The voodoo of hiring

By XAnge

Suppose you’ve just raised a few million euros, or even tens of millions, and you’ve come to the stage where you must hire massively in order to develop your product and support growth. This is where the ability to source, recruit and retain the best developers becomes key to your project’s success.

XAnge recently organized a TECH’buffet under the banner “May the recruiting force be with you”. Corinne Lejbowicz, CEO of Prestashop (118 employees including 40 engineers) and Rémi Aubert (120 employees including 30 engineers), Co-CEO of AB Tasty came to share their experience alongside other entrepreneurs from XAnge’s portfolio: Arthur Saint-Père (CEO of Dolead), Yvan Wibaux (CIO of Evaneos), Antoine Letourneux (CTO of Homerez), Eric Larchevèque (CEO of Ledger), Pascal Brunelet (CEO of Link Care Services), Frédéric Pichard (CEO de Sparklane), Benjamin Suchar (CEO of Yoopies) and Thomas Zeitoun, co-founder and Commercial Director of Zenchef.

As in our last Tech Buffet dedicated to IT organizational issues, entrepreneurs were very much in demand for best practices on this subject — while assuming some fundamental disagreements…

IDENTIFYING THE BEST…

  • Through personal networks and investment: At the beginning, the adventure starts with the founders’ intuitu personae network and the first recruits. “We initially hired our buddies’ friends!” says Corinne Lejbowicz, backed by Rémi Aubert. The capacity to invest time in this is essential. Bruno Lévèque, Corinne Lejbowicz’s partner, is an Epitech graduate and also invested a lot of time there as a teacher. This is very effective for recruiting. Organizing meet-ups in the startup’s premises is also a great sourcing tool.
  • Via LinkedIn (and social networks): Dedicated LinkedIn strategies are widely praised. LinkedIn is Prestashop’s main sourcing tool: “We have a dedicated HR person who spends her entire day on LinkedIn” says Corinne Lejbowicz “She has an ‘IT company’ profile and hires about 15 people a year”. For AB Tasty, it all started on the social networks: “When we were still a young startup, we programmed a small robot to screen profiles on social networks — and got kicked out fast! Still, it helped us make our first recruitments” says Rémi Aubert. “Today, we ask our managers to spend 2x15’ each week on LinkedIn. We think they’re more likely to identify the most relevant profiles. They come up with a good fifteen profiles that they send to our HR who then take over.”

· By co-optation: Nearly everyone does co-optation. In this process, a special bonus (approx. €1000) is given to an employee who recommends a candidate who ends up being hired and who validates his/her trial period. At AB Tasty, this hiring method represents up to 40% of recruitments. At Prestashop, it apparently works well for all profiles except developers…

· Recruitment agencies: All agree on the fact that using a recruitment firm is quite expensive. It costs on average 8 to 10 000 € per recruitment. Another problem is that they can put pressure on candidates to accept a position. As a result, “we noticed that employees sourced by a recruitment firm dump us faster than others. For all these reasons, we limit these types of recruitments to 10 or 15%” says Rémi Aubert. Still, this method can be effective, especially for specialized profiles. “Since these agencies are always focused on specific niches, you need to work with several. And this is where their sourcing work can prove invaluable”, says Corinne Lejbowicz.

· Via Talent.io, Hired.com etc.: These work well but they tend to push the price of developers up. And all agree on the fact that money is not what will keep a developer in-house in the first place.

… CONVINCING THEM…

· With specific technologies: At Prestashop (founded 10 years ago), the heart of the project is based on PHP. “And for young people, that’s not exactly exciting”, explains Corinne Lejbowicz,”which is why we also start up other projects with blockchain, Docker etc.” Another hint from Rémi Aubert: “Never pronounce the word ‘PHP’. Always mention Symfony, which is way more popular!” “ And beware: you’re always better off with someone who’s junior but fully masters a new technology, than with someone senior who will need to learn this technology and who will also costs a lot more…” explains Rémi Aubert.

· With a positive image: Arthur Saint-Père, CEO of Dolead, heads a Tech team of 15 people (out of 40 employees). He mentions that one of the selection criteria for engineers is “the company’s positive exposure: ie what is said about the company in its network and in the media. This matters more to them than the size of the market, its financing or business model.” Corinne Lejbowicz abounds “Being a female CEO and fully endorsing this role publicly also has an impact on recruitment. Many women told me that they chose PrestaShop for this reason.”

· With a career plan: AB Tasty designed a typical career plan with assessments and milestones. A career overview is made during each individual interview. This allows each person to foresee his/her position within the company. “This document is a major plus for recruiting and retaining talents,” explains Rémi Aubert

… AVOIDING MISTAKES…

· By testing their skills: Aurélien Pelletier, CTO of Prestashop explains “the only way to check a developer’s skills is to make him develop, including during 2-key sessions, side by side”. Test sessions are used to evaluate their technical and English level (all open source projects are in English).

· By testing their ability to surpass themselves: Dolead organizes 2-hour tests. The objective is to show the candidate the level of excellence of the IT team. The CTO’s evaluation of the test can be immediate and the candidate’s reaction is paramount. If the suggested challenge stimulates him/her, that’s good. If not, it’s a ‘no go’.

· By testing their ability to push the team forward: AB Tasty wants to hire developers who are “better than them”. This approach differs with other startups who decide to take on good developers willing to learn from the best.

… KEEPING THEM STRONG…

· Through permanent training: Rémi Aubert says that “developers self-train themselves. Otherwise, it shows quickly. We pay lectures and conferences for them and our managers also have a coach.Corinne Lejbowicz agrees about the necessity for conferences but also asks for feedback about them, to be shared with the team “Otherwise, the return on investment is low”. Two years ago, Prestashop organized a training course for its intermediate management, with — among others — a fencing instructor. “They just loved it!” she says. In her opinion: “Training is effective, but it must be part of continuous education.”

· Through regular and direct communications with the top management: Without bypassing the middle management, it is important that the CEO discusses freely with its teams and on a regular basis, in order to grasp their overall mood and identify communication problems or blocking situations.

· With fair compensation systems: It is very difficult to “KPI” a developer’s variable salary. At AB Tasty, however, about 10% of a developer’s salary is variable. The manager decides whether he/she wants to unlock it or not.

… LAST BUT NOT LEAST… “IT’S ABOUT CULTURE, STUPID!”

· In the end, all of them seek a special “state of mind” — the cornerstone to successful hiring: AB Tasty’s HR team screens the candidates over the phone, based on this criterion. The candidate then meets with the entire team with whom he/she will work. Prestashop organizes a small party for the candidate and team after this test. And the same goes for Dolead, who invites the candidate for lunch after the session.

· And if the recruitment proves successful… so is the outcome: Yvan Wibaux, CIO of Evaneos, who switched back to his squad-based organization (here), recalls that these squads rise through personal affinities and projects. As a result, “they are very much involved in the creation of roadmaps etc.” Which benefits the overall project…