How TourRadar Built a Recruitment Engine from Scratch

One Year Ago
Things change very quickly here at TourRadar. One year ago, we were a Series A startup of 75 employees, no recruitment team and hiring 2–3 employees per month. Twelve months, two rounds of funding and $60M later, we’re now 165 employees, have a recruitment team of 4 and are hiring a new employee every single day. This article is meant to tell the story of how we’ve accomplished this while keeping an extremely high talent bar, a short but rigorous and data-driven interview process and hired over 100 employees for a scaling e-commerce marketplace headquartered in a non-traditional startup location.

Our mission: to connect people to life-enriching travel experiences.

The First Order of Business
Twelve months ago recruitment was handled much the same as it is handled at most early-stage startups: disparately, by individual managers, with a nearly 100% application driven talent pool in an ad-hoc fashion. Managers were spending over half of their time on recruitment related tasks and it became apparent with the growth trajectory we were on that it was time to invest in a recruitment team.

As our first recruitment hire, I felt the first order of business was to meet with each hiring manager within the company to understand our business in as much detail as possible and obtain a more in-depth understanding of the company culture, interview process, hiring needs and requirements. At this stage, it was important to set some proper expectations with each team in terms of what they could expect over the next several months. In particular:

  • A 1–2 month ramp-up period to understand what constituted the right fit for each group: core skills, cultural fit, target companies to poach from, etc.
  • We would be moving from a purely applicant-based post-and-pray recruitment model to one geared more toward market-mapping and headhunting.
  • It would be 3–4 months before they noticed a measurable impact via butts-in-seats.
  • We would need to have a few key tools at our disposal: an easy to use and scalable applicant tracking system (we went with Lever), Linkedin Recruiter Lite (a full LinkedIn Recruiter license was overkill and prohibitively expensive at this stage) and an email scraper (first Entelo, now a mixture of ContactOut and Nymeria) to reach out to candidates directly by email instead of by Linkedin Inmail.
  • Hiring Managers could expect to be involved in getting targeted, passive candidates interested in interviewing with us. A highly effective strategy was to use Entelo (now Lever’s Nurture function) to send recruitment emails to candidates as a founder or hiring manager, as candidates were much more likely to respond to a message from them as opposed to a recruiter. For those that responded, we offered a call with the hiring manager so they could learn more about the position and the company before deciding if they wanted to enter the interview process. From there, we a/b tested different approaches from different people (recruiters, managers, founders) to track which messages and channels were most effective.
  • We would avoid hiring managers jockeying for recruiter attention by developing one source of truth for all open positions, with the priority of requisitions dictated by the leadership team.
  • Every newly opened position would require a calibration session between the hiring manager and recruiter in order to finalize the job description and to review CVs to ensure alignment on ideal candidate profiles.

A Review of our Recruitment Channels
Next, a review of our current recruitment channels was required. As previously mentioned, nearly all candidates at this time were attributed to applications. The two core sources were paid Linkedin and free AngelList postings. LinkedIn postings showed a clear and positive return on investment, but AngelList postings, though free, proved to be a large but ineffective channel with no hires made despite thousands of applications. Therefore, it was cut. Then, over the course of the next year, a/b tests were run on multiple other active application channels: location specific job board postings where we had had success hiring candidates from in the past (Germany, Romania, UK and Poland to name a few), as well as a few larger job boards (StackOverflow, Indeed, Glassdoor). To date, Linkedin remains the only paid application channel with a strong ROI.

With our applicant channels evaluated, we turned to our passive channels. This consisted of internal referrals, high-value sourced passive candidates from competitors, networking events, and social networks (Facebook and Slack, predominantly). At that time, little work was being done to cultivate candidates from these channels. Over the next 2–3 months, a huge focus was devoted to mapping out scaled online marketplace and e-commerce startups within Europe from which to poach talent from. Our thinking was that given our growth trajectory, we wanted employees that had already been through the growth challenges we were about to embark upon.

With this completed, we hired Ainash, our first full-time Talent Sourcer to lead the charge on researching and contacting exactly those types of people. Nearly immediately, we received feedback from the hiring teams that the caliber of candidates had increased dramatically, and we started to make high impact hires across multiple groups, particularly within engineering. From here we set a long-term objective of making 80% of our hires from passive channels, 20% from active (though in time we would come to realize this is probably a tad optimistic — 50% appears to be a more realistic target). The thinking behind this was that generally speaking, the best candidates tend to be top performers at their current companies and are not actively looking for a new position.

Lastly, and above all else, we’ve tried to instill within the company that TourRadar employees are the most important element to our recruitment success. Although direct sourcing and hiring applicants are fantastic — referrals, industry contacts and networking with top people at industry events are what will ultimately set us apart from our competitors and fill our ranks with world-class talent.

