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Recruiting by Ryan Breslow

An extremely practical guide on how early stage companies can recruit fantastic talent.

Sean Johnson
Sean Johnson
4 min read

Cast a Compelling Vision

Vision is the most important thing in recriuting. Must compel people to go on the journey with you. There's a great example from Ernest Shackelton on how to do this:

"Men wanted for hazardous journey, small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful, honor and recognition in case of success."

The ad attracted thousands of applicants.

A compelling vision has a couple components:

  • It's a representation of who you are.
  • It exudes positivity.
  • It is authentic - even if that means turning some people off.
  • Culture is critical. Bolt published their culture manual to demonstrate how their culture operates, and allocates 10-15% of their headcount to talent and people ops.
  • The product is the manifestation of the vision. If you product is awesome, show it off. Make demos part of the hiring process.

Finding Talent

A players will bring in more A players. It's essential you say no more than you say yes, even if you're understaffed temporarily.

Cold outreach is a reliable, if time consuming, channel. A cold outreach from the CEO can be meaningful.

  • Keep it short.
  • Make it personal - show you did your homework.
  • Make the call to action easy - 10 minuite call, with suggested time. Can include Calendly link if time doesn't work.
  • Your website should be compelling and intriguing. Make them want to learn more.
  • Send Tuesday-Thusday after hours.
  • Even if they say no, ask for the 10 minute call to get to know them. Can lead to other candidates, and they might be interested later.
  • Might need to follow up several times before they reply.

As soon as your company can afford it, recommends hiring an in-house recruiter. Recommends as soon as 12-15 people. Would imagine you should feel like you've achieved P-M fit and plan to scale aggressively.

Internal recruiting can be great. Smart people know smart people. Incentives can work, but want to be careful there. Incentivizing with stock might be better than cash. Talk about it in town halls, celebrate who did the most interviews, announce all new hires at team all hands, etc.

Hosting events can work. Jam sessions, game nights, etc. Founders getting good at and leaning into social (Twitter, LI) can be a great source of talent. Have to do it well though - add value, don't just shill your careers page. Career fairs are good for junior talent.

Hiring for Values

Recruiting is culture building. Want to make sure you're doing it deliberately.  

Create interview guides with scoring for values alignment. In Bolt's case they look at passion, ownership, scrappiness, collaboration, empathy, coachability.

Ask questions to get at what drives them.

  • What motivates you?
  • How will this role challenge you?
  • Which value of ours do you most identify with? Least?
  • What's a past project you're proud of. Why?

Don't just look for homogeny though - look for people who fit into your culture but also add to your culture.

Every hire must have a strong "yes" champion on the team. Otherwise it's a no.

Hiring Process

Start with an intro meeting. 75% selling, 25% interviewing. In person ideally, video if you have to. Goal is to learn what's important to them, what's motivating a job change, what they want out of the next role, etc. 30-40% shouldn't make it past this point. If they move on, follow up timely. Keep momentum going.

Follow with a deep dive interview. 50% selling, 50% interview. Tell candiates to come prepared with a bunch of questions. Do the same.

If they make it past this step, then do a full on-site. 3-5 full length interviews. Make sure the questions are coordinated - not same stuff over and over. Go over who does what. If you can, give them a parting gift. Company t shirt, etc.

Debrief after the interview, within 24 hours. Give each person 2 minutes to give feedback. Follow with 90 seconds to make their case - hire or not to hire.

Don't skip reference checks. Hugely important. Ask for 3 referecnes. Someone they reported to, a peer, and someone they managed. Good questions:

  • What was your relationship with the candidate?
  • What's it like to work with them?
  • How many people with this role have you worked with who have comparable experience? How would you rank them relative to those people?
  • What makes them top 10 percent of people you've seein this role?
  • If I were reading peer reviews, what's an area of improvement I might uncover?
  • How well did they get along with coworkers? With management?
  • How coachable are they? Why?
  • How would you set them up for success during the first 90 days of this role?
  • What's something you've not told me that you think I should know?

If you have to reject someone, reach out to them and let them know why. Don't do it on Fridays and ruin their weekend.

Making the Offer

If you have equity, walk them through the basics. Include strike price, dollar value according to investors, restricted vs options, etc. Also include a table of exit possibilities and expected value.

Consider closing dinners, with significant others. Consider welcome boxes. Consider a team congratulatory note. Or have everyone who interviewed them congratulate them.

A great technique is the "big email". Write a long email explaining the entire position of why they should join the company. Use their words back to them about why it's a great opportunity. Make it highly personalized based on your actual conversations.

Spend time on crafting an amazing offer letter. Include an intro of why you're so excited, offer mechanics, explain the compensation philosophy, equity philosophy, etc.

Write personalized notes to the candidates references to thank them and let them know they joined the company. Do celebratory drinks and/or dinner. Consider having investors sending congratulatory notes for senior level hires.

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