Sunday, November 4, 2012

Grow Your Company Rather than Build It

In science, the verb culture is used informally to refer to "selectively growing" and the noun culture is the result of that cultivation"

Simply put, the culture of companies is comprised of individuals that share some common traits, goals and backgrounds. They have been attracted to their companies because of these commonalities and will be inclined to move to the next company that offers them a similarly compatible environment.

I have been a recruiter at startup companies for many years. I've seen or heard most of it, but I like to learn and I like to think about how to improve the process. One day, I was doing some competitive analysis on my industry and I plugged 'recruit' into a search engine. For the most part I got the typical job boards and career sites, but one of the entries was related to microbiology. From that point I found that this domain uses the term recruit pertaining to cells trying to attract specific cells to perform a specific function. This was notable because at the time, I was also thinking how the process of companies and groups spawning other companies, growing, coming together, splitting, and recombining can be described using genetic language.

As all that was mixing around in the back of my mind, I read an article that talked about changing how we should view the world. In the industrial age our taxonomy was based upon a mechanistic model. Now, in the information age, we should follow a biological model. At that point, I knew why this was making sense and I began to formulate a biological analogy to describe how companies form and grow.

First, let me say that I have a very low tolerance for B^ll $h*t so even attempting to write this has me questioning my own convictions. However, this is not a scientific endeavor and as long as it makes a good read and provokes some thought, I will be happy.

Biological Recruiting Model

The heuristic for our analysis will be to describe a company's growth as a biological phenomenon. Then, by using terms from the fields of microbiology and genetics, explain the process and variables effecting how companies acquire that ever so elusive resource badly named "human capital". Once we have described how these terms relate to building companies, we can apply that understanding to improve the success rate of attracting, hiring and retaining employees.

Companies exhibit growth like organisms do. Organizations incorporate individuals into powerful forces with a common goal just as small polyps measured in centimeters, form some of the largest structures known on earth, the coral reefs. Every day, VC's "breed" companies by adding a key individual to a team or combining two startup groups pursuing similar markets to become one entity.
Please note that this model will apply equally well to startup or established companies.

Company Genealogy

I found it very interesting the there is a term from genetics," the founder effect"[1], which describes a small group breaking off from the larger population to form a smaller group. One of the exercises I have always thought would be useful is to create a map or family tree of startup companies. Although this is a huge undertaking, I would love to help any academic institutions up to the challenge. Once created, it would be evident that certain companies are at the root and that the branches and leaves contain some elements of the root companies.

If you view the core team as a company's DNA you can then observe specific traits and characteristics exhibited by the organization. One company's engineering team profile might look something like this; micro biology degrees from Harvard, worked at the Whitehead Institute then Genzyme, enjoy bicycle racing. Another's might be; into sci-fi erotica, involved in the free software movement, look like Richard Stallman, like the band Boiled in Lead, practice martial arts and have a disdain for corporate environments. The point being, individual companies have distinct characteristics determined by the core team that describes their make up. Furthermore, you can observe that over time, successive generations of companies inherit traits from the recombination of founders and employee groups. As a result, probabilities for successful hires as well as the potential success of the company can be determined based upon the makeup of the organization. I use this process daily to help me determine candidates for the searches I conduct. 

Three Components of Successful Recruiting

The process of recruiting can be explained using terms from genetics as well. First of all, just as DNA has an intermediary (RNA) to the outside world, a company has a recruiter. The function of RNA is to protect the DNA from the outside, transfer messages and deliver those messages to the appropriate targets. In microbiology, cells recruit other cells using promoters, attractors and receptors [2]. Combining all these terms and concepts, we can fairly accurately describe the variables required for a successful recruitment effort.

Receptive Talent Pool

By determining the "genotype" of your company based upon common experience and cultural affinity you can define your archetype candidate and put together a message that will be attractive to them. Research utilizing the knowledge that companies form and grow in an evolutionary manner, will help you to determine the target companies that will produce the highest probability for a successful hire. Combine this with knowledge of stock option prices, lock up periods, merger and acquisition phases and the like, one can generally predict who may be susceptible to recruitment and from where the next start up might emerge.

Attractive Company Brand

At the most basic level, recruiting is a marketing function. The first branding exercise for a startup is putting together the message that will be used to create a buzz in the marketplace and entice potential employees to investigate the opportunity. 

The attractors in this case will consist of the investor information, background on the founders and a description of the mission or target market. Over time the company culture will have emerged and will begin to pull those with similar values toward it. Once the message has been crafted, campaigns can be mounted to target the audience most receptive to the pull of the team and culture. 

