One of the biggest challenges a company faces as it scales is to revamp its recruiting and employee onboarding processes. When Twitter bought my startup it had just 90 employees. By the time I left two and half years later, Twitter had grown to close to 1,500 people—93% of the employees were new.
In order to add 500 people a year you need to change the way you approach and scale your recruiting organization, you need to think deeply about employee onboarding, and you need to maintain and evolve your culture. In this chapter we cover these and other shifts required to hire and manage talent.
Recruiting best practices
As you scale from hiring 10 people a year to 10 people a week, a small number of recruiting processes can go a long way in maintaining a high bar and expediting key hires.
Write a job description for every role
Many companies start off recruiting via personal networks for a small number of roles—e.g., engineers and designers. As a company scales beyond individual contributors in a handful of functions, it is important for people hiring for a role to understand what is important in the person they hire. For example, if you are hiring a business development person for the first time (see “how to hire great BD people,”), what should people look for in that person and role? An engineer on the interview panel might not know the difference between a business development and a sales person. Clarifying skill set and role is important so everyone is looking for the same type of candidate.
For each role you should write a job description that explains what the role will do, and what experience and background you are looking for. You can also the list the things you are not looking for, or consider less important. This description should be circulated to people interviewing for the role with a short note explaining what the hiring manager is looking for and prioritizing. If your team subsequently raises questions about who to hire for the role, you can refer back to the original job description to correct any bad assumptions.
Ask every candidate the same questions
For each candidate for a given role, ask the same or similar interview questions. This will allow you to calibrate candidates across identical questions.
Assign focus areas to the interviewers prior to the interview
Often you want to interview candidates for specific aspects of their role. For example, you might interview a product manager on their product insights, past accomplishments, culture fit, etc. Rather than have every person the candidate interviews with ask the same set of questions for every area, you could have three or four interviewers each focus on a different area that you assign to them before the interview. This will allow for an in-depth view of each area, versus a shallow view of all areas.
Additionally, if you bring the person back for a second round of interviews, you can double down on areas of concern with more focused interviews.
Work product interviews
For some roles, the best way to assess a candidate (outside of direct prior knowledge working with them) is to have them develop a work product as part of the interview. This could happen either onsite or as a take home. For example, an engineer could do a coding exercise, or a designer could be asked to do a quick set of wire frames or workflow for a hypothetical product. A marketing person could be asked to generate a hypothetical product marketing plan. In general, it is good to avoid asking for work or output on an existing company product to avoid the perception of getting free labor out of a candidate.
As each person finishes their interview, it is good for them to enter feedback about the candidate before talking to other interviewers. This avoids people biasing each other and forces each interviewer to take a written stance on a candidate. You can also adopt a numeric ranking system (e.g., 1–5 points) or a simple “hire, no hire” scale. The key is consistency, as well as providing interviewers with a clear definition of what these outputs should mean. Consistent scoring can allow you to quickly reject or pursue candidates. In general, your scoring system prevents interviewers from having the easy out of a “neutral” option. Hence the “hire/no hire” framework would lack a “no opinion” option.
Every company I have ever worked for, or with, has realized that one of the biggest determinants of candidate conversion is how quickly you interview them and how quickly you can make an offer. Beyond conversion, a key metric to track is how long candidates spend in each step of the interview process. You should optimize for shorter times between each step and for rapidly getting offers out.
“One of the biggest determinants of candidate conversion is how quickly you interview them and how quickly you can make an offer.”
– Elad Gil
Check candidates’ references
Reference checks are often the clearest signal on a candidate. You should reference-check everyone. Be careful with businesspeople—they tend to provide friends in their organization as references, and in general will get glowing recommendations from their friends. I have found engineering and other functions to be more direct/honest when providing references for their friends. To compensate for this, try to broaden the scope of references you check for businesspeople to other functions to ensure clarity of their skills and areas for improvement.
Ensuring diversity (of gender, race or ethnic background, sexual orientation, social class and background, and more) in your employee base and interview process is the subject of numerous books and blogs. One excellent resource for this is Joelle Emerson’s Paradigm Strategy website, whose focus is diverse hiring practices. 1 You can also read the interview with Joelle later on in this book.
There is a lot of detail and nuance in getting to a diverse workforce. A few key items:
1. Ensure that you have diverse candidates for each role. You will never have a diverse employee base if you do not ensure diverse candidates in your funnel. Building a diverse funnel means not only sourcing a broader spectrum of candidates, but also thinking through the language in your job descriptions, how employees are represented on your website, and other factors that will impact who applies.
2. Focus on eliminating biases from your interview approach. A number of biases exist in standard interviewing approaches. A simple example would be whether the names and gender of candidates is blinded at the resume review stage.
3. Provide benefits that support the needs of underrepresented employees. Paid parental leave is one simple example. Think through your broader potential employee pool and what benefits would support their ability to focus on their work at your company.
For a more in-depth resource, I recommend you read a white paper from Paradigm. 2