Hiring is a process and should be treated as such. It is serious business.
The first step is building a hiring roadmap which should lay out the hiring plan over time by job type. This should be built into your operating plan and budget. You want to be very strategic about how you invest your scarce resources into hiring and think carefully about when you need to add resources.
Once you have done that, you want to have a system for opening up these positions for hire. This should not be done lightly because each position will require a fair bit of work by a bunch of people to hire for. Don’t open up your hiring process lightly.
The first step in opening up a position for hiring is to define the position you are looking for. Most companies call this a job specification (or spec). The spec should outline the role that is being filled and the characteristics of the person who will be successful in the job. Here is a job spec for a brand strategist job in Twitter’s office in NYC. If you click on that link, you will see that it starts with a high level description of the role within the context of the larger Twitter organization. Then it gets into what it will take to be successful in the role. Then it lays out specific responsibilities and finishes with the background and experience that Twitter is looking for in the candidate.
The manager who is directly responsible for the person being hired should draft the job spec and it should be signed off on by the CEO and whomever is in charge of HR (which could be the CEO in a small company). Once this job spec is published on your jobs page, this position is officially open for hire and the process begins.
Your company should have a jobs page. Even if you are a five person startup, you should have one. It should articulate what it is like to work at your company and list any open jobs. It should be linked to at the bottom of your webpage, right next to the link to your about page. This is important. Don’t put it off. Here is Etsy’s “careers page”. It’s a good example of what you want to do on your jobs page.
There are web-based solutions to get your open positions onto your jobs page, track the candidates through the hiring process, and provide workflow for your hiring team. In the industry vernacular, these systems are called Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS). Many of our portfolio companies use Jobvite, but there are plenty of other options out there as well. You do not need to build this stuff yourself.
Once the position is open, you want to crank up the sourcing process. We talked about where to find strong talent two weeks ago. Do not take the “put the job opening up and let the applicants come” approach. That will not get you the best people. You must go out and find the talent you want to hire. You can use your existing team, that is where the best leads always come from. You can use your network. You can use recruiters, both contingency and retained, and you can use services like LinkedIn and Indeed. You want to cast a wide net and work hard to source the best candidates you can. This is a time intensive process. Many companies will hire an in-house recruiter to help with this process, particularly when recruiting engineers, designers, and product talent. I’ve seen companies as small as ten employees bring on in-house recruiters. I am a big fan of making that investment because it pays dividends in terms of better talent.
Once the candidates start coming in, you will need to vet them to determine who gets an interview and who does not. Someone inside the company must lead this process. If there are HR resources, this vetting process starts with them. But the manager who is hiring for this position must be directly engaged in this vetting process. A HR professional can identify the candidates who don’t come close to meeting the requirements of the job and filter them out. But the hiring manager should go through the applications of everyone who is close to being a viable candidate. He or she knows best what the job entails and can make the kind of “gut calls” that often lead to the best candidates.
You will want to interview a decent number of folks for every position. There are no hard rules for this, but the more people you meet, the better job you will do with the hire. Of course you can’t meet everyone. Many companies like a 15 minute phone call (the phone screen) as the first filter into the interview process. A skype video call is also a good way to do this. At USV we have experimented with a video application (using a service called Take The Interview), with good results. The phone or video screen is an efficient way to identify the small group (a half dozen to a dozen) that you will want to do a face to face interview with.
Once you get to face to face interviews, you will want to figure out how to get as many folks in the company to meet the candidates as possible. Our portfolio company Return Path has each candidate meet with four to eight employees during their interview process. That is a lot but Return Path makes a huge investment in team, culture, and their employees and they feel it is worth it. It may be worth it for your company as well.
Many employees don’t know how to interview and you should teach them the basics as well as educate them on what you are looking to learn from their interview. Some training on interviewing as well as a quick feedback form for each employee to fill out will provide consistency and clarity from the employee interview process.
Most CEOs I know interview every hire their company makes until they get to be more than 100 employees (or more). Even if you have a head of HR and a top notch recruiting team, the responsibility for hiring is yours and yours only. A bad hire is your fault. A good hire is your success. So do not abdicate your responsibility to make the final call on each hire until your company is developed enough and strong enough to start making these hires themselves. This is how you build a great team, a great culture, and a great company.
Once the successful candidate is identified, you will want to do some checking on the person. I am a fan of making reference calls on everyone. They are not that hard to do and you will learn more from them than any other source of background checking. LinkedIn is particularly good for this. If you connect to the candidate on LinkedIn, you can quickly figure out who you know that knows them. Call those people and do your homework. It is also pretty wasy to do a simple background check for criminal or civil information. We don’t do that at USV but I know a lot of companies that do it as a matter of good corporate practice.
When you are ready to make the hire, you must prepare an offer letter. The offer letter will outline the compensation you are offering and any other salient terms of the employement offer. Have your lawyer help you draft the first one you send out and use it as a template for all future hires. Offer letter are written agreements between you and the employee and treat them as such. Sign the employment offer and have the employee sign it to acknowledge that they are accepting it.
That’s the hiring process. Done right, it involves a huge investment in each and every position. So many startups cut corners on it because they simply don’t have the time or the resources to do it right. I would encourage everyone to take a step back and think about the costs of not doing it right and commit themselves and their companies to doing it right. You will see the benefits in time. And they are large.