Promoters For Your Company

Company employees, marketers, customers and agents spread the word out about your company and job opportunities. The obvious first promotion step is to have your employees contact their personal networks and then to mine them for referrals. In my experience, the best companies hire the bulk of their team through internal referrals. Ideally, once a company has an employee from a competitor or recruiting target, a steady stream of candidates will be available from that company. Some interesting points I should make are that a company that is comprised of a core team from only one company, will have a harder time recruiting than one where the founders come from two or three different companies. Having a larger pool to fish from will prevent them from hitting the wall as their personal networks exhaust themselves. Also, companies that hire everyone that has the same background tend towards a sort of "inbred" situation that amplifies the negative traits of the group and becomes less attractive to the candidate pool.

Beyond employee referrals, well targeted employment branding campaigns, company profile pages, compelling job descriptions, customer evangelists, community initiatives and yes, recruiters raise awareness and create interest in your company.

 People Not Capital

There are no pieces to assemble or build our company with, only talented people. By looking at recruiting through a biological lens, we can mimic the processes used in nature and described by science to help guide our effort to find and stimulate the allure of our companies to prospective employees. Understanding that a company is a “living” organism made up of people, not capital assets is the first step to succeed in the struggle to grow companies. 

This is a rewrite of a post from several year ago. › Home › Evolution 101
An example of a bottleneck: Northern elephant ... A founder effect occurs when a new colony is started by a few members of the original population. This small ...
Sep 16, 2011 – One project addresses the issue of cells as 'dynamic attractors... The minimal requirement for this switch are two viral promoters, the virus ... away tyrosine kinases Syk and Lyn from B-cell receptor (BCR) in B cells, and Zap70 ...

Friday, November 2, 2012

Get 10 times the Applications with the Right Job Description

Current wisdom recommends telling a story when you are pitching your startup.

The Best Technical Story Teller of them All: Steve Jobs

The same can be said for successful engineering job postings. Having observed the results of hundreds of descriptions in at least ten channels, the clearly most successful was very descriptive, conversational and story-like. 

A story has a beginning, middle and end. The beginning of a story needs to hook the reader in the first few paragraphs and get them interested in your company and position. The beginning of a job post is the title.

The Title is crucial to standing out. There are 5,778 "software engineer" jobs in Boston listed on indeed today.  Most of those roles are simply described as "software engineer". Some include a buzzword such as PHP etc..  Compare that to the aforementioned job title that performed the best in my experience  "Progressive Non-Dogmatic Software Engineer"It is evident which title will attract more attention and provoke further exploration.

The main copy of your job posting should create an authentic picture of your company and culture. Rather than dryly list a buzzword laden description in bullet form, try a more conversational style. It helps to explain the big picture problem you are solving as well as some detail about the work. 

Check out this example from Square in SF to get the idea: We use HTML5, CSS, Ruby and Java to craft the most delightful web experiences possible. We track engagement, design every last detail, and build with bleeding-edge technology daily. Our innovative interfaces give sellers greater insight into their business and help buyers connect with the things they love.   

The end should wrap up with a blurb about your culture or work environment. If you have an engineering blog, include a link to it. And lastly don't forget to add a call to action to apply.

What do you think? Do you have examples of job postings that have performed well and do you agree with this article.  I would love to hear about your experience in the comments.

photo credit: by Ianus Keller

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Are You Flushing Candidates Down the Drain?

However you want to categorize it, talent war, candidate shortage, etc...  it is a very tight recruiting market for software and web companies these days.

It takes an immense amount of time and effort to convert a prospect into an active candidate. All the work creating an employment brand, identifying and engaging your talent pool has paid off and you are beginning to get your message in front of the right candidates.

While at this point there is no silver bullet or proprietary secret to success, now more than ever, the hiring team needs to execute flawlessly. One miss-step in the process and your prospect will move on to the next viable option. And there are always other options.

Let's examine the crucial points along the way from initial contact, as your prospect progresses through your funnel where process execution can determine success.

First and Foremost Present a Consistent and Complete Company Profile on Recruiting Platforms

At minimum make sure your LinkedIn and Indeed company pages are complete and present a professional first impression to job seekers. These days if you don't have a LinkedIn profile, your company will not be perceived as a viable.

Loading the Top of the Funnel

Getting candidates into the funnel is the first order task of recruiting and requires as separate post to cover fully. But make no mistake, it is a numbers game and requires constant attention and effort to keep the funnel primed.

Don't Underestimate the Power of a Phone Call

How many times have you heard "cold calling is dead"? Yes we have the tools today that help us identify and contact our prospects via email and inbound marketing techniques and you should always start there. The fact is that a skilled recruiting call will convert at a much higher rate. Once you have made initial contact via email, twitter IM or any other e-contact method, a follow up call may provide an edge that other companies have abandoned. If you need an example that the phone is a powerful lead conversion tool, look no further than the creators of Inbound Marketing and you will find they have a large, aggressive and skilled telesales organization.

