For high-growth businesses, hiring and recruiting is one of, if not the top challenge founders face. Because, face it, your team is everything. Sure, you need to have a solid business plan and a strategy to execute on that plan, but no matter your business size – whether you’re a startup, in the scale-up/growth phase, or beyond – your team can make or break your success.
And, you need a team – you can’t do everything on your own, obviously – but finding and keeping that team is expensive. What’s even more expensive? Turnover. Replacing team members if they don’t work out can be extremely costly. A CAP study shows that the median cost of turnover for jobs that require very specific skills is 21 percent of an employee’s annual salary. Senior or executive level hires tend to have disproportionately high turnover costs – up to 213 percent of the salary. Wow.
So, it’s easy to see how people can make up such a big part of your expenses. The majority of your cash is spent on all of the costs associated with people: payroll, benefits, technology and equipment, perks, insurance, etc. When runway is limited and cash is tight, it quickly becomes apparent that you really can’t afford to spend so much of your operating budget on the wrong people.
Further compounding the challenges around people is the fierce competition for talent. In 2014, LinkedIn did a talent study and found that of 18,000 workers surveyed in the U.S. over the course of a month, 39% had heard from a recruiter about a job opportunity during that time frame. In 2016, LinkedIn conducted another study of 1,500 professionals in the U.S. and Canada, and found that a massive 89% are interested in hearing about new job opportunities.
To “hack” hiring, recruiting, and retention (not to be confused with short cuts or quick fixes) means finding efficient and effective ways to build and scale your team. Each business is different but we’ve identified a few high-level strategies and valuable tactics that can help you navigate the talent storm affecting high-growth businesses to maximize your success. Because, it’s easy to attract people and receive resumes, but how do you get the RIGHT people in the door?
Agree upon your workplace brand.
What kind of business, office, and working environment are you? What are the overarching values and expectations that your team runs on? How do you want to be perceived by employees – past, current, and future?
- Strategy: As you grow, it’s more and more important to understand and actively work towards the type of company you want to be. No longer can you assume or hope that all team members are on the same page regarding goals for the business. Get your leadership team in the same room and make decisions that will shape the future of your team.
- Values & expectations: Our CEO has written about this concept for years. Clearly laying out your values & expectations tells potential hires and the rest of the world who your startup is and who your startup is not. It says a lot about your expectations of employees and what candidates can expect before they accept the role.
- Language and messaging: Similar to the ways in which you noodle over messaging for your product or service, thought should be given to how you describe your business as a workplace. This will encourage the right hires to apply from the get-go, and avoid misrepresentation or confusion with prospects during the interview process (or worse, once they’re part of the team). This messaging and language should permeate your job postings, role descriptions, ‘About us’ and ‘Career’ pages of your website, interview process, and employee handbooks.
- Training: Learning and team building should take an equal parts top-down and bottom-up approach. Meaning, your management team and team leads are all on the same page regarding expectations for leadership, job responsibilities, as well as execution and ownership, naturally trickling down to the most junior person on your team. On the flip side, your management team can learn from feedback and experiences with employees to create the most effective training programs.
- Further reading:
Agree upon your hiring needs.
The worst thing you can do is hire before you’re ready.
- Strategy: Don’t jump the gun on hiring. Poll the leadership team on weaknesses in the operational engine of your business to learn what’s priority and what can wait.
- Understand your weaknesses. Can you pinpoint whether your hiring need is for more hands to do the work, or to supplement subpar work from your existing team? How many people should be doing the work? Can you restructure the team to optimize each contributor?
- Map out the goals & expectations of the role. This will help you determine if your hiring needs are temporary, or if they signify a deeper problem with execution by your existing team. From there you can determine whether you need to replace or add. If you do need to add, would a freelancer do the trick or is it a permanent role with room to grow? Knowing this as early as possible will prevent layoffs or unhappy employees/high turnover down the road.
- Further reading:
The reason there are so many “best places to work” awards is because candidates aspire to work for companies that appreciate them and deserve their talent in return. They want to narrow down the best companies to put all of their effort into as part of their job search. Awards, media coverage, and inbound marketing will point those job seekers to your inbox.
