Attracting Talent Through a Hyper-Growth Phase
19 August, 2021
I’ve worked at various startups where we had to scale fast but one situation stands out to me. Back in 2015, I joined a company when the engineering team was 20 and grew to 100 within a year. I alone grew my own team of 3 to 15 in nine months. To anyone versed in recruiting and hiring high-caliber talent those numbers alone are telling a story.
While we had some recruiting practices in place, it was largely unstructured and ad hoc. As we looked to scale, there were many areas we needed to improve. We went through many iterations in our process and we made it happen: we 5x-ed in a year, which is unparalleled success in the ultra-competitive environment of Silicon Valley.
Partner with your recruiting team: Luckily we had a strong recruiting team and it was easy to partner with them to get feedback on our interview process. Our recruiting team was strong advocates for a great candidate experience which is crucial. Even if the candidate wasn’t a fit for the role, we wanted them to have a positive experience so that they would consider us again in the future and not influence others they know. I built a strong relationship with our lead recruiter so that feedback we heard was used to improve our process, from having better job descriptions and pitches to fine tuning our questions very quickly. We could also provide feedback to recruiting to help build the right profile of candidates we were looking for.
Created standard interviewing practices : Being a small team with uneven experience levels, we didn’t have a consistent interview process. Often folks would ask and calibrate the same question differently. This led to poor candidate experiences and some bad hires. Recognizing this, I partnered with other engineering leaders to refresh our questions with clear calibration guidelines – what to look for in great, good & poor candidates. We created a clear interviewing structure: TPS (coding), Onsite: 1 coding + 2 system design and Team Match while looking for general fit throughout.
Scaling interviewing across the team : Knowing we needed to scale quickly, we made recruiting a priority across the entire org. We created a shadowing program to help train and calibrate interviewers thus ensuring a more consistent interview experience and sharing the burden across the team. As we hired, we’d inject new folks into the process very quickly. It had a nice effect of, ”I recently joined and am already being involved in important aspects like hiring” – showing candidates how quickly we are growing. As we started to grow the team and gained momentum, it became easier and easier to scale.
Starting an internship program: While we invested heavily on improving our industry hiring practices, we invested in a university recruiting lead and started building an internship program at the same time. It’s an investment for the future that eventually paid off with bringing in a talent pool of returning new college graduates from schools such as Waterloo, UC Berkeley and Stanford.
- Effort == Success: Recruiting in the Bay Area takes significant time and effort. For example, I did more than 200 interviews in only one quarter. Competition for talent is quite cutthroat, and one needs to talk to many people to close a candidate. Some hires took weeks/months of building relationships. Even if things don’t work out, keeping the relationship warm helped re-engage folks we lost out on.
- Learning how to close: We knew we were not to compete with other companies on compensation or titles. Instead, we focused on finding what motivated people in their careers. In startups, the message is always around ownership, learning, and growth. Also, finding people who would align with your mission is critical. I would always ask prospective hires, Do you find what we are doing meaningful or purposeful?
- Take care of your existing team: As we ramped hiring, we got hit attrition. There were shifts in product strategy that impacted the team. Take learning in those exit interviews to make sure you address concerns internally. Doesn’t matter how you hire if you can’t keep them afterward.
- Think about how you represent your company/team: There were some folks on the team that weren’t good interviewers – largely due to a lack of interest. Identify your best interviewers (who can run the interview, calibrate and represent the team/mission well) and set them up to be role models for others. Initially, we tried to do pool based hiring with team matching afterward but ran into problems with closing because we weren’t giving clear messages on company/team mission – so we moved to req/team-based hiring which had much better success but also meant more heavy interview burden and upfront recruiter efforts to team match before interviewing.
- Constantly evaluate your interviewing practices to eliminate bias: Every week, we evaluated the current recruiting funnels to see if we were seeing a significant drop off anywhere. We experimented with different online tools and even tried having folks bring a computer onsite to make folks feel more comfortable vs whiteboard coding. We’d scan glassdoor and other sources to see if questions needed to be adjusted or feedback given to interviewers.
- Prioritize diversity: Being a group of 20 male engineers, it became more and more difficult to hire a woman engineer because no one wanted to be the first woman engineer. When we eventually hired our first female engineer, we aligned her start date with another hire so they didn’t feel alone during onboarding. We did that on purpose to create a more inclusive and welcoming environment. Shortly after they joined, they got included in our interviewing which enabled hiring more senior female engineers including a director. That small step of creating community helped bloom into much stronger representation in the company.
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