Scale-ups are terrible at hiring

Arnold Schwarzenegger in Total Recall (1990), Carolco Pictures

Sorry I had to get that off my chest! Well not all scale-ups, but the vast majority of them are. What’s certain is that the rest of them are just good and not GREAT at hiring. We are still in the dinosaur age of recruitment user experiences.

“Good is the enemy of great” James C Collins

I’ve seen some bad sh** when it comes to recruitment processes or candidate experiences and this is seriously hurting startups. It’s having a direct impact on the brand, making short & long term recruitment plans harder and has a direct negative impact on their recruitment costs.

More and more companies need to show creative, authentic and balanced initiatives when it comes to candidate recruitment experiences. When you’re scaling, one of your top tier focus points is hiring!

Startups usually begin by hiring in their close “first” network (people they know from previous startups, friends, friends of friends, recommended by VCs etc). In these circumstances, hiring managers will usually (if you’re not you should) go the extra mile to ensure those personal contacts have a great “human” recruitment experience through-out the hiring process. They will spend plenty of time with them, show them around the product, the office, intro them to other team members or invite them for lunch.. you name it. I can guarantee all of those first or second network candidates will have detailed feedback within a couple of days of the interview if not successful.

Now, let’s move on to companies which have aggressive growth plans to scale-up and have no other choice than to reach out to further candidate networks. What will happen if there’s zero investment in the recruitment experience?

For example, let’s take a company with big plans to hire 100 new people in the next year. For each vacancy let’s say at least 10 people will be interviewed. On average each candidate will mention the interview / company to around 3 people in their close network and of those 3 people they will also mention it to one other person in their network. Got it?

100 x 10 = 1000

+ 3000 = 4000

+ 1000 = 6000 potential candidates

That’s 6000 people in often niche sectors who will hear about your company (in good or bad terms) through recruitment experience. I’m not even mentioning the other thousands of other people who apply to jobs directly or through a recruiter.

In marketing “word of mouth” (virality) is usually the most powerful channel to converting new customers. In recruitment it’s the same. People talk to each other and people love talking about the interview experiences they’ve had. According to Nielsen research 84% of people trust recommendations from people they know more than any other type of recommendation.

More worryingly for your sales, according to a nationwide study from Careerbuilder:

“58 percent of candidates are less likely to buy from a company they applied to if they didn’t get a response to their application; 69 percent are less likely if they had a bad experience during the interview, as are 65 percent if they didn’t hear back after an interview.”

Argh the pain!

Let’s go through some typical bad practices I’ve seen:

  • Not giving candidates enough time to prepare for interviews or not giving them enough information to properly prepare.
  • Very time consuming online job applications that can take 30 minutes to complete (unless if it’s absolutely necessary for the role).
  • Asking for unrealistically large or complex case study presentations / tasks to be prepared before the first meeting is even scheduled!
  • No feedback, very little feedback, bad rejection practices or very slow processes.
  • No introduction to the company or chance to use your product first hand before interviews.
  • Bad interviewing techniques or questions. Disengaged interviewer or rushed interviews are common.
  • Little to no communication in between interviews or during the notice periods.

Obviously, each business is different with a unique culture, people, values and missions. Therefore any solution implemented to solve these recruitment experience should be unique. They should be crafted to your needs, business vision and type of candidates you are trying to attract.

But there’s hope! Here are some low hanging fruits to help you create an epic recruitment experience.

  • Send a personal thank you letter with a little sample of your product or discount code. A famous premium beauty brand is known for sending a “très chic” thank you letter with a sample product as a gift to each interviewee successful or not.
  • If a candidate is missing some core skills, send them some suggestions of courses or conferences they could attend to up-skill themselves. A well-known training academy sends their interviewees a free copy of some exclusive training video courses they have. Hopefully they get them hooked for more and convert them into a customer!
  • Make the application process fun and engaging. A global airline company has created a trackable job application system to keep track of processes and feel in more control.
  • Gamify your job application process to make it unique and memorable. Hopefully applicants will also want to share it on their social media.
  • Offer a free purchase or discounted purchase of your product prior to the interview so they can familiarise themselves with your product, stores or service. A UK based, ecommerce startup offers a free purchase / discount of up to £5 on their website for candidates who have made it to the 2nd interview. This gives them the opportunity to go through the buying process as a new customer before the interview.
  • Give an opportunity for candidates to come in to visit your offices and come speak to members of the team to get a feel of the people and culture. Organise some open-office days or meetup conference groups in your lobby! This will give that human touch to the process. Many companies decide to go through the virtual 360 office tour route or common Youtube video office tours (good if you live too far away), but clearly this doesn’t have the same effect. Nothing will replace the beautifully infectious feeling you get when you walk through the doors of a buzzing company for the first time and you sense that energy and literally smell the sweat. Also, what a great reason for investors to invest in that brand new fully kitted-out office.
  • During the candidate’s notice period, surprise your future employee by sending them a copy of the CEO’s latest favourite book to read, a cassette mix tape (I was born in the 80’s) or some free training material you might find helpful to them or just a very hard puzzle to burn some time. One global tech company sends a list of training programmes to candidates during their notice periods so they can choose which course they would like to attend after their probation period… This keeps them engaged and excited.
  • I could go on and on and on…

And this is just the tip of the iceberg as I’m only touching on half of the recruitment process and have not even mentioned the on-boarding, retention and exiting stages which would need a whole separate rant to discuss.

I do appreciate that in fast growth businesses (or any business actually) everyone is always overly busy and these recruitment processes can be an internal logistics nightmare to implement and somewhat costly. It’s difficult to quantify the actual value and immediate ROI of implementing a recruitment experience plan for your business but I can guarantee you are missing a trick.

Recruitment today is like the angry T-Rex in the room. In the old days people were fascinated when they saw tamed lions as they never imagined it was possible to control this wild beast. Now do yourself a favour and tame this ferocious dinosaur before he terrorises everyone off your Jurassic startup island.

If you agree or totally disagree I’d love to hear some good examples of recruitment processes you’ve seen in the comments!

Written by Neil Arnoux

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