My guidance to founders: Hire a strong recruiter earlier than you think you need one
While many people advise that founders hold off as long as possible before hiring an internal recruiter, or wait until the company is around 40–50 people, my guidance is to hire a strong recruiter earlier than you think you need one. In fact, it’s less about the size or stage of a company, and more about the hiring you need to do. When a company has 10–12 roles it needs to hire in the next few months, that’s a good time to bring on a recruiter. The right recruiter will partner with the team to build, drive, and scale the company’s recruiting process while being hands-on in building your team right from the foundational stage.
But that recruiter can be hard to find. The demand for recruiters continues to rise — but it’s also getting harder to find and hire one. Over the last five years partnering with startups within Redpoint’s portfolio and leading talent teams in-house at companies before that, I’ve either hired, or seen many teams hire recruiters. Ask any founder, leadership team, or other talent leaders and I’m sure most will agree that hiring an internal recruiter has been an increasingly challenging process for companies. And I’d argue that delaying only exacerbates those challenges.
To help companies think about how to interview and hire a recruiter, I’ve outlined some best practices on how I’ve hired recruiters and what I’ve seen other teams successfully do over the years.
The main areas to evaluate recruiters are:
- Sourcing Candidates;
- Pitching the Story;
- Hiring Manager Relationship and their Recruiting Process;
- Measuring Success;
- Values Fit;
- Bonus: Hiring for Leadership; and
- Selling and Closing.
A full-cycle recruiter coming in to an early stage startup will most likely be the only recruiter, or part of a very lean team, so they need to be hands-on and source candidates as part of pipeline building. Have them tell you how they manage their time to ensure they’re always thinking about pipeline building and keeping momentum going. Spend time digging into their recent sourcing experience and listen for strategies outside of only using LinkedIn or job boards like Indeed — especially if they come from a larger company that has a strong brand, which can generate enough inbounds that sourcing skills can atrophy. Recruiting for an early-stage company is much harder because you don’t have the brand recognition that large, more well-known companies do, so it takes more creativity to get people in your pipeline. When assessing their sourcing abilities, focus on these things:
- How much time they spend on sourcing each week
- What they did to find candidates for a new role they never recruited before, or in a space not familiar to them
- What sourcing strategies have they found yielded the most results (bonus if it was for a startup at a similar stage to yours)
- What systems and tools they use to get them in front of interesting candidates
Pitching the Story:
Recruiters need to be able to tell the story and share the vision of the company to get candidates to engage. It’s important to assess their messaging and pitching capabilities, but it’s not reasonable to have them pitch you on your company. They won’t have enough context about the company, team, and product, so anything they say will likely not meet your expectations. Instead, try these things:
- Ask them to pitch you on a role at their current, or most recent, company. They should nail this, given it’s what they’ve been doing
- Going further, ask them what objections candidates have given them about the company/role they’re pitching and how they’ve responded. If you know the company and space, you can ask them how they compete or compare with others in their space. This will show how deeply they can get into the company, product and market
- Ask them for an example of when they knew certain messages weren’t working and what they did about it
Hiring Manager Relationship and their Recruiting Process:
The relationship hiring managers have with their recruiters is one that is built on trust and should be a true partnership. Have a hiring manager on the interview panel to test chemistry and to assess how the candidate has built credibility and relationships with hiring managers and teams in the past.
Tell the candidate about a role for which you’re hiring and have them walk you through what their process would be so you can assess how they’d be as a recruiting partner. You’ll want to hear things like:
- How they set and manage expectations with you as the hiring manager
- How they will calibrate on the right candidate profile with you and the hiring team
- What an effective hiring and interview process is like, and how they make sure all team members are set up to be effective interviewers
- What the most effective way to reference check candidates is
- Who closes the candidate, how, and when does that process start
Measuring their Success:
You should expect recruiters to be data-driven, to track metrics and to know how to switch gears or improve things when the data is telling a story of something not working. Whatever they do to track their progress, you want to know they are thinking about their performance in a quantitative way and figuring out ways to iterate or improve on things if needed. Ideas on how to dig in here:
- How many hires they made in the past year
- Have them walk you through their personal metrics. Examples might be: response rates, pipeline pass-through rates, time to fill, sources of hire, cost of hire, quality of hire
- How they have measured candidate experience throughout the recruiting process
Company values set the tone for a company’s culture and vision and are the guiding principles that dictate behavior and action; they’ll answer the question, “What is important at our company and what is unique about working here?” Core values should be involved in every stage of the business and employee lifecycle — hiring, rewarding, recognizing, and developing employees (and even letting employees go). Whatever your values are, it’s important to have values be part of your interview rubric to discover how closely the candidates’ values align with your team.
Some examples on how you might assess certain values could be:
- For a value around being inclusive, you might want to find out about a time the candidate had to leverage ideas or consider ideas from people who hadn’t been involved in the particular project previously, how they went about doing that and then what happened
- For collaboration, you might ask them to describe a specific situation where they had to resolve a challenging issue that their team had with another team, what they did and what the result was
Bonus: Hiring a recruiting leader:
Your first hire may be an individual contributor, not a people leader. But if the hire you need to make will lead or may eventually lead a team, you should assess their leadership capabilities along with their full-cycle recruiting skills listed above. To learn about their ability to hire and lead a recruiting team, find out:
- What their whole process is to hire recruiters — from sourcing to onboarding
- How they develop, set up career paths for, and measure a team, as well as manage a low-performing team member
- How they manage the amount of open requisitions across their team, when they know it’s time for more resources, and how have they gotten buy-in from the business
- How they can effectively scale their recruiting team as the company scales, and what they can do to augment the internal team
- What recruiting-related programs do they think are important and how they would implement them. Examples might be: employee referral program, new interviewing practices, diversity pipelining, or university recruiting
Selling and Closing:
Selling the candidate on the vision of the company, quality of team, the impact they’re going to make takes a ton of finesse and time. It isn’t something that should start near the end of the process, and a good recruiter will have a number of selling and (pre)closing conversations with candidates throughout the whole process. To find out how they approach closing and selling, listen for things like:
- When they start thinking about closing and how they manage this in partnership with the hiring manager (and even the broader team)
- How they understand what motivates candidates, what their levers are and what concerns are still on the table
- How they understand how their candidates will make their decision, who is involved in their decision (e.g., spouse, mentor, partner, family, etc.) and how they’ll make it personal
- Find out how they were able to close a strong candidate with numerous offers
For any role, recruiting is not an easy task. It takes a lot of time, energy and intentionality. Recruiting recruiters is a whole business in itself because companies have found it really difficult to hire their recruiter on their own. It is an investment worth making as it can be transformative for the company. I’d love to hear your thoughts — what has worked for you when hiring recruiters?