“TourRadar employees are the most important element to our recruitment success.”

Establishing an Effective Interview Process
With our candidate channels sorted and a sourcing strategy in place, we took a close look at our interview process. As a rapidly scaling startup, we felt it was important to optimize for those candidates that would scale with us. Our view was that we were not just hiring employees for the job they will be doing on day one — but also for what they will need to learn and execute on tomorrow. Therefore, in order to reliably hire extraordinarily well and at-scale, we started to ask ourselves the following questions for each person we interviewed:

  • Has this person demonstrated that they have the skills to do the job they are being hired for today?
  • Does this person have a demonstrable track record of success and has taken on progressively more difficult challenges throughout their career?
  • Is this person passionate about their line of work?
  • Does this person have the ability and aptitude to take on new challenges that will allow them to scale with the company as we grow?
  • Is this person going to make those around them better?
  • Will this person be additive to the company culture?
  • Are we convinced this person is excited about our vision? Are we strongly convinced they would accept an offer if given one at market rate?

In order to answer these questions, we felt it was imperative to create an interview process that was consistent, measurable and as free from bias as possible. To achieve this end, every potential hire would go through the following process, which would assess for core skills, culture fit, and trajectory:

  • Step 1: Screening interview with a member of the recruitment team
  • Step 2: Skills assessment via a take-home test case
  • Step 3: Team interview — part test case review, part behavioral interview.
  • Step 4: Hiring Manager/Head of Group interview
  • Step 5: CEO Interview

Unless feedback was unanimous, final decisions were to be made via a candidate debrief session. For leadership positions, candidates would be asked to give a presentation to the team they would be leading so as to showcase their communication, presentation and leadership skills. After the interview, each member of the group would provide anonymous qualitative and quantitative feedback on the candidate, which would then be aggregated and used in the final decision-making process. If the team was not clearly in favor of the hire, no offer would be made.

Creating a Flawless Candidate Experience
As we dug deeper into our interview process, we came to understand that a company’s interview process provides a very real window into the DNA of the company itself. Research has shown this to be true as 83% of talent report that a poor interview experience can change their mind about a company they once had a favorable impression of, while 87% say a positive interview experience can change their mind about a company they once doubted.

Therefore, it would be imperative to provide an amazing interview experience if we were to have a chance at hiring the types of world-class people needed to scale our business. With this in mind, our candidate experience philosophy is as follows:

  • The goal is to have as few interviews as possible while maintaining the highest level of candidate evaluation.
  • Every interviewee is a potential customer and should be treated as such.
  • Poor interview experiences will dissuade great talent from considering TourRadar and we should expect them to describe these negative experiences on Glassdoor, further tarnishing our employer brand.
  • Provide real, honest and timely feedback to all candidates — particularly those whom we are rejecting. Providing this type of feedback will help candidates in future interviews, leaving them with the feeling that their interview with TourRadar was a useful, beneficial experience.
  • Interviewers creating bottlenecks will be removed from the interview process. Interviewing at TourRadar is viewed as a privilege with interview proficiency being a major consideration for those pursuing a management path.
  • Send out a questionnaire to each interviewee to inquire about their interview experience. As the recruiting organization grows, candidate experience NPS scores should be part recruiter performance. (Note: this is still a work in progress and has not yet been implemented)
  • We want our potential new hires to know just how excited we are at the prospect of bringing them on board. We have taken a page from the Lever playbook and email information, swag, pics, and gifs to our soon-to-be new hires. Several hires have mentioned to us that this level of candidate experience alleviated any doubts they had about joining TourRadar and this is something we plan to continue doing for the foreseeable future.
Source: pixabay.com / rawpixel

Metrics, Analytics, and Forecasting
With our candidate sources covered, our interview and candidate experience processes set up, it was time to dig into our recruitment data. Understanding this data, of course, is crucial to understanding the success or failure in each step of the recruitment process. Therefore, all facets of the recruitment process were tracked in order to be assessed and evaluated via core metrics. Below is a snapshot of our first attempt to track our candidate pipelines:

*Please note: these are not actual TourRadar recruitment figures

Out of the raw data, above, we could then calculate the efficiency of each step of the interview process.

*Please note: these are not actual TourRadar recruitment figures

Once we started tracking the total number of candidates (top of the funnel) along with the pass-through rates of each stage, we could begin to predict the time and cost of each hire made. For instance, via the (fictitious) ratios above we could extrapolate that every hire would require 1.4 offers, 2.2 final interview, 3.6 team interviews, 5.6 technical interviews, 13.4 test cases, 17.4 recruiter phone screens, 375 candidates at the top of the funnel. Further, these metrics along with knowledge of average recruiter productivity figures could then, in turn, provide intelligence on how large our recruiting team would need to be in order to hit our hiring goals.

