90% of my evaluation of any leader that works for me is the quality of people they can get to work for them. This could be wrong…. Maybe it should be 95%
— Todd McKinnon (@toddmckinnon) September 13, 2020
Recruiting is tough. I certainly don’t do it well enough. But to be a great CEO, you need to find a way to force yourself to be a great recruiter.
Let me share some learnings, and what I do now to force myself to be a better recruiter. And what I wish I’d done better as a SaaS CEO:
- Force yourself to interview 30 candidates for each VP position. Great things will happen if you do. First, you will budget a ton of time for recruiting. You’ll have to, to get through 30 interviews. Second, you’ll force yourself to spend more time tracking and managing candidates. And third, you’ll be less likely to settle. You can stop if the Perfect VP turns out to be Candidate 12. But plan on 30. Find a way.
- Hire external recruiters — and be very good to them. External recruiters are juggling multiple clients and multiple sources. And contingent recruiters only get paid if they place a client. So be cool to them. Be responsive. After each of those 30 interviews — email over a note on your feedback. Be timely. If you don’t respond to an email from a recruiter with a great candidate — she’ll start to give up on you. And don’t worry about the cost. Getting a great candidate is more than worth 10%, 15%, 20% of first year salary.
- Hire an internal recruiter, too, as early as you can. At least as early as you are hiring more than 1 new employee a month. It’s way too many meetings, way too many candidates, to have individual VPs and employees manage these processes themselves. And do NOT expect your internal recruiter to save you external recruiter fees. She may. But she may also bring in even more, better external recruiters. And she can manage AngelList, LinkedIn, and other platforms that are critical but produce a ton of noise. I wish I’d hired an internal recruiter even as early as employee #10, with hindsight.
- Find screening filters you can apply before the first Zoom / face-to-face. Programming tests if you want / believe in them for engineers. A written critique of your product for a product hire. Thoughts on what would work well in the sales process for a sales rep. Whatever. Something that ahead of time shows they have a brain, are engaged, and might want the job. A fun “test” that takes 5 minutes and doesn’t seem like a test. There’s a reason internal recruiters like tests. They know it saves them a ton of time in avoiding bad face-to-face first meetings.
- Assume your personal and extended network does NOT source the candidate. This is a rookie error we all make. We’d all love to hire from our “networks”, especially in the early days, when cash is king. And hunt candidates ourselves. But we all fatigue our networks — and quickly. Assume your network won’t be able to produce/source the candidate, and you won’t have an excuse. And you’ll get the hire done faster.
- Listen. Look for flags. Almost always, flags, issues you see during the recruiting process … become just Bigger Issues after you make the hire. Spend less time asking structured questions, and more time listening carefully to flags. No candidate is perfect. But the flaws you see in the interview process will be amplified 10x once the hire is full-time. Make sure you are comfortable with the trade-offs. Whatever you do, don’t gloss over flags.
- Don’t assume because you are so charismatic and your startup is so great you can close anyone. Bring in the cavalry. So many Driven CEOs assume they can close any candidate as long as they can get them in the door. It’s not that simple. Because there are 100 other Driven CEOs who also think just the same way. Get your co-founders, your investors, your public advocates, everyone you can involved in closing the best candidates. At least, as necessary. And do PR if for no other reason than to help with recruiters. There are so many 1000s of start-ups. Do that extra podcast, that extra event, that extra blog post, that extra press interview. They help with recruiting, even if they don’t help with anything else.
- Don’t get too excited about logos — and folks that work at your competitors. These can blind you to too many candidate weaknesses.
- Drop other stuff. Almost nothing really matters, once you have traction, other than building the team. Before too. But especially after. A great VP can cure almost all ills in her functional area. Stop trying to run sales yourself. Let the month and even the quarter go if you have to. Spend that time hiring the VP to own it, instead.
These are the 9 “tips and tricks” that help/helped me the most at least.
As you scale, as much as 50% of your time may end up be spent in recruiting.
It’s the job.
(note: an updated version of a classic SaaStr post)