With the level of competition for talent in today’s tech world, early stage companies must work hard to attract the talent critical to their success. Companies put hundreds of hours into hiring, spending thousands of dollars to attract and retain the right people, with good reason; the right hires make a direct impact on a company’s success and growth. But all of this time, effort and money may be spent in vain if companies are not honest with the candidates they hire about work, expectations and the company’s state of affairs. Understandably, companies want to paint an attractive picture for talented candidates because, well, they want to attract them. But as important as attracting candidates is, being transparent with them is key.
It Creates The Right Expectations
Working for startup companies is difficult enough as it is. Working for one without clear expectations, cloudy roadmaps and unknown or unanticipated structural issues can be a recipe for failure. It’s understandable that a company would want to make the right impression in an effort to attract top candidates, but expectations are powerful and setting the wrong ones early on can result in a difficult onboarding, a poor work experience and a shorter tenure for employees. Be clear and accurate when describing to potential employees the state of company affairs and expectations for performance.
It Attracts People Who Can Handle It
An accurate picture of the work, expectations for employees and a clear view of the company’s state of affairs may indeed scare off some of your potential hires. To that, I say, good. Employees who can’t handle the realities of your company and flee from accountability are the last thing any early stage venture needs. Anyone worth hiring should know going in that startups are no picnic. The flip side to this is painting a rosy, less than accurate picture of things, and anyone worth hiring should know better.
It Opens The Door For Improvement
Setting clear expectations and being open and upfront when hiring can actually help to address issues and problems you are facing. Issues cannot be addressed unless they are known and acknowledged. Being upfront with candidates can result in finding great hires who may know how to navigate issues, and can even help address and overcome obstacles.
It can be uncomfortable for founders and managers to set clear expectations for candidates for fear of losing out on good people. But in the long run, a transparent approach to hiring will yield happier, more prepared and more productive hires.
“Hello Dan. I wanted to reach out regarding an opportunity for a senior web analyst position in your area. This person needs to have experience with Google Analytics as well as MySQL and SAS, and a strong understanding of SEO and Paid Search initiatives to drive leads and customer acquisition. The company is a small SaaS startup, and needs someone who is a self starter with an entrepreneurial mindset and passion. Can you tell me more about yourself and your experience?”
Well, thank you. You sound like the other 5 recruiters that called me this week looking for the same thing, describing skill sets and needs about which you have little understanding. Not to mention you have almost no detail regarding the company, what they do, how they’re growing, what the team does, and so on. You then proceed to send me a “more detailed” job description, which essentially regurgitates the bland information presented to me on the phone. In most cases, after probing further about the company and the situation, I am left with little pertinent information
Now consider if I had been approached with the following conversation:
“Hello Dan. I am reaching out regarding an opportunity with an early stage company in the media space. The company is a 2 year old VC-funded team of 15 led by two successful founders with backgrounds in enterprise software. They currently have a product coming out of beta testing and are 6 months into a strong push towards user acquisition while continuing to improve the product. They have established a few partnerships for lead generation with modest success, and are engaged in paid advertising, but have struggled to drive the volume needed. They have reached a level of growth that requires a person with experience in customer acquisition using a data-focused marketing approach to step in and direct their efforts. Does this sound like an opportunity that aligns with your background and your career goals?”
Umm, yes please. Let me tell you about my experience working with small companies to drive lead acquisition through digital channels, or about the several cases in which I consulted with early stage startups to define their web analytics strategy, measure performance and identify opportunities to alter experiences and messaging that resulted in lead increases. Let me tell you how those experiences would align with your needs to help your company move forward.
What’s the difference? As evidenced by the first example, most recruiters hand me a job description with a laundry list of skill sets and requirements for years of experience, while expecting me to tell them a story that verifies all boxes in that checklist are met; all before I really know anything about what I’m getting into. The latter example tells a story. It paints a picture of reality, offering a near tangible look into what a job with this company would require, and whether I would have an interest.
When hiring, good recruiters and hiring managers stop giving job descriptions, and start crafting company narratives.
