Hacking Startup Recruiting: Culture, Data and Networks

by on October 30, 2014

Gettin’ good players is easy. Gettin’ ‘em to play together is the hard part — Casey Stengel


Last week, I had the opportunity to attend the first Talent Hackers event in NYC. A very insightful event!

There was plenty of practical advice that came out of the event. The TalentHackers NYC team have put together a more detailed summary hereif you’d like to learn more about the event itself.

Here were my 3 major takeaways:

1. Make sure your culture resonates well with candidates

Too many people confuse company culture with office perks. There are countless definitions of what culture is… I see culture as a set of values that should guide decision-making in the absence of precise directives. It’s a way of working. Free beer and ping pong tables are not what makes a company culture great and this is not how you should sell what your company has to offer to prospective candidates.

2. Be a data-driven recruiter

As a startup founder, you’ll need to get smart about recruiting efforts simply because it takes tremendous amounts of time.

The growing discipline of data-driven recruiting is referred as Talent Hacking — namely treating your recruiting efforts much like you would treat your sales efforts with actionable metrics. Read the Talent Hacker’s Manifesto here for a broader definition.

One way to optimize efforts is to track the channels by which you recruit and generate your own metrics on what works and what doesn’t work for your company — depending on the type of roles you are looking to fill.

For example, doing some A/B testing on the wording of your emails to potential candidates will let you see quickly what makes a difference. Also, the panelists recommended to find 3 ways to email the person you are targeting. Chances are that this person will think you really want him in and that might raise his interest and willingness to respond. Do not stop after 1 email, but you don’t want to spam people either, so 3 attempts is reasonable.

There are some tools out there that can help you become more efficient at recruiting:

Some other productivity apps that can help improve recruiting processes include:

  • ToutApp — an email tracking tool
  • Calendly — a scheduling app for meetings/phone interviews
  • Sidekick by HubSpot — a contact management platform and email tracking tool

Finally, the most effective channels for technical talents include

  • AngelList — AngelList benefits (at least for now) from a self-selection effect towards mostly technical talent and people that have a real interest in working for startups. You should use the talent filters, “looking for” filters, and geography filters to find qualified candidates.
  • GitHubStack OverflowBitbucket Tech.pro— These platforms provide direct visibility to developers’ projects and experience. You can often filter by location and programming language.
  • TalentFinder on LinkedIn can also be effective but less so for technical talents that often don’t list their skills on their profiles.

Tools are great and there are plenty I’m not mentioning here but great tools are useless if the recruiter using them is not qualified enough which is a frequent problem in fast growing startups …which leads to my last takeaway

3. Build a strong network that multiplies the ROI of your recruiting efforts

Once a potential candidate is identified, it’s important to be smart about choosing who’s the best positioned to reach out:

  • Engineers don’t like to get contacted by recruiters, they like to be contacted by another engineer they respect.
  • Sales guys generally prefer to be contacted by the Head of Sales or COO.
  • For other positions, it sometimes makes more sense to have the CEO or company investors to reach out first.

Recruiters have to really think about utilizing the team effectively rather than reaching out directly to targets.

VCs wanting to help can be good or bad. Venture Capitalists have massive network they build actively every single day but their ability to help a portfolio company’s recruiting efforts obviously depends on their understanding of what’s required in the job. It might sound easy but this can be challenging depending on the type of positions and the personal startup experience of the partners you are working with. When they don’t truly understand what you really need, having to look at their low quality candidate recommendations is a distraction… At iNovia, we regularly make sure we know what are the top recruiting needs of portfolio companies and frequently dig into our network to suggest potential candidates. Having spent countless hours on recruiting these past few months, I recognize that it can be extremely hard not to be biased by our outsider’s perception of our companies’ needs, culture and values. Don’t neglect that when you work alongside your VCs to attract talent. A 30 min discussion works better than forwarding job postings to your investors.

Finally, a more powerful recruiting weapon is referral programs. Unlike VCs or headhunters that suffer from perception biases that take time to mitigate, your own team is the most qualified first-degree network to find other high quality candidates. Leverage it by building a strong referral program. Even with cash incentives, referral programs are likely to be your highest ROI recruiting channel.

Interested to learn more about Talent Hacking? I strongly recommend this interview with my friend Willem Wijnans who opened my eyes on multiple aspects of hiring done right.

Hacking Startup Recruiting: Culture, Data and Networks was originally post was originally published on Medium.