Lastly, we provide this data to our leadership team to keep them apprised of all hiring progress on a weekly basis. This is accomplished via simple burn-down charts that show target vs. actual hiring progress as well as a list of all upcoming new hire start dates.

*Please note: these are not actual TourRadar recruitment figures

Scaling the Team
With the basics of the recruitment function now in place, we turned our attention to stage one of scaling out the recruitment team. Traditionally, the role of a Recruiter requires handling all facets of the recruitment process: inbound referrals and applications, sourcing of passive candidates, managing requisitions with many hiring managers across multiple divisions, interviewing candidates and closing offers. However, when a startup begins undergoing intense growth, we feel a more specialized recruitment organization is warranted and should mirror that of a high-performance sales organizations as both require marketing, inbound leads, research, prospecting, branding, competitive intelligence, relationship building, and closing.

For us, this meant promoting Ainash from Technical Sourcer to Technical Recruiter and hiring Federica, our brilliant Business Recruiter, to handle all hiring for Marketing, Business Development, Customer Support, and Finance. We also hired Alex, our Sourcer extraordinaire as well as Nadia, our HR Analyst to help onboard and support all of our 20+ new starters each month. Most recently, we hired Ariela, our office manager. She, along with Maz (Brisbane) and Kayla (Toronto) help with the ever-growing demands of our rapidly expanding offices in each of our three global locations.

Looking even further ahead, we’ve started to think about how we go from 20 to 50 or 100 hires a month. While we haven’t yet moved into this stage of growth, here’s how we’re starting to think about structuring the team for hypergrowth:

Sourcing Partners — Inbound and outbound sourcing specialists responsible for researching, locating and initiating contact with active (inbound) and passive (outbound) candidates in an effort to generate robust talent pipelines. As we scale, team leads for each.

Executive Recruiters — Partner and develop strong relationships with hiring managers and HR to identify talent gaps. Partner with the Sourcing team and have full responsibility of guiding candidates through the hiring process. Make hiring recommendations, own the candidate debrief sessions for all interview panels and devise and close candidate offers. White glove treatment of employee referrals. Deliver a flawless candidate experience from start to finish. When scaled, team leads.

Product-aligned Squads, Function-aligned Chapters— Both Sourcers and Recruiters aligned by business unit (Exec Search, Customer Support, Tech, Product, Marketing, etc). Despite being focused in this manner, a culture of collaboration and continuous learning will be encouraged through function-based Chapters.

Our Vienna HR Team

Employer Branding
With all of these pieces in place, we have now begun to turn our focus towards employer branding. And for good reason — we’re incredibly proud of the company and culture we’ve created. Of our 160+ employees, we’re from over 50 different countries. We’re all here because of our passion and belief that touring is a life-enriching endeavor that brings the world closer together. These beliefs are the foundation of our corporate culture and are a reflection of the people we’ve hired to date. Therefore, our employee brand comes not from our mission statement but from our employees and how we interact with each other on a daily basis, both in and out of the office. Here are some of the things we value:

  • We remain committed to ensuring that every initiative, idea, and endeavor, serve our customers first and foremost.
  • We embrace growth and change and fully support our employees gaining new skills and attending any training or conferences that will help them grow within their profession.
  • We walk the talk by making sure our employees travel extensively and pay for one tour per year for each of our employees, anywhere in the world, along with money towards their airfare.
  • We are collaborative and believe deeply that we’re more than the sum of our parts. We succeed or fail as a team and our OKRs reflect that.
  • We go out together. We travel together. We seriously enjoy each other’s company.
  • We challenge each other, respectfully. The best ideas always win, regardless of seniority.
  • Everyone is encouraged to bring their authentic selves to work every day. We embrace the idea that diversity is strength and that we better serve our global customer base by being global and multicultural ourselves.

With that said, for us to find the best employees we can that are aligned with our values, we’ve begun to focus on getting our message out to the world. We’ve created a TourRadar Careers page, we’re posting about ourselves frequently on LinkedIn, we’ve created #LifeAtTourRadar and will be creating some amazing content on our Youtube channel.

We attend all types of industry events and have started the process of creating a new website, lifeattourradar.com — one place where you can find all of the aforementioned content that describes what it’s like to be an employee at TourRadar. Here, we will post pictures of random company events, video interviews about what it’s like to move to one of our offices from abroad, videos about the trips we’ve taken and regular updates from our leadership team.

Final Words
So, there you have it. This is who we are as a recruitment organization at TourRadar, where we’ve come from and where we’ll likely be going in the near future. We will continue to share our progress and challenges as we grow in hopes it may help those about to go on a similar journey.

If you’d be interested in being a part of our journey — please let us know!

An Interview with Travis Pittman, TourRadar CEO