Reinventing top-of-funnel recruiting

How do we find and attract the best talent to our organizations?

… is one of the 7 Questions I challenged myself to develop better answers for at the beginning of this year.

Most of the writing on this topic, including in this publication (1, 2), has been mostly focused on the later steps of the recruiting process. Especially, how to create an engaging and insightful on-site interview experience, and how to close candidates.

The purpose of the top-of-funnel part of the recruiting process is to qualify candidates

This is a two-sided dynamic:

  • The company needs to quality the candidate: be interested enough in the candidate to invest a full day of an interview team’s time, further assessing the candidate’s fit.
  • The candidate needs to quality the company: be interested enough in the opportunity to invest a full day, during work hours, interviewing with the company, further assessing the opportunity’s fit.

These earlier steps in the process typically consist of:

  • Sourcing/cold-call email — inviting the candidate to check out the position and express interest / apply
  • Review of the relevant job posting — typically describing the company at a high level and listing the responsibilities that the position include and skills needed in order to handle those responsibilities well
  • Resume submission
  • Phone interview with a recruiter

Various permutations of these earlier steps exist, alternative the order, subtracting or adding steps, but this is the gist of it.

Little attention has been given to these earlier stages in the process, which is surprising given that:

  • At a high level, if you have an ineffective top-of-funnel process, no matter how awesome your bottom-of-funnel process is, you’re going to be wasting a lot of time on poor fit candidates. AND many great fit candidates will not even go through your awesome bottom-of-funnel process.
  • Specifically, more evidence surfaces that the pervasive use of resumes is marginally more effective than a coin flip

A better top-of-funnel process

The remainder of this post is a rough outline of an alternative top-of-funnel recruiting process, which I believe is likely to be significantly more effective than the default one. As always, feedback is most welcomed.

Sourcing / cold-call email

Should invite a prospective candidate to:

  • Check out the company’s website (see below)
  • Join an “Open House” hosted by the company (see below)

Company website

  • Should be less about benefits, fringe benefits and a cribs-like video of how amazing the office space is.
  • Should be more about the purpose of the company, its values, and employees sharing why they chose to work for this company

Job descriptions

  • Should be less about skills and responsibilities
  • Should be more about outcomes and description of the real work. If it’s an existing role, list out the projects that a current employee has been working on in the last 6 months. If it’s a brand new role, list out what a person in the role should accomplish in the next 6 month (side note: if the answer to that latter question is unclear — don’t start the hiring process).

Open Houses

Are meant to give a candidate a more tangible sense of what working for the company will be like. These can range from simply inviting candidates to work out of the company’s space for a few hours, to a mixer with company employees or an info-talk + Q&A given by a company leader. Companies that are large enough to hold stand-alone open houses for a particular function/department can replace the more generic info talk with a more topical content (“tech talk”, etc.).

Work sample test (WST)

A work sample test is an assignment which fully replaces the resume, and is aimed at mirroring the kind of work that the particular role will entail. A typical WST can take somewhere between 30 mins and 3 hours to complete. The most common (but not necessarily best) example is giving a software engineer some type of coding challenge. A WST can easily be used outside of software engineering: creating a fictional travel itinerary given certain constraints can be an interesting WST (or part of one) for an Executive Assistant. And a WST is useful not just for assessing problem-solving, it can also be used to assess “softer” and/or interpersonal skills: salespeople can videotape themselves pitching a product, designers can submit their portfolios, HR Business Partners can leave a voicemail delivering difficult news to an employee.

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