Earlier this year, I was interviewed by the incredible Adelina Chalmers (a.k.a. The Geek Whisperer) and James Parton (of The Bradfield Centre in Cambridge) for their podcast, Scaling, Failing & Prevailing.
Each episode, they aim to “help start-ups and corporates learn from each other, through great conversations.”
In Episode 6, we looked at ‘Rebooting Your Recruitment’ – a key topic within start-ups who tend to scale up fast to meet demand, and often end up hiring the wrong people. So many insights and examples were shared, I thought I should share some of our key learnings and tips here… here goes!
How to Scale (not Fail) and Prevail in Start-Up Recruitment:
Don’t Start-Up too fast!
The nature of a start-up is that it’s fast moving, fast learning and fast growing. Recruiting in line with demand is hard, and often ends up putting pressure on people who aren’t massively experienced in recruiting. Often we see people hiring friends or people that they naturally click with, rather than those who will be best at the job. As Adelina pointed out, we’re biologically wired to hire people like ourselves. Our limbic system focuses on tribes and emotions, so in a start up situation you’ll hire people that make you feel safe. But sadly, successful teams are not made up of a bunch of mates! A successful team is well-rounded, with different skill sets and personalities. Hire carefully, it’s an investment into your future and will save time and money down the line.
How fast is too fast when it comes to start-up recruitment?
There is no ‘optimal recruitment process length’. But shortening the process in order to speed up hiring, certainly won’t be successful. Candidates want to get to know you as much as you want to get to know them. The optimal length will depend entirely on the role you’re hiring for! Don’t rush the hiring process. Letting a candidate observe or be part of the organisation for a few hours is invaluable, and taking the time to do this within your recruitment process will ultimately save time hiring the wrong candidates…
Get to know yourself, before getting to know your candidates.
When you’re running a business, people don’t stop and think enough about number one. Ask yourself: “how do I tick, what motivates me, what are my triggers, strengths and weaknesses?” My first step is to raise hiring managers’ self-awareness, so that they can clearly see who they need to hire. Start-ups move at 100 miles an hour, and the most difficult thing is to put the brakes on and take a step inwards! An investment in time is required to make sure that recruitment runs smoothly.
Start your search with a powerful job description.
Without a strong job description, you won’t reach the right candidates. Don’t focus on skills, experience and education, as these are often blockers that will stop you from finding the right people for the job. Plus, you’ll pit yourself against the tech giants – and start-ups can’t compete against those! Think differently instead so that you can reach the talent that the big tech companies aren’t finding. I’m not encouraging you to drop your quality bar; I’m just suggesting you approach recruiting differently! Speak in simple English and use headings that reflect who you are and will grab people’s attention. Instead of ‘job overview’, why not ‘who we are and why we need you!’ An effective job description is focused on the role itself, and gives candidates an idea of a typical day in the company. It’s not about ‘what you have to have’ as a candidate, it’s about what you can expect. Avoid using empty adjectives that mean nothing especially “highly motivated and fast moving” – rather describe your environment or the behaviours you want in a potential hire.
Appeal to a diverse talent pool.
I would highly recommend using Textio. Upload your draft job advert, and Textio will give you a score based on how many men or women might apply for your role. It will also give you tips to change the job description so that it appeals to both genders.
Never interview (or hire) alone.
Once you’ve found your candidates and invited them for interview, it’s time to call in back up. Always have at least one or two other people in the room when you come to interview. Otherwise you’re at risk of automatically picking out people who are like you, and then falling into the confirmation bias trap (when you see something on paper that you like, such as a degree from Cambridge, and then look for things to confirm your assumptions that they will be a star candidate).
Use a scoring system when interviewing candidates.
Introducing a scoring system will help you to avoid bias and find the right candidate for the role. Ask questions such as ‘what’s your first impression of the candidate?’ and give them a score out of five. Then at the end of the interview, score them again. I’ve never come across any scores that have stayed the same! Compare these scores across the interview panel members to get a more rounded view of each candidate.
Ask your candidates: “What’s important to you at work or in your career?”
This question is key to keeping your employees engaged, motivated and challenged, as well as hiring the right candidates in the first place. This is also a great question to build rapport and understand their core values, as their answer will allow you to use their language back to them during performance reviews down the line…
Hire generalists, not specialists.
In the start-up environment, avoid bringing someone in that’s too pigeon holed or set in their ways. The pace is fast and your needs will be ever changing. A candidate who is stuck in their ways won’t be adaptable enough to muck in. Focus on hiring generalists rather than specialists. It’s not about having a PhD from a top university, it’s about being able to come up with solutions and turn their hand to everything. Some of the brightest people on the planet dropped out of University (or never even went!) and most don’t have PhDs… just look at Bill Gates, Richard Branson, Steve Jobs etc.!
Listen to what your candidates are really saying.
There are some fantastic tools to help you decipher a candidate’s interview answers, and be able to understand whether they will fit in with your organisation. I use a psycho-linguistic tool, the LAB profile. In the moment, by simply listening to their language patterns you can understand what motivates a candidate at work. Hence the question I always ask at interview – “what’s important and why?” You’ll be able to work out if they’re a natural problem solver (which is what a lot of start-ups need). If the candidate responds with “I don’t like it when the software isn’t working” this means they have an ‘away from’ leaning, so they’re likely to be fantastic problem solvers. If the language you’re hearing is more about goals and a ’towards’ leaning, then that candidate is solutions focused rather than problem focused.
Start-Ups by nature start-up fast. But so many find themselves in a tricky spot when they’ve grown fast, and picked up the wrong people along the way. Set yourself up for start-up and long-term success by focusing on your robust recruitment from day one.
If you’d like to listen to the whole of Episode 6 (or any of the other episodes), visit the Scaling, Failing & Prevailing website. A big thank you to Adelina and James for inviting me to feature in what’s becoming a truly insightful podcast series…