The typical job description simply gets lost in a massive ocean of open positions. So you need a software engineer? That’s cool, who doesn’t? And that’s what it looks like. Furthermore, presenting a laundry list of skill sets, required experiences and generic responsibilities does little to inform me of the life of the job, nor the company that would employ me. It does, however, give me a checklist that I could easily use to eliminate myself from consideration, even if I am the right person for their needs.
Deviating from the job description in pursuit of a crafted narrative does several things, the first of which is delivering a unique experience. Most startups will tell you that a significant challenge in hiring early on is the lack of brand reach and its impact on attracting talent. Telling the story of the company, team and role delivers a unique experience to the potential candidate, making the role relatable to actual experience. It conveys the excitement of entrepreneurship, growth and innovation, which will be unique to each and every company. Best of all, company narratives allow your candidates to place themselves within the story and invest emotionally in the idea of being a part of it.
Job descriptions present boxes to check off regarding a generic experience. Narratives allow us to insert ourselves in a company’s story and share in that dream of success. And for an early stage company, hiring dreamers is a must.
The dynamic of the hiring relationship between companies and candidates is shifting. Unemployment is down, wages are increasing, the tech industry continues to grow and more talent is opting to start a company rather than join one. So when a great candidate comes across your desk, acting with speed to qualify, interview and hire them is more critical than ever. With offers coming from every which way, keeping candidates engaged is difficult; something that can be improved with a more timely process. This presents many challenges to companies, where the norm has been widespread sourcing, longer interview processes and lengthier negotiations. Optimizing these processes while maintaining the quality of hires is an undertaking, but not impossible. Below are several ways to increase your hiring speed and keep candidates engaged while maintaining talent standards.
Every company worth their weight in gold places talent acquisition as one the the highest priorities. Make it higher. For early stage companies, every hire is critical and has a make or break impact. So cancel meetings, adjust your schedule and push everything else aside when great candidates come across your desk. Talent might understand that you are busy, but that doesn’t mean they will wait around or ignore other opportunities.
Focus On What You Really Need
Laundry lists of skills and requirements can kill your hiring process, much less prolong it. Narrow down your requirements to the core, put all of your focus on those needs, and leave everything else alone. Sure, there are nice-to-have resume items, but if your candidates are the right caliber of talent for your company, chances are they can handle acquiring additional skill sets. This not only helps with the speed of your process, but will lessen the chance of alienating quality people that otherwise might have passed.
There’s no secret sauce to this one. The faster you engage candidates, the sooner the process can begin. A quick response can also decrease your candidate drop off rate, keeping more people in the process from the start.
Nothing speeds up the process like being on the ball with communications. This is a simple fix as well, and logically pretty straightforward, but of course easier said than done. Yet ask any professional recruiter with a successful track record, and they will tell you that timely communications, even if just to say ‘message received, will respond soon’, is not only critical to keeping relationships moving but to keeping communications fresh and process moving.
Get the Team Engaged Early
Culture and team fit should carry a lot of weight when hiring, so it makes sense to get good candidates in front of your team quickly and early on. Should they not mesh well with the team, then you can end the process quickly. On the other hand, if there is cohesion between your team and candidates, then you will have strong signals early on.
People are smart enough to know when they are being strung along, especially when it comes to interviewing. Keep candidates informed about what’s going on, where they stand in the hiring process and what you need from them to move forward.
Give a Real Offer Sooner
Lengthy compensation negotiations can kill a deal more easily today. On top of being a frustration for some candidates (though not all), lengthy negotiations also allow candidates to continue other conversations, giving them time to negotiate with others as well. This is not to say that you should throw realism to the wind. But the lower you start from the end figure, the longer the road to get there, leaving the window open for other factors to come into play.
When it comes to recruiting and hiring, we simply cannot overstate the importance of moving quickly. In our history as a search firm, we have seen perfect matches break down simply because things were moving too slow. Whether another offer came to the table, a better position opened up elsewhere or candidates simply lost interest, time too often kills deals.