to see past that. So try and see past the distractions of the online or maybe somebody super nervous. It can be intimidating to be just in front of a camera versus in person. And you so you have to there’s extra work you have to do as an interviewer. To create an environment they’re comfortable and if they’re they’re flustered, distracted that provide reassurance because you want the candidates to put their best foot forward, you’re not there to make them look bad. If they’re not there to prove how awesome they are to you, it’s your job to extract that maximum or the best, most accurate measure of their capabilities and experience.

Rob Pegoraro [00:15:52] Is all working from home or one open door away from a cat or a kid walking in. I did remember to close the door to my office. So can I actually.

Nate Smith [00:16:00] I mean, every kid walks in. I say hi to them. Yeah, no, I think it’s really important that you show through your actions that life happens. Things are weird right now. We’re cool, right? You didn’t have to take the extra step with someone that you don’t yet know and have built trust with to show that you’re not fazed by the random interaction that just happened. That was a little unusual. And that’s OK. And now we could move on to the next part. So you got to you do have to really actively work in those conversations. I would say this is actually good advice, though, during normal times, too. I think most interviewers in technical roles have some challenge of getting over this hump. And this occurs in other functions, too. But I’ve seen engineers encounter this the most out of all roles where they oftentimes view the interview process as like it’s my job as an interviewer to test this person effectively or completely. And that’s actually not your job at all. Your job is to make a hiring decision, plain and simple. And a lot of times I have to remind people of that, because when you interview becomes something where the interviewee feels like they’re at a test, they’re actually not performing anything like they do in their job. Their job is not a test. It is something they do every day, eight hours or more a day with people that they know really well. It’s an extremely different environment. And so something we have always pushed for, you know, within Léger, for our own hiring and something I encourage for our customers is always think about what are you able to do to make it as similar to the real work as possible? It’s never going to be quite there. You can’t simulate years of working together, but you can do little things. You can ask people how their day is. This isn’t unique to us, but I always start off of phone screen or a zoom screen with hey, like is is still a good time. Most of the time people say, yes, there actually have been a couple times where people actually know something just like I got to go take care of it. And if that happens, amazing. You just avoided like wasting thirty minutes of both your time. And also that person can come back for a great interview.

Rob Pegoraro [00:18:19] Later on fire in their kitchen or whatever.

Nate Smith [00:18:21] Yeah. Fire in the kitchen. It has actually happened where someone is like, oh no, actually it’s not a good time. But, you know, the the main thing that happens is people just go, oh, this person’s double checking with me. They care about me. It’s a very, very fast way of inserting like a little bit of small talk when it’s someone you don’t know super well yet. So just those little things do add up and how you how you have the conversation. The other thing I recommend to people that’s along these lines is give people compliments. It’s OK to tell people nice things during an interview. And I think most people think it’s not because they’re worried about disappointing the candidate or setting the wrong expectations. And certainly you don’t want to say, great, we’re moving to the next step before you’ve made your decision. You don’t want to end up wasting your time and the time on your team because you’re interviewing people to be nice. That’s not the point. The point is you want to just give people the best opportunity to perform. And so someone says something that you’re like, wow, that was a really good insight. Just said, it’s OK. You can say, like, that was awesome. I really appreciated that. Or, wow, I hadn’t thought of that before. That’s really cool. And that might give people the confidence to perform even better in the interview, which is what you want, because at the end of the day, you’re hoping to hire this person and that’s important to keep in mind.

Rob Pegoraro [00:19:46] So we’ve got to talk about diversity and inclusion since the record of the tech industry isn’t hasn’t always been great, it seems to often result in companies hiring people that look might look like me, except they’re younger. One of those gray hair, a better shape. And, you know, we need to do better. There was a good line on the Fassett site. Culture and not culture fit. What are the ways you’ve tried to make sure that you’re not you’re being part of the solution, not the problem we’ve all helped create in one way or another.

Robert Sweeney [00:20:23] I think it’s I think it is specifically, especially in tech, it is harder to have a uniformly diverse workforce just given the the the demographics of the people that go into tech. There’s definitely a disproportionately more of certain genders and ethnicities in the field. However, there are things you can do to ensure that you’re not developing a monoculture. And one of things that we offer is blind candidate screening. So because we are doing the sourcing for the companies to work for is we can remove demographic information. So I like that name pictures. Sometimes it’s colleges will need to be removed to make it more, at least the initial step not influenced by any sort of bias in there. The other thing that I’d say is it’s hiring referrals from employees can really be an easy way to find talent, but that can also lead to hiring a lot of the same people. And so just be careful with that as you’re hiring to not being too much on referrals and working with an outside agency. You can, like us, can help with getting people from all sorts of different backgrounds. I saw that.

Rob Pegoraro [00:22:09] I definitely like the idea of, you know, abstracting out some of the data, I guess, in orchestras, they figured out years ago, if you have the new violinist audition behind a curtain, you have no idea what they look like, only how well they can play. And that that seems like a good practice to bring to technology as well. Last question I have to ask, since you all are both in the business of running, recruiting, hiring platforms, what is the right role of outsourcing? I sense a little disagreement with that. And our you exchange beforehand where you all come down on that.

Robert Sweeney [00:22:38] So obviously, my view is, I mean, I started the company because I felt like I spent way too much time sourcing candidates and obviously going to be heavily involved in interviewing betting. But in terms of just producing candidates that are interested in your position, there are specialists and it’s just a lot of that work that’s very easy to outsource. And that’s what we do.

Nate Smith [00:23:00] Yeah, I think that a lot of functions are things you can outsource in a startup and you should be thoughtful around opportunities to offload work because you certainly can’t do everything. On the flip side, I would argue that companies actually do need to get really good at building a pipeline of talent for some number of roles, especially the roles that they’re always hiring for tech companies that tend to be engineers, sales, customer success and support the roles that you’re always going to be hiring for because you’re always going to have attrition even in a small company. Hopefully you’ll have less attrition in your early years, but it will happen. And this is actually a good thing a lot of times for the company to get used to the fact that there’s some people coming who are really great fit for what the company needs now. And there will be some people where it’s no longer a. So you don’t want to create a culture where there is no turnover. And if you’re going to be hiring for certain roles on a regular basis, I think that it’s really critical that you are thinking about that in advance and getting good at pipelining for those roles down the road so that when you do need them, you’re a lot more ready to quickly hire someone because speed is so critical during the growth stages of a startup. So that’s why I would say getting really good at doing it in-house is actually a hugely important skill for a company to learn. And you should be smart about which roles you get good at hiring for the ones that are really core. Your company that you’re always hiring, which we often call evergreen roles in the recruiting industry.

Rob Pegoraro [00:24:41] OK, well, on the on the notion of speed, we are just at about a 25 minute mark, so I hope this discussion has gotten some wheels turning in all your heads about how you find in.

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