Boring Job Descriptions Don't Convert

Sometimes a job posting is the initial experience someone has with a company. A boring job spec is the first warning of the boring company behind it. Take some time and create a job description that portrays some character of your company as well as what qualities and experience you are seeking.

It is even arguable if a job description is the right approach, maybe it should be an employment branding ad specific to the talent function, such as marketing, engineering or sales.

Bottom line, don't sell short the power of your copy here and consider a branded career ad that might attract a wider spectrum of candidates rather than a generic buzz word compliant job description.

Each Additional Step in the Job Application Process Loses Candidates

It is well known that the more steps in a web sign up funnel, the less prospects will convert. The same is true when prospective candidates apply for jobs. The last thing a great engineer wants to do is fill out a multi-page form asking for the same info on the resume or worse, extensive personal information.  Keep the application process simple, ideally just a click to apply button.

Handling the Volume of Inbound Candidate Channels

Screening mediocre resumes is wasted time and effort. For roles with a higher volume of inbound applications, make sure to have some call to action that will eliminate mass submissions. Requesting a personal note from a candidate describing why they are a fit for your company or some sort of  puzzle will eliminate the unqualified or mass appliers.

Managing the Channel Metrics for success rates, is an important factor in improving results and making adjustments to maximize hiring production.  Older "bean counter" metrics of cost per hire, time to fill are giving way to more well reasoned and holistic business performance based metrics like QOH.

Referrals Should be Maximized

25-30% of hires made through referrals is a healthy rate for a company to maintain.

This is fodder for much discussion which we won't cover here. But it is clear that referrals are the best channel a company can take advantage of due to the low cost, and referential nature of the hires. However the referral value diminishes when it is not a direct reference or done only for the bonus dollars.

Treat all referrals with expedient care. Keep in mind that a referral rate lower than average may indicate low employee satisfaction, which needs to be addressed immediately.

Candidate Experience: All You Need is Love

Kayak CTO Paul English wrote a definitive post in 2002 entitled Hiring Religion that will tell you all you need to know about fostering a great candidate experience.

His lines "Show this candidate that you came into work today to meet with them, that they are the most important person on your list"  and "be energized and nice to all candidates, it very well could mean the difference in winning over that superstar candidate", and also having a goal that ALL candidates always speak highly of their experience with your team, sum it up very nicely.

The more personal contact your team has with prospective hires, the higher the probability of them joining your company. No matter if they ultimately come to work at your company or not, your goal is to have every candidate that comes in contact with your company, remember a great experience.

Efficient and Decisive Interview Process

The bottom of the Recruiting Funnel is where mistakes are most costly. Offer Rejections are damaging setbacks. Lost employee time meeting the candidate, recruiter expense, and even management time if they are called into the process at the later stage, all add up to tens of thousands of dollars spent with nothing to show for the expense of a kicked offer.

Sometimes when everyone is very busy getting things done, getting interview feedback gets lost in the  pile. Make sure to have a process in place where all outstanding candidates in the funnel are discussed and decisions made, ideally on the same day as the interview.  Then quickly communicate the interview results to the candidate.

Timely answers and rapid decisions have turned many candidates around when competitive companies were slow to respond and seemed indecisive.

Improve Offer Acceptance Percentage

First thing to note is that getting to the passive candidates not yet seeking a new opportunity yields higher close rates.

At this point in the funnel, it is all about relationship and communication. The goal is to have an open line of communication and no surprises. Ideally, you will know the competition, the decision criteria, how the family views the move and any issues that might prevent the candidate from accepting the offer. Your prospect should know what your offer process is and have spoken with you about their salary requirements for an acceptable offer.

If you are getting surprise rejections and hearing excuses, it might be a good idea to do a 5 whys analysis to discover where your process has failed. Not really, but you get the idea, figure out where the communications were unsuccessful.

"Failure to Communicate" as your potential new employee moves through your hiring flow, is a fault when too much time between contact or lack of feedback turns the candidates experience negative. Maintaining momentum after the offer is also crucial, so get them involved and keep in touch until they start.

Interviewing gaffes, on-boarding mishaps and late or no show interviewers is an indication of lack of attention to detail and a low degree of care given to hiring. Or it could be a sign that you are hiring like crazy and in-frequently mess up. Either way too many mistakes can be a problem.

Exploding offers are a great way to set your company apart with a negative reputation. If you want to look desperate and cast doubt on how you treat employees, go for it.   Not recommended.

Execution is a Fundamental part of Winning the Talent War.

A startup truism is execution determines the winners. The same can be said for a successful recruiting effort. Companies can win or lose talent based upon their ability to effectively execute the candidate experience efficiently, decisively and with a personal touch.