Will Miller, Marketing Director at Tech Nation, founder and digital entrepreneur, with over 20 years’ experience building digital businesses in dating, loyalty, property and recruitment.
Estimates suggest that up to 23% of start-ups and scaleups fail as they don’t have the right team, including a lack of experienced leadership. Founders often don’t have the time to scale the capabilities of their broader leadership teams, and in fast-growth tech scaleups the capabilities of these teams needs to grow often in just a few months.
To remove these barriers to growth, we launched our ‘Advance’ leadership training course, designed to help first-time leaders get the best from their teams, whilst avoiding many of the common pitfalls. Leaders from C-Suite and department head roles came to us with some challenges in common when it comes to hiring new talent at speed:
1. When we are very small how do we attract the right people on really low budgets without using recruiters?
Working in a scaling business is hugely exciting, fast paced and you learn much faster than many other places as you often have to wear many hats. Freedom, flexibility and fast progression can all be used to attract talent. Focus on what you can do to help the candidate grow, learn new skills, experience new things and enjoy working at your company. Sell someone on your mission, breaking new ground and the chance to do something that’s never been attempted is always a thrilling prospect. I have also found moving quickly for the right candidate can really help.
2. As our company grows, what ought to be the indicators that we need to create a robust internal recruiting function?
This normally comes down to the speed at which you are hiring – if you are hiring 10-100+ roles at any one time then a hiring manager is clearly going to struggle. You also hit a point where your policies and incentives need to be managed, to improve retention, so a dedicated people function becomes necessary as you exceed around 50 employees. There are exceptions to this at times where you are competing for candidates and you need to work on your hiring processes, culture and systems to enable you to reach and attract the right people. If candidates are rare and specialist you may need more help sooner.
3. How do you create a standard screening and interview process to make things measurable and repeatable?
Put together a hiring grid, and decide on 5-10 qualities/skills that are needed for each role, as well as key values and behaviours. Then you can rank each candidate against each of these criteria. Think about how to structure your process too, what do you need to progress someone to the next stage, and which stakeholders need to be involved in each? You can determine interview questions before you start the interview rounds, and make sure you are consistent. You can also try and work with D&I technology – like Snap.hr or Hireview – to help at the point of recruitment and reduce human bias at the interview stages.
4. What do you focus on more – skills or personality? And what’s the balance we need to strive for?
I often think skills are – or should be – evident from someone’s CV, so if they are in the interview and have made it through screening, they should be very capable of doing the job. The interview process for me is about understanding the cultural fit, and more importantly their motivation for joining the company and alignment with your company values, combined with where they are trying to get to and their potential to grow with the right support.
5. How do you ensure that your outreach is inclusive and therefore attractive to candidates who are currently underrepresented in our company?
Be transparent about your D&I efforts and make this visible on ads and your careers page. Look at how inclusive your web pages and job descriptions are – does it reflect the culture you want to portray? Do you have images of a diverse group of colleagues, and is your leadership team balanced?
Rethink the way you review CVs and the questions you ask at the interview stage – focus on the performance objectives of the role and what the person will be expected to accomplish. For example, is having a degree or multiple years of experience imperative to being able to do the job, or could the key responsibilities be learned within a few months of training?
Remote working policies can give a company access to a wider and more geographically diverse workforce. It can also open up an organisation to employees who are unable to commute on a daily basis, such as those with disabilities or caring responsibilities. Targeted networks like Facebook groups and job boards which focus on diversity can help you find groups of people you wouldn’t reach through traditional recruitment channels.
6. How do you hire for values when hiring at scale?
I think this can only come from experience – it’s your ability to instill strong values in your team, and make sure your team has bought into them. If they believe in the what and how of your mission, then they should be able to help find the right people. Ultimately you need to be comfortable that you have fully understood the candidate you are hiring, and believe their culture can add to or align with yours as a business.
7. Is using external recruiters always the best way?
It depends on the role – some roles require specialist knowledge and a degree of headhunting; other roles drive hundreds of applications relatively easily. It also depends how well the external recruiter understands your business and culture, and how busy your team is. Using an external recruiter saves you valuable time in outreach and screening, but if they miss the mark this can waste valuable time for the wrong candidates. A good external recruiter can be an valuable partner, and once they understand the type of candidate you hire, they can suggest candidates they find elsewhere for roles that may not even exist.
8. How do we train in-house recruiters to hire technical hires?
Encourage them to do (or shadow) the job for a few days, and seek advice on the key technical interview questions needed for screening. You should also decide whether you need a specialist or a generalist to interview, and don’t be afraid to outsource the hiring to an expert or agency with experience.
9. How can we create amazing experiences for candidates as we scale, so that we can make it feel really special and unique to us?
For me this starts from the very first interview – you need to look at the interview process, have a robust onboarding plan, ensure there are clear progression plans and clear expectations on what is required of them to progress, provide a personal touch, genuine feedback, and make sure the whole company is focused on inclusion. As you grow your requirements for a people team, focus on activities which build culture.
You should aim to create an amazing experience for someone that doesn’t get the role. Especially if they’ve got to the final stage, which could be numerous hours spent interviewing. You want all candidates to have an excellent experience, and even if they don’t get the role, to be an advocate for your company and apply again in the future.
10. How can we hire people from large corporations, where it is often difficult to poach people?
Not everyone is happy working in a huge organisation, there seems to be value attributed to the big brands, but make it clear what they can expect working for you. A scale-up can compete against bigger companies by offering flexibility, variety, more autonomy, a wider role, the chance to build and develop a new team, initiative, region or audience group. There also tends to be quicker progression in a scale-up company, so your responsibility grows rapidly, which can be very appealing. These days scale-ups tend to be relatively well funded, so competing on cost is less of an issue for the right person.