Recruiting tips for startups (or any company, for that matter)

I mentioned to a friend recently that Hunch had just completed a very successful round of recruitment for summer interns, having attracted the most qualified candidates we had ever had.

Coincidentally, my friend had also recently heard from a client (CEO of a successful and growing software company) about what a hard time the client was having with recruiting in general.  So he asked me to take a few minutes to speak with the client to review her website and suggest some concrete recruiting tips.

These may seem really obvious to urban-based startups with a social media presence, but they were an eye-opener for this particular firm.  Among my tips to her:

  • Recruiting shouldn’t be thought of as a single-shot approach for individual candidates, but rather as a brand-building exercise 365 days/year to accurately portray your company as a fun, energetic, plugged-in, rewarding, and challenging place to be.  Some of the ways we do that at Hunch:
  1. We keep a Facebook page and highlight pictures of our loft office. We have an active blog, a Formspring presence, we showcase videos of the fun that our team has and we provide testimonials from past interns.
  2. We actively use Twitter to reach out to our users and position our company as fun, edgy, and tackling challenging problems.
  3. We always have a few extra desks, and we let entrepreneurs/friends use them while they’re getting started.  This increases the energy in the office with fresh faces, gives us smart people to exchange ideas with, and it gets people buzzing about our company.
  4. We host MeetUp events at our office in the evenings to talk about geeky startup stuff, which attracts lots of interesting people, teaches us a lot, and at the same time gets the word out about us.
  5. We host occasional Friday lunches for students (in fact, 10 Penn students came in today) where we talk about what it’s like to be in a startup and have informal networking with our employees.
  6. We go to tech hack-a-thons to create cool new mash-ups and network with other hackers.
  7. It’s not just about online recruiting. One Friday afternoon we sent several current interns to canvas some downtown Manhattan colleges and put up “old school” (paper) recruitment flyers in dorms and on common area bulletin boards. It worked: we received several strong applications and found a great new intern that way.
  8. We find out who the student leaders are of college tech clubs, interact with them, and sponsor their events. They are motivated, incredibly helpful, and provide a direct link to talent without the filter of a campus career center.
  • Although the client identified recruiting as her key short-term challenge, her website didn’t have a ‘careers’ link on her homepage, but rather buried in a ‘company’ sub-page. Easy fix.
  • This client’s careers page had a very general statement saying “We’re always looking for people in the following disciplines…please send us your resume if you’re interested.”  This type of open-ended, wishy-washy statement is a turn-off to recruits. Is a particular position even open?  Is it worth a recruit’s time to research the company and craft a careful application? Any open position deserves an individually-crafted, stand-alone page which describes the position and its requirements in an interesting way.
  • New recruits (particularly fresh out of college, starting their career), want to get a sense of the personality of the company and the people they will work with. But this person’s website only listed long, academic-like bios for two senior “management team” execs.  This might be reassuring for customers, but it doesn’t help with recruiting. Consider a simple team page which shows the breadth of experience and the general smarts of your team.
  • We don’t have the administrative bandwidth to acknowledge and respond to every candidate submission.  But the second we interact with someone via a returned email, we designate that candidate as ‘active’ on an internal tracking document. We then track the number of days since their initial resume submission and since our last interaction with them. They don’t become ‘inactive’ until they either receive an offer or we promptly let them know that unfortunately we need to stop the process.  We never leave people indefinitely hanging after engaging with them. This is common courtesy but too often not followed.
  • We don’t believe in free labor, although many candidates offer it.  Questionable legality aside, our philosophy is that quality candidates are expected to contribute in a meaningful way.  In return, we invest time and training, and we believe they deserve to be paid a competitive wage for their contributions.

Recruiting should be a continuous and long-term priority, but done correctly it should also be one of the highest return investments you make.

15 responses to “Recruiting tips for startups (or any company, for that matter)

  1. Solid advice overall — passion and caring about the recruitment process goes a long way.

    Commenting though to commend you on your last bullet. Too many people/companies try to get one over on over-willing candidates and refuse to pay them for internship work. If you value their work and want them doing things that contribute to your business, interns should be paid. Bravo.

  2. Very impressive suggestions. I’m particularly pleased to see your suggested policy regarding follow up. Rare but critical in my opinion. If you think about it a candidate is a potential future customer or business partner and recruiting is a sales process. Any salesman who routinely failed to communicate with a “sales lead” would soon be out of work himself. Great post.

  3. @michael: Thx. We pay interns because we think it’s the right thing to do. But the truth is that with rare exceptions it’s also the law. A close friend who’s an employment lawyer tells me that unless there’s college credit being given and the intern isn’t doing work that another paid employee would otherwise do (and what would be the point of that?), they need to be paid at least minimum wage (although we pay them much more than that).

    *StwveD: My strong feelings about follow up stem partly from personal experience. In particular, I recall a round of interviews in 2000 with HotJobs. I think I had 5 rounds with 15+ people –luckily, I lived around the corner — including with the CEO and much of the management team. I think they just couldn’t figure out where to place me. In any case, after all that time they never closed the loop with me. I think that reflects very poorly on an organization. And it’s not too much of a stretch to infer how a company will treat its employees, by observing how it treats candidates throughout the interview process.

  4. I have noticed more and more companies soliciting free labor under the guise of a questionable internship programs is there some where to report this? It’s just frustrating to find stuff like this all the time.

  5. mmmm….very interesting….not the experience I had with you guys AT ALL. I got ignored from multiple emails that I sent, and even when someone did get back to me, it was a very laconic email BSing me about “let us think about it” with no follow up email, leaving me “hanging” – exactly the opposite as what is described here. I was very disappointed. Not sure I would want to work in such a place.

  6. Great advice! I had actually got to look at this with a different point of view. As a student looking for my first job, I would say you are absolutely spot on with what potential candidates want to see in a company’s career page. Especially, if your company is trying to recruit young talent, the use of social media and creating a company personality is a must!

  7. @Tom: sorry to hear that; it shouldn’t have happened that way. No system is infallible, but we do our best to adhere to the principles I outlined above.

  8. Pingback: Colorado Startups – The Talent Dilemma | Mile High Tech Jobs

  9. @Frank: I think it would be a low priority for them given all their other macro economic concerns, but the state Department of Labor would probably be the one to contact regarding sketchy free labor solicitation.

  10. Pingback: Colorado Startups – The Talent Dilemma « get after it

  11. Great points all around.

    Our business is helping younger professionals create compelling online profiles and all of them are seeking companies that practice the things that you practice. Unfortunately, not all companies do the right thing…soon we’ll be featuring the ones that do though…I’d love to stay in touch.


  12. There’s an informative article today in the NYT about the questionable legality of unpaid internships:

  13. Pingback: The Other Side of the Coin | Tips & Tricks for Recruiters

  14. That’s a great article. I’ve seen some of the things you mentioned in companies i’ve worked for in the past but one of the main things is that some people are very precious about their working space. No outsiders! Which, as you’ve mentioned is counterproductive to getting the best people or building a culture where you’re on the top of someones list to work for, no just ‘another job’. Going it alone for the past year and trying to build has made me thing exactly not what to do when I finally get round to recruiting. Excellent!

  15. Great post with some great tips.Can see your company brand eaking out of everything you do. Exactly what candidates want to see. Congrats.

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