How to Find and Recruit the Team you need to Build a Successful Business
Evergreen is a weekly collection of links to the best learning resources in business, collected by a group of managers, founders, and investors. We contribute resources about one topic each week, which are synthesized and shared in this Weekly Edition. The aim is to learn more efficiently through increased context and focus. Join here to receive the next Edition of Evergreen Business Weekly.
Remember, these are designed to feel like short books, you’re meant to meander and spend ~3 hours on this topic this week. Save some of these links and read them throughout the week. Immerse yourself in this topic and leave the week smarter than you started it!
The Right Raw Materials
As any chef, carpenter, craftsman, or industrial designer knows, there’s no substitute for the right raw materials. As a founder, manager, or business owner, your people are your raw materials. If you get the right people on the team, it can make up for just about anything else.
You go to war with the Army you have — not the Army you want
Luckily, we have the opportunity to draft our own sergeants and soldiers. The quality of a recruiting process is what determines whether you to go to war with the best Army possible.
Will you draft the best soldiers? Or will you have to fight against them?
In this Edition of Evergreen, we’ll break down what it takes to build a world-class recruiting process so that you build a team to take on anything.
Sourcing and Selling
For all of the talk about recruiting employees, it really comes down to two things: sourcing and selling. First, you’ve got to find them. Second, you’ve got to close them. Let’s get into it.
Note: This is obviously not all there is to Hiring. We’re only looking at recruiting — what happens between “we need someone” and the interview. For more on Hiring in general, see the Hiring Edition of Evergreen.
In the whole world of talented employees out there, the challenge of finding those that are a perfect fit for your company seems insurmountable. It’s like having to find a new soul mate for every new job opening.
Sam Altman of Y Combinator’s Advice
As a constant fountain of wisdom for startups (most of which can be applied to any business), Altman has opinions on sourcing, these gems are pulled from the post on his blog called How to Hire.
His thoughts on where to source candidates:
Basically, this boils down to “use your personal networks more”. By at least a 10x margin, the best candidate sources I’ve ever seen are friends and friends of friends. Even if you don’t think you can get these people, go after the best ones relentlessly. If it works out 5% of the time, it’s still well worth it.
All the best startups I know manage to hire like this for much longer than one would think possible. Most bad startups make excuses for not doing this.
When you hire someone, as soon as you’re sure she’s a star you should sit her down and wring out of her the names of everyone that you should try to hire. You may have to work pretty hard at this.
Granted, this requires that you hire people with smart friends — so do that.
Altman on Poaching employees from other companies:
Often, to get great people, you have to poach. They’re never looking for jobs, so don’t limit your recruiting to people that are looking for jobs. A difficult question is what you should do about poaching from acquaintances — I don’t have a great answer for this. A friend says, “Poaching is the titty twister of Silicon Valley relationships”.
On broadening the scope of your search:
Don’t limit your search to candidates in your area. This is especially true if you’re in the bay area; lots of people want to move here.
Ignore the ‘bay area’ part of this and consider it more broadly. Many people are willing to move, or even excited to move. If they’re truly great — maybe you don’t even need them to move. In 2008, Google beat out Microsoft to hire a group of engineers in Denmark by building an office around them rather than making them move. Bold move, and one that worked out well for Google. Thanks to Bruno Raymond for the story on this one!
Julie Zhou of Facebook’s techniques
As Director of Product Design, Julie has to build and guide the team that designs many aspects of Facebook. Recruiting is a huge part of her job, and she has written about some of her ideas in An Inside Look at Facebook’s Method for Hiring Designers.
One of her sourcing techniques she refers to as ‘Sleuthing’:
The best way to find great talent is to look at the products you admire and figure out who built them.
“That’s how we hired some of our earliest designers,” Zhuo says.
She recommends sourcing lists of beloved apps and products from your whole team — not just the ones that are commercially successful, but even small apps or ideas that have an angle of something great, selecting for the ones that showcase the same skills and interactions you’re looking to build.
In your business, generalize this beyond designers, or even products. Just think of experiences that you enjoyed at businesses that you use. Stand-outs are not hard to spot, and their energy and people skills are often transferrable between businesses.