- Strategy: Similar to how a business would strategize PR around fundraising, a product or customer momentum, they should also aim to control and strengthen their workplace brand and narrative. Recruitment must include ongoing promotion and demonstration of why employees love working there and why candidates should want to work for such a great and promising company. You don’t want to overdo it or inaccurately represent your culture, but the companies that are proactively promoting their unique work environment and team camaraderie will garner the attention of top talent. According to Glassdoor, 69 percent of job seekers would not take a job with a company that has a bad reputation–even if unemployed.
- Content marketing: If you’re a high-growth business, you want the best of the best applying to work with your team. You’re not looking for the 9-5ers or those mostly impressed with perks – snacks, nap rooms, etc. You’re looking for the candidates that want to work with rockstars that will challenge them and help grow their career. There are plenty of ways to demonstrate your expertise and expectations as a business leader but blogging about it is a good first step. Leverage Medium or a guest post on Inc. or Fast Company to discuss the unique ways you help your team to succeed, how you encourage individual career growth, etc. Get the word out there about why you are the manager top talent should strive to work with and grow under.
- Social marketing: Again, depending on the type of culture you want to build, there are plenty of channels to promote your brand in addition to job openings. Pictures and videos of the team & office go a long way to demonstrate a healthy, hardworking, yet fun culture, as well as the day-to-day team building a candidate can expect.
- Media coverage: Some company developments might interest local and industry-specific media. Keep a handful of your most influential reporters regularly updated on the impactful developments that demonstrate your momentum – considerable growth, a move into an awesome office, a great leadership hire, and more. They might not write about it every time but it helps with reporter relationship building and could fit into a bigger-picture trend piece that you didn’t even know they were writing.
- Awards: As you scale, so will your talent needs. You’ll want to stay competitive with other similar size and stage businesses in your area that are fishing from the same talent pool. Culture, personnel and workplace awards will help from an awareness perspective. Check local and industry-specific outlets and organizations to see what recognition programs they put in place to highlight businesses like yours.
- Further reading:
Be everywhere. Be consistent.
Help your job listings be found and help candidates searching for the next role find you by being everywhere they are looking. Arguably even more important is to keep your presence updated and consistent.
- Strategy: Part of your recruitment brand is making the process a positive one for candidates. This means finding the right platforms to showcase your job openings and making those openings consistent and updated across platforms. If the content in your job postings is different on AngelsList vs. your website, or not removed all together once the role is filled, your hiring reputation will take a hit.
- Ownership: When you’re a small team, it’s all hands on deck and often times, HR and recruiting tasks fall on the entire team. As you grow, it’s incredibly important to put ownership on HR in general or specific roles, depending on how you structure your team. Setting goals and expectations will drive accountability and further success.
- Process checks & balance: If not run by a team lead, those in charge of the recruitment process should work closely with team leads to ensure the role is accurately described, and eventually, filled. Leverage the team to proof and review job postings for grammatical errors or inconsistencies across departments. Get approval on which job platforms to leverage. If the role falls off the radar or is less of a priority, determined if hiring should be put on hold and the posting removed from job platforms to save time and energy for the recruiting team and for prospects.
- Know your audience: Understand where your prospects are looking. Is it AngelList? LinkedIn? Indeed.com? All of the above? Be everywhere your prospects are, sell your company, and speak to their desires from a career perspective.
- Further reading:
Leverage your team and collective network.
Your team has years of collective experience working with various folks in different cities, different industries, etc. Mapping out who has been where, and who knows who, can seriously cut down on some of the blind recruiting tactics that are high-effort, low-return.
- Strategy: Request help from the team even if they aren’t highly involved in recruitment for the business. Having everyone post job openings is an easy first step. From there, actively searching for connections to top candidates and requesting intros is a sure way to rise above the recruitment noise.
- Provide easy, clear instructions: Your engineers, sales team, etc., has little time to create their own messages to share job postings. Make it super easy for them to post to their own personal networks with copy that they can leverage and links to all correct postings that are relevant to their team’s success.
- LinkedIn data dump: Pending their interest, request that all team members share their contacts on LinkedIn to see where you might have mutual connections to specific roles at similar size/stage companies or competitors. Direct them to simply click “My Network” –> “Connections” –> “Settings” gear icon –> “Advanced Settings” –> “Export LinkedIn Connections.” From there, your recruitment lead can search and request intros where needed.
- Social/review platforms: Are there places where prospects will look for employee validation and where employees can leave “reviews” of their employee experience at your company? Think Glassdoor, LinkedIn, etc. Encourage honesty but also explain the benefits of building a positive online review presence to help build the best team.
