Sure, we're all supposed to hire slow and fire fast. But hiring can become a real time suck. Here's how to cut out the waste.
Hiring a great team makes the difference between winning and losing, right? If only it were that easy. Seth Bannon, founder of the social fundraising platform Amicus, recently learned just how difficult it can be to recruit top-tier talent. He’s had candidates go to Google instead of his firm, launch their own start-ups, or turn out to have a bad reference.
Not surprisingly, he’s learned a few lessons along the way:
Recruiting isn’t something you do when you have a position to fill; it’s a never-ending process
With talented developers and designers in high demand, Bannon believes that you have to bake recruiting into the company culture or risk missing out on the best candidates. Every time Bannon meets someone, he says, “There's a part of my brain that's quietly asking: What could that person contribute to Amicus? Would they be a good cultural fit?”
Bannon trains his team to think in similar terms. “Every time one of my developers mentions that they've met another developer, I ask them, ‘Do you think we should hire this person?’ in order to remind them how critical recruiting is to our business,” says Bannon. As a result, Amicus’s pipeline is always full of potential candidates. When it’s time to ramp up, there’s no delay.
Avoid in-person meetings
In-person meetings frequently run long and can quickly destroy your productivity. Bannon credits the book Who: The A Method For Hiring, by Geoff Smart and Randy Sweet, with teaching him to implement a formal interview process that efficiently eliminates low-probability candidates.
Step One: An initial call, lasting five minutes. The goal of this call is to establish whether a candidate’s career goals align with those of the role for which Bannon is hiring.
Step Two: If the candidate passes the first screen, Bannon schedules a 20-minute call to evaluate the candidate’s experience and skill set.
Step Three: Only after clearing these hurdles does Bannon invite a candidate to an in-person meeting, in order to evaluate cultural fit. As a result, Bannon can invest his time persuading the strongest candidates to join the team rather than vetting weaker candidates.
Listen to your gut
Bannon cautions, “If your gut says hire, completely ignore it. It's meaningless. If your gut says something's not right, listen to that instinct intently and dig in deeper.”
Early on, Bannon found it difficult to remain objective while evaluating candidates that seemed to be a strong fit culturally. In one instance, he was interviewing someone for his new head of business development. On paper, the candidate had impressive credentials, a passion for the not-for-profit space, and seemed like an ideal cultural fit. Bannon was ready to make an offer. However, one thing bothered Bannon. When asked which accomplishment he was most proud of, the candidate described a highly analytical presentation prepared for a former employer. Coming from a biz dev candidate, that seemed strange. As Bannon dug deeper, it became clear that the candidate’s ultimate career goal was to run strategy, not business development. If Bannon had allowed his early enthusiasm to sway his decision, the outcome could have been disastrous for business development.
Be strange. Just a little
Given the competition for top-tier talent, Bannon uses creative approaches to grab a candidate’s attention. Silly gimmicks can be a disarming way to convey company culture and values. During a brainstorming session, Bannon asked his team to describe their dream candidate. They wanted someone who “was exceptionally brilliant, had a great sense of humor, is entrepreneurial to the core, and cares about philanthropy.” Bannon realized that was Tony Stark, a.k.a. Iron Man. Amicus now gives every new hire a limited-edition Iron Man mask as “a fun way to highlight that we are not afraid to laugh at ourselves, while [also] reinforcing our company’s values.”
SCHUYLER BROWN is the host of Founders@Fail. He currently works at High Peaks Venture Partners, where he sources and evaluates potential investments. Brown holds a B.A. from Columbia University and an M.B.A. from Columbia Business School.