Talking Talent once you’ve raised your Series A
9 quick, actionable pieces of advice from my experience working with Soundcloud, Zenjob and cargo.one. Bonus: a template job description for your Recruiting Partner hire 🙌
Hi. I’m Chris, I help companies (founders) figure out and navigate the challenges of growing their organisations by putting a strong focus on attracting, recruiting and developing their people. Having worked at a few fast scaling companies, most recently as Interim Head of People at cargo.one, it felt right to start sharing a few pieces of advice (9, obviously) that could help founders once they’ve raised their Series A and start hiring (a lot). Here it is!
Having a great product-market fit and tons of money in the bank is all well and good but if you’re missing the magic ingredient of key people needed to grow your business, you might well find yourself running into problems sooner than you’d like. While this may not spell the end of things for you just yet, it could well lead to you losing momentum and having to play catch up again.
Assuming you’re now past the point of having your first 10–30 employees, here are 9 quick, actionable pieces of advice you probably want to start considering when it comes to the topic of talent. It comes from my experience working at Soundcloud and with Point Nine’s portfolio company cargo.one. My intuition is that it’s broadly applicable to any company around the Series A stage that has hit PMF and will start scaling their organization much more aggressively.
First things first. What do we mean when we say talent? Well, Talent = People (for now at least) and high on the wish list of most companies are the outstanding ones. The very best people who are ready to join the mission (insert your mission statement here), roll up their sleeves and unleash some awesomeness!
Ok, maybe this is a tad dramatic, but you get the point.
Let’s dive into it!
1. Find the right platform
I have some good news and bad news here. The good news: there are many platforms out there that can help you tap into a global network of potential future colleagues. You might have heard of LinkedIn. It’s a great place to head to if you — and here comes the bad news — want to do exactly the same thing as everyone else is doing. I’m not saying you shouldn’t use it at all though. Just keep in mind that you’re going to have to bring your A game if you want to stand out on the platform.
What else can you do?
- Involve your team — amplify your brand and let others know you’re hiring
- Get a good PR agency — create awareness of your organization and its purpose
- As a founder: be vocal, have an opinion, give a shit on topics that people (and you) care about!
- Tap into your existing networks, both in- and outside your organization
Make it easy for candidates to understand your organization and if it’s actually the place where they will be happy and do their best work. A clear career site can help with this. If you’re not there with that, your job description (when done right) can also be an effective way of communicating what you offer.
2. Don’t do it all yourself (get some help)
Obvious statement warning being a founder means you wear many hats. There comes a time though when it simply makes no sense that you are so hands-on. Being a full-time recruiter is one such example. Even with the help of Calendly, a Trello Kanban board, or a full-blown ATS, the time drain you experience coordinating and scheduling interviews eventually becomes counterproductive to how effective you are.
What usually happens at this point:
- A Jnr. person (typically an intern) is hired to take over all scheduling tasks and keeping on top of the ATS or;
- An existing employee moves into the role.
While both of these options address a very immediate issue — taking all the admin work off the founder’s plate — it then results in a different work and time commitment such as ongoing training with the basics of recruiting, how to interview, providing meaningful feedback, making offers etc.
I’m really a fan of developing people in their roles but let’s be honest, done properly this takes up a lot of time. Time that could be otherwise spent on the things where you can add a lot more value in your role.
3. Bring in experience
If you’re struggling with additional recruiting firepower, the option of bringing in external recruiting support could well work best for you. In parallel, you can also recruit for permanent recruiters who can then replace the interim support once they are onboarded and up and running.
If you’re ready to kick start your search, here’s a fictional job description you can use. Enjoy!
Regardless whether the recruiter is permanent or interim, you’ll need to allow for them to ramp up before they will make their first hire (this can be anywhere from 3–6 weeks depending on your setup). Your existing team may not have this initial ramp up time but might still be limited by the interviewing team/hiring managers/candidate’s availability during the process. As a rough rule of thumb: onboarded recruiters will usually average around 2–4 hires per month (keep in mind the different complexities of the role: location, seniority, scarcity of talent etc.)
Even with the interim people, it’s key that you treat them as one of your own permanent team members. Introduce them to your team, invite them to company-wide meetings. Whatever helps them feel connected, part of the team and gives them a sense of belonging.
4. Check in with recruiters (you are who you hire)
This is particularly true when you are building out your recruiting team. The team members will essentially be the first point of contact for any candidates and future new hires. If you’ve hired a junior person into the role of recruiter and have not set hiring standards and expectations early on, the quality of candidate experience and ability to sell the opportunity may be some way off your own expectations.
When assessing recruiters, ask them to interview you (this can be built into one of the interview steps e.g. case sample) or somebody else at the company. See how they sell the opportunity, their interview approach and style. Ask them how they manage their candidate pipeline, make use of data and deliver an outstanding candidate experience.
Once the recruiter(s) are up and running, take the time to also check in with their hiring managers to see how they’re doing. In the early stages of the partnership, it can be easy for things to go off track which, while feedback at this early stage is still relatively easy to address.
No matter which way you look at it, recruiting is a numbers game. I say this with caution though: yes, it’s about getting enough candidates into the process to interview (candidate quality can be measured by those who pass the hiring manager interview stage) but the focus should rather be on the quality than quantity. Recruiters should not be focused on screening candidates just to make their numbers look good. That’s a waste of everyone’s time.
Make sure your recruiters are focusing on and caring about the numbers that actually make a difference.
5. Structure your interview process
Read through any current article on best recruiting practices, and you’ll see the same message repeated time and time again: if your goal is to assess objectively and consistently then structured interviews are the gold standard. If you don’t put the time and effort into this approach, and build it into your hiring culture from an early stage, chances are you’re going to be learning some hard lessons along the way. Hard lessons that will eat into your time, slow your team down and your ability to scale your organization.