- Hiring bonuses: You might want to consider referral bonuses for employees that recommend and refer a new hire that stays with the business for 3-6 months or longer. Determine the strategy that works best for your team, your hiring goals, and your budget.
Solidify your interview process.
A well executed interview process goes a long way with candidates. And, a poorly organized interview leaves candidates with a bad taste in their mouth and could very well influence their decision accept a job offer or not.
- Strategy: Don’t wing it. Sit down with those involved with the hiring and figure out the flow of the entire process from start to finish.
- Create an interview structure: Map out the flow of your hiring process. An example would be: those with a compelling resume and cover letter move through to a screening call; those with a good screening call move through to an in-person interview; those with a solid in-person interview receive homework or work with the team for an hour; for those with a good trial run or those that ace the homework, should you call on their references? Don’t forget the edge cases (i.e. for those that come through a referral, do they need a phone screening or homework exercise?)!
- Provide the team with info and a day-of schedule: Unless going into an interview unprepared is part of your strategy to test how a candidate acts in awkward situations, you’ll want your team to know who they are interviewing and what to look for from a personality and trait perspective. It’s good to give different interviewers different roles and responsibilities so that you learn as much as you can about the candidate as possible.
- Create exercises to identify traits important to the business and role: Determine the exercises that will demonstrate the candidate’s strengths and weaknesses (role-playing for a sales role, a writing exercise for a marketing hire, or coding test for a developer, etc.).
- Don’t take shortcuts, but don’t prolong the process. A well-run and efficient interview process could take weeks. You want to feel good about the hire, but you also don’t draw it out too long and risk losing the candidate to another company who is more efficient than you.
- Further reading:
Illustrate the dream, sell the plan.
While prospects want to hear your dream and the 100,000 foot view of how you’ll get there, they are also bombarded by media coverage of bubbles and unsustainable unicorns. They want you to be transparent, honest and real.
- Strategy: Once you feel comfortable during the interview process, share with them the nitty gritty – what are the biggest challenges you’ve faced and expect to face? What’s your plan or thought process on how to scale growth? What are some of the hardest aspects of your growth and how can they get involved to get you over those speed bumps?
- Have a clear message that you’ve tested: While you don’t want to scare anyone off, you also want to be honest about what to expect. Every business has challenges and the only ones that will win in the longterm are the ones that constantly prepare and execute against those challenges.
- Be prepared, FAQ-style: Map out the most frequently asked questions to expect. What would you ask if you were in the candidate’s shoes? Make sure your team and those involved in the interview process know answers to these questions, as well.
- Further reading:
Don’t forget about their needs.
You’re the founder; your business is your baby and you would work for free if you could and it meant you had another year to work towards your dream. Of course you expect and want that die-hard enthusiasm to trickle down to your entire team and all new hires, but they still have baseline requirements to take a job when it comes to salary, benefits, and perks.
- Strategy: This ties into your recruitment brand so determine what is important to you to help win over candidates.
- Research your competitors: What are they offering? Do you care & does it matter?
- Know your capabilities and your limits: Work with a part-time CFO or accountant to understand what you have the budget to offer. If money is tight, can you offer equity? What perks are the most cost-effective but still go along way with employees?
- Further reading:
Know when you need outside help.
Many people falsely view recruiters as a huge expense that they can avoid through DIY measures.
- Strategy: Be honest about the time and energy you are pouring into finding candidates. If it’s not going well and you waste a lot of your time surfacing the wrong candidates, you might want to test results with a recruiter. After all, they do this for a living and you might actually save time and money.
- Research your industry: Are your competitors leveraging a recruiter? What recruiters are well-known in your industry or location? What is the typical cost/fee for similar companies in your area?
- Research your options: Shameless plug but VentureApp can quickly learn about your company, industry, and hiring needs and map out the top recruiters based on your goals and budget. Things we look for? Who have they worked with in the past; what is their typical fee/cost structure; can we talk to some of their references; and why are they the best for this particular industry and further, this specific hire.
Recruitment, hiring, and retention are incredibly complex undertakings for all businesses. That’s why there are entire departments devoted to this as a business grows. Taking it seriously, and devoting your time and attention, is required for success, but implementing these hacks from the beginning will keep the process clean and efficient as you grow.
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