Yesterday, First Round had its annual CEO Summit. One of the cool things about being a fund that works with so many early stage companies is that bringing the whole portfolio together in one place results in a lot of collaborative learning opportunities. One of the topics that was discussed in a breakout session was recruiting.
From what I've seen, most companies simply don't get enough people in the top of the funnel. Finding the right person is hard, but it also starts with being a volume game. The more candidates you reach and evaluate, the better the idea you have of who you are looking for and the more you get the word on the street that you are hiring. That's something I learned at Path 101. I thought it was going to be easy to find two developers, given that I had a pretty large network. What I soon realized was that once you start applying filters for qualifications, experience, interest, culture fit, timing, you don't know nearly as many people as you think you do.
Actually, startups tend to drop the ball on recruiting the same way they mess up in PR. It always seems to be about the buildup to a singular event like a launch or a specific hire for a specific opening. This can cause you to miss opportunities on both sides. Startups need to aim for a constant buzz in the media in the same way that they should be bringing in a consistent flow of high quality talent--there's rarely a time when a growing company is out of the market for either. If you're not interviewing candidates everyday, it's going to be that much harder to find the right person when they become available, nor will you have a good context of what's out there and what you're looking for when they come around.
These are some tips focused on getting as many relevant people in the top of the funnel as possible--the most challenging thing for a growing company long on expansion plans but short on time, brand awareness, and extra money to spend on recruiters.
Events are the single easiest way to get a bunch of hiring leads in and to inform them about what you're up to. Are you looking for an iPhone developer? Hold a talk about some incredibly in depth, geeky topic related to iPhone development--something that you'd really only care about if you were currently an iPhone developer, not just someone in the same boat also looking for people. If you already have an iPhone developer on staff, they can lead the discussion. If you don't, go find the top developers in your local area. They'll usually speak for free if it means helping out their local developer community with best practices. Even if you have to pay them, it's worth it given the number of qualified attendees that will probably show up.
When you're doing RSVPs, use a tool like Eventbrite that allows you to collect more information from each attendee--like what languages they develop in, how many years experience they have, current company, LinkedIn, blog, Twitter, etc. If marketed correctly, to local user groups, Meetups, among local thought and practice leaders, there's no reason why you can't get 50-100 high quality attendees. What you do with them from there is up to you--but having people from your own company there to mix and mingle with the crowd will be helpful to evaluate who comes and have 1:1 conversations with the best prospects.
There's no reason why this shouldn't work for any kind of position--whether that means finding a Director of Marketing or a COO. Doing an event on the operations behind some of the more complex businesses (Rent the Runway, Gilt, Netflix, etc) would certainly bring in a lot of ops folks.
Social Media Content from your Employees
Want to find a whole bunch of Ruby devs in a hurry? Get your lead Ruby dev to blog a controversal post on some nuance in the latest frameworks and get it posted to Hacker News. Your hiring funnel will reveal themselves in the comment flood. Similarly, making it a point to regularly release videos, podcasts, and blog posts with code snippets will generate a similar audience.
You can do the same with tips on selling from your VP of Sales, or a bold statement on a blog post like "All sales will be virtual by 2015" in order to bring the community out of the woodwork.
In other words, provide content that is commentworthy and tailored to a specific audience that you're trying to hire--without necessarily being solely focused on the hire.
Distributing this content is a lot easier when all of your employees are connected extensively across all social networks--Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn. The whole company should get involved in reblogging and retweeting the company blog's links.
The Meetup Ground War
Meetups and user groups are a treasure trove of developor talent--but they're not always ready to jump. Making it a point to attend these meetups on a regular basis--to become a familar face in the crowd and a trusted resource should be a good strategy for any team looking to add headcount. That doesn't just mean spamming the e-mail listserv with a blast message. Try to meet 50 members of this meetup individually--by writing notes to folks whose other web profiles you can see online and meeting as many of them as you can in person. There's little that can replace a 1:1 conversation, especially in person. What you'll often find is that if you put it out there that you're looking for someone, and you take the time to have an in-person communication, the people that you talk to will usually follow up with other leads.
How about using Quora or Twitter as contest platforms for your target hiring audience to win something on by proving their knowledge. Give away an iPad for the most votes on Quora answers for the month to questions like "How can you speed up a long enterprise sales cycle?" if you're searching for salespeople. When we were hiring at Path 101, Alex put out a Craigslist ad that had a math problem on it. He said, "We don't want your resume... just tweet the answer and we'll find you." He sourced 10 candidates that way and they were all high quality.
Public relations shouldn't just be used to source prospects or biz dev partners, but candidates as well. Get local papers to feature you as a growing company with big hiring plans. Have the right blogs profie your hot shot developer on his technical management prowess--just make sure the reporter includes the fact that you're hiring. In fact, nearly every startup press release should include the fact that you're hiring and a link to your jobs page.
There are a lot of random apps out there that never went anywhere and never got funding. I'm sure the partners and team would love to say they had an exit--and I'm sure some of the apps, and more importantly the team to go with it, could get picked up for a reasonable sum. Getting a team that has already worked together start to finish may actually wind up saving the training time that you'd otherwise spend if you didn't by the app. Plus, they don't always need to be big $20 million acqui-hires. You could probably put $50k in the pocket of a small team for their troubles, letting them say they had an exit, and get them to join your Series A funding startup on normal equity terms.
Other tips that have been working for you?