The focus should be on keeping the number of interviewing steps manageable (>5) and meaningful. However you set up your interview structure, you should be aiming to include the following:
- Motivational interview — the first call to understand the reason for the candidate’s interest in the role, ambitions for the move and covering the hygiene topics such as availability and salary expectations.
- Skills based interview — how well can they do the job you are hiring them for and what value will they add beyond your current capabilities. To get to the bottom of this, you want to focus on behavioral and situation questions to help dig a little deeper.
- Work sample interview — taking what’s in the candidate’s head to better understand how they ‘put pen to paper’ to bring their work to life and their rationale for doing so that way.
- Cultural interview — it’s not only about how the person will ‘fit’ to your existing team but also help strengthen and evolve your company culture over time. A better way to view this is to assess how they will complement it.
- People manager interview (for those leading teams) — understanding their personal standards they set when leading and developing others. How do they inspire and lead by being a positive role model for others.
Additionally, reference calls are commonly used as part of the overall assessment. While the jury is still out on just how effective these are, it’s still a worthwhile conversation to be had.
*Throughout all the interviews, don’t fall into the trap of only thinking you are the one assessing. Great candidates will also be assessing you. Be mindful that you will also need to ‘sell’ the opportunity.
6. Set the (high) standards early
When it comes to recruiting, setting your hiring standards early on is time well spent. Once you begin to move at significant speed with hiring, you don’t want anything to slow you down or knock you off track. Typical examples of this being
- Misalignment between the hiring team.
- Unclear hiring plans and goals.
- Additional interview steps added to the process “we just need to check this point one more time”.
- Case studies/work samples/pitches not created before the candidate reaches that stage — adding time on the process and potentially weakening the assessment criteria
- Compensation ranges not agreed early on.
Any of the above can lead to your hiring processes unraveling quickly and needing a greater effort to get things back on track or worse, you end up making a pressure hire and compromising on the quality of your hiring standard.
Some of the key questions that you’ll need to ask and get answers to before the position is actively worked on:
- Why are we hiring for the role?
- What does success look like in this position (6, 12, 18 months from now)?
- What makes this position attractive for the best candidates?
- What’s the compensation for such a role?
- Who will interview the candidate?
- What will the interviewers be assessing for?
- How to set up the scorecard?
- Who will reject the candidate / make the offer?
- Who makes the decision on hire / no hire?
The hiring manager and recruiter are equal partners to ensuring that the setup of the role is a success. If one fails then they both fail. Putting the time in at the early stage to align on the role, expectations and setup of the process will save everyone a lot of time in the longer-run.
7. It’s never too early to have D, E & I in mind
Both with new hires and for your existing team, it should be an obvious one why it’s important to care about Diversity, Equity & Inclusion from an early stage but unfortunately, we’re still struggling quite a bit on this topic. As your organization grows and matures more questions will be asked if you’re not seen to have this on your agenda or, at the basic level, have an opinion on where you stand. Do yourself and your team a favor now. Have the open and honest feedback where you are and where you need to be. Small steps are better than no steps.
8. Polish your candidate experience
It usually doesn’t take much to leave a candidate feeling as though they had a great interview experience. Examples include:
- Responding to an application even though they are not a good fit.
- Rejecting candidates within a reasonable timeframe of applying.
- Providing upfront information on the recruiting process and timeline.
- Being on time to the interview, asking them how their day is going and actively listening to their response.
- Following up when you say you will.
- Providing some level of feedback (I know this is frowned upon in some instances due to potential legal action) as to why they were rejected.
- Making the interview schedule work for the candidates schedule rather than the other way around.
There’s no denying that this all takes time and extra effort. If you want your organization to stand out for the right reasons, this is as good a place as any to put in the extra effort.
Candidate surveys are a great way of gathering their feedback on your hiring process. Most ATS’ now have this feature built in, or you can also send a survey via Google Forms (just be mindful there is quite a manual amount of work that goes into this). Make the learnings part of your ongoing iterations to improve your candidate experience.
How you treat candidates says a lot about your organization. This is why after all, sites such as Glassdoor continue to be the first stop for candidates keen to share their interviewing (horror) stories. I’m sorry to say here that there are no quick and easy shortcuts of doing this.
9. Make it authentic
However you set up your process in the end, keep it true to who you are as a team and organization. Just because other companies are doing hyperactive welcome gifs, or providing candidates with a welcome pack and interview iPads for the day (this was still a thing when we worked full-time in offices) doesn’t mean you have to copy their approach. For sure, taking inspiration from this is not a bad thing.
Whatever approach you choose, it should be an honest and authentic reflection of your own culture and team. And just because it’s free, here are two more pieces of advice ;)
10. The best things in life are free (or require a small fraction of your time)
When it comes to moments that matter, both for candidates, new hires or existing members of the team, it’s pretty amazing how relatively simple actions can have such a positive and lasting impact. Take some following examples:
- A candidate receives a personal video message from the hiring manager outlining the next steps of their interview process. Fellow Point Nine portfolio company Loom is a great tool for that!
- A new hire receives an email from all the interview team congratulating them once they have signed their contract.
- An employee receives a hand-written note from their manager thanking them for their extra efforts.
Go the extra mile and bring some unexpected joy and happiness to others. You’ll also find it rewarding as well.
One final point. As a founder….
11. Role modelling
As a founder, your behaviors and actions are observed closely. If you’re always late for your 1on1s, then don’t be surprised when other people are also late. If you don’t fill out a candidate scorecard properly or skip it all together, the same applies. Hold yourself accountable to the same standards you expect from others. And when it doesn’t work out, own your mistakes and move on.
That’s all for now folks, hope this brings value to your Talent function!
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