How to Mine your Employee’s Networks for Gold
This post from Pete Kazanjy is impressive. It goes through — in detail and with templates — exactly how to get the most from leveraging the networks of current employees. To act on the advice earlier from Sam Altman, read this, it has everything you need to get to work.
Go Fishing in your Talent Pool
I’d never heard of a talent pool until I read this post from Human Workplace, How to Recruit with a Human Voice. The whole piece is good, and this section on creating and using a Talent Pool as a source for job candidates is simple and brilliant.
A Talent Pool is a community where fans, job-seekers and anyone who’s interested in your company can stay connected to you. Your Talent Pool helps to move your recruiting process out of the one-time event realm so that when someone applies for a job in your company and doesn’t get it, you don’t waste the time and energy you and they put into the relationship already.
A Talent Pool makes it easy for you to stay in touch with people who like your company. They could be retired. They could be living in a cloistered convent or monastery with no intention of ever working for your company. That’s okay! The point of a Talent Pool is to build good energy, or mojo, between you and the talent community.
You’ll keep your Talent Pool lively by sharing great career and job-search advice with your Talent Pool members.
Candidates who are not hired aren’t rejected for life — just for that particular job. Creating a pool to maintain interest and keep warm leads for a day when they’re needed can be a powerful resource to draw from. Thanks to Kelvin Seow for the recommendation of checking out Human Workplace.
A Broad Selection of Hiring Candidates
Recruiting takes place through many channels simultaneously. Eric Feng of Hulu believes it’s important to diversify the sources of candidates in order to ensure the strongest candidates and have many various options — some of which may surprise you.
We love dissenting opinions, and Feng’s advice is at odds with Altman’s ideas from earlier. Which applies better to your situation?
The most important thing leaders can do to source smarter is diversify. That is, you should be finding roughly equal numbers of candidates through the big three recruiting channels: outbound, inbound, and referrals. When one source dramatically outpaces the others, companies get tripped up.
Building a sustainable pipeline of prospective hires — one that will continue to meet your hiring needs as your company grows — depends on cultivating a strong command over each of these sources of candidates.
Also, Feng has a good guiding heuristic for knowing how many applicants to source in order to yield one successful hire. He calls it the rule of 4, where roughly 1 in 4 candidates makes it through each stage:
Feng’s post on the First Round Review, The Simple Numbers that can Change How you Hire, is excellent and highly recommended! Great material on Sourcing techniques of all kinds and how they fit into the larger hiring process. This piece also has some amazing advice on the actual process of courting and closing your prospects, so it’s a great read as a segue into…
Thanks to Paul Chio and Karsten Thomann for recommending this excellent post by Eric Feng.
Never host the delusion that recruiting isn’t a sell. To get the best candidates requires persuasion, empathy, and creating desire.
For the most Important Lessons in Sales, check out the Sales Edition of Evergreen.
Every piece of your marketing and brand-building is also a part of your recruiting effort. Every person that you hire will become a part of your recruiting equation — it is a dangerous mistake to forget the fact that everything you do will speak to prospective employees.
Sell the Dream, not the job
A good job isn’t defined by the responsibilities, or the team — prospective employees need to know that there is a purpose behind the company. A vision or a set of beliefs about how the world should be that the team is crusading for.
You’re not hiring to fill a role; you’re selling a dream. This doesn’t mean being fluffy; it means clearly articulating the company’s big vision and how the right person will help the company disrupt and transform the market.
If you don’t exude infectious passion for the mission, forget about hiring the best. Your competitors surely will, so you better get it together — and fast.
Selling the intangibles is key, especially if you can’t offer the same cash comp as your competition. Yes, stock options can help close the gap, but even this often isn’t enough. Understanding the person’s background and articulating why they might be uniquely well-suited to joining the team. Giving them some budget to go to relevant industry conferences, host a developer drinking group, etc. These small gestures can go a long way.
Cement the fact that they are your partner and the importance of their role in transforming an industry. Yes, it might feel unnatural to go after someone so hard and to psychologically boost their value to such an extent, but let’s face it, you need them. If they are a good person, a great engineer and buy into the vision, they are gold. Go get them.
Thanks to Max Olson for the link to this great post from Roger.
