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People, people, people – start-up recruitment

by Andrew Cunningham on 06 Mar 2017

people

There are three things that matter in a start-up: people, people, people. The right team, with the right skills, experience and contacts will have a greater chance of success. 

We know the VC view of management teams:

"Quite simply, management is, by far and away, the most important factor that smart investors take into consideration. VCs invest in a management team and its ability to execute on the business plan, first and foremost." (Source: Investopedia

"I look for great teams, because they can create outstanding returns as well as save your bacon in tough situations." (Source: Bloomberg)

As management teams, we also know the importance of hiring quality people for outsized performance. However, we often neglect how we can improve our chances of finding and attracting the very best. Finding the right people is important. People are the single largest cost - for most companies, they usually account for around two thirds of all costs. If there is only one process you do well in a company, it should be the recruitment process.When the words "recruitment" and "process" are put together it often creates bad memories of FTSE 100 company experiences, less good headhunters and Ricky Gervais at the Wernham Hogg Paper Company in Slough. 

Below are the benefits of using a method pulled together from the best experiences I have come across:

  • Lightweight: once running, it takes less than one minute per candidate – so no excuses for not using it. 
  • Find the best: ask the right questions to test skills, and don't have multiple interviewers asking the same questions again and again.
  • Candidate experience: give candidates a great experience so they arrive well informed and excited to join your company.
  • Scalable: works when you are one person and when you are a hundred thousand.
  • Cultural fit: if you actively test only for skills and experience, you will run into problems with cultural values and behaviour fit.
  • Fast and low cost: reduce cycle time and the cost from receiving a CV to closing an offer.

Simplicity is the key.  It is not rocket science. For start-up recruitment, use a quick, two-round process, and be professional.

1. Budget

Have a rough plan of who you want to hire when. If there are more than a handful of people in your organization give the roles a draft title and guideline salary.

2. Role description

Don't do the standard skills and experience list. Be smart, insightful and different to get the best:

  • Focus the company description on the purpose of the company and the culture. Prioritise the top one or two cultural archetypes - for example, achievement (about targets, bottom line, stock price), customer-centric, one-team, innovation, people first, greater good.
  • Focus the role and candidate description on the objectives/ outputs needed. Think how you would write the best objectives and key results (OKRs) for the role and then use them. The skills and experience list can now be used to support the OKRs by describing what you think would be the best mix to be successful in the role, and why.

3. Candidate search

Use recruitment firms, with their extensive candidate networks and reach, to generate a strong longlist of potential interviewees. You can also leverage your and colleagues' network and relevant websites.  

4. First round: initial check on skills, experience and cultural fit

  • Phone or video for around half an hour, carried out by person doing the role now, or a similar role (not the hiring manager - empower your team).
  • Interview to find and understand strengths - don't focus on trying to find a list of weaknesses.
  • End call by letting candidate know if you are going to progress them. If you are not going to progress, explain why and if they should consider reapplying in the future.
  • Fill out interview sheet (see an example one at the end).

5. Second round

Three face-to-face interviews all done on one day (you can have more people interview a candidate but it rarely adds to the quality of the decision being made). If you are hiring a lot, I would recommend blocking out all late Friday afternoons in interviewer diaries, so someone doesn't waste hours trying to align meetings.

Interviewers: peer, hiring manager, and hiring manager's manager. All interviews don't have to be 45-60 minutes. Peer might be longer and include a test, hiring manager's manager might only be 30 minutes. 

  • Beyond easy skills/ experience checking, the key issue of the face-to-face interviews is to determine values/ behaviours and fit with company aspirations and culture. You get this wrong and your company becomes like any other (note: have you ever tried firing someone for a values/ behaviours mismatch rather than skill issues, or tried to change someone’s values/ behaviours? It's not fun for anyone).
  • Each interviewer fills out an interview sheet (I usually only spend 30 seconds doing it) and then hand on all interview sheets to the next interviewer. As an interviewer, it is your choice on what sections of the previous interviewers sheets you read.

6. Offer and contract

  • Call candidate within 24-48 hours to make verbal offer and sell opportunity, or let them know you are rejecting them.
  • Agree terms, get proof of "right to work" and sign contract (if you want more insight, use tools such as CV Insight to cross check candidates – but be up front with candidates and get them to ok).

7. Onboarding

Keep in touch with candidate after contract signing and make sure their first few months are good ones.interview-sheet.jpg

Feedback loops and scaling

Here are some measures you could use, to see how the process is doing:

  • Process efficiency: time from budget approval to candidate arrival date.
  • Candidate efficiency: time from CV arrival to candidate signing contract.
  • Candidate experience: one to five star feedback on whether candidates thought process was a good one (and collect ideas to make it better).
  • Candidate quality/ effectiveness: did you hire the best? Do you have hiring managers that hire better people than others? Voluntary and involuntary churn, etc.

An original version of this post first appeared on LinkedIn

Creating adaptable businesses

Topics: consulting/recruitment new world, Change

Andrew Cunningham

Written by Andrew Cunningham