The Recruiter Honeypot — Know your Competition
When I wrote to potential engineers, I always imagined my email landing next to recruiting giants like Google or Facebook. As a result, I was careful to emphasize Meebo’s unique start-up learning opportunities, amazing culture, and the opportunity to make impact.
But I should have been more scared than I was — the emails from start-ups and mid-sized companies sounded nearly identical (my own included), “We’re a fast-growing start-up disrupting a lucrative space where your talents will shine and your efforts will be amply rewarded.” By emphasizing the classic start-up experience, everyone sounded exactly the same.
This post is a fascinating look at what it’s like on the receiving end of recruiting efforts, and provides tips for standing out from the swarm around talented people. The Recruiter Honeypot is a terrific set of ideas that are sure to teach you about the importance of knowing your competition. Thanks to Jonathan Basker for that fantastic recommendation!
Tactics for the Trenches of Recruiting
To get deeper into ideas that you can use today to strengthen your recruiting power, here’s a little collection of tactics that other companies have used that might inspire you to try something new and different.
Lead with the problems to be solved… not the job description. This is part of IBM’s playbook for recruiting — from 1959. I bet it still works today.
Thanks to Max Olson for digging up this gem!
Consider this a job offer to work at 42Floors — it’s a Bold move to extend a permanent job offer to someone who has never interviewed at the company, but they definitely have moxie. Thanks to Max Olson for the contribution!
Keep Candidates Warm by Liz Ryan — The cardinal sin in recruiting is to say nothing. Stay in touch with your pipeline, even if only to let them know they’re not forgotten! Thanks to Kelvin Seow for the recommendation!
Open Letter to my next Intern by Tim Cigelske — Rather than merely post a job description, Tim posted a letter for potential applicants to read, and reached a much wider audience than a job post would have. Good plan!
Medallia’s dedication to improving candidate experience — Evergreen reader and contributor Matt Frost was profiled for his work at Medallia to improve their talent acquisition process, down to the smallest details.
Use your current team to source great ideas — When Airbnb was reworking it’s recruiting process, it created a giant board for employees to add their best and worst experiences. This provided lots of great ideas to work with.
Create an example of your culture to attract similar people — Medallia absolutely nails this with this incredibly smile-inducing video that introduces us to the team and the culture. (Also, with a cameo by Matt Frost).
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Massive appreciation for all contributors to this Edition of Evergreen: Jonathan Basker, Matt Frost, Karsten Thomann, Michael Gelphman, Tim Cigelske, Kelvin Seow, Matthew Greeley, Paul Chiou, Preet Anand, Jennifer Kim, Itamar Goldminz, Joe Bayley, Kenny Fraser, Bruno Raymond, Ninan Thampy and Max Olson.
Many thanks for being a part of this project! Not every suggestion is able to make it to the final edit, but every single suggestion is read and appreciated.
As my Father always says: “There’s always room for the best.” There’s always a better resource out there. These collections can always get better, and I hope that they do. If you can think of anything that was missed, I welcome you to share it.
If you liked this, check out other Editions of Evergreen:Building and Managing a Team:How to Find and Recruit the Team you Need
How Not to Hire like a Clownshow
Compensation Rules Everything Around Me
Why Employee Onboarding is holding you back
How to Boost Employee Retention
How Performance Reviews are being Reinvented
Secrets to Perfecting Organizational Communication
How to Manage Scale, and Operate in Scaling Organizations
How to Fire an Employee
What you actually need to know about Company Culture
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Competitive Advantage: How to Build a Winning Business
The Power of Network Effects
How Cost Leadership Builds Powerful Businesses
Why the Best Brands Stand Out
Scale as Competitive Advantage
Barriers to Entry are Confusing
Flywheel Effect: Meta-Competitive AdvantageBuilding the Business:How to get good business Ideas: Mental Alchemy of Ideation
How to Choose the Right Business Ideas
Product/Market Fit: What it really means & How to Measure it
How to Failure-proof your business with Customer Development
How Strategy and Psychology Work Together to Perfect Pricing
The Most Important Equations in Business - CAC (Part 1)
The Simple Math Behind Every Profitable Business - CLV (Part 2)
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Why Value Creation is the Foundation of Business
Why Value Capture is the most important idea you haven't read about
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