June 27, 2011

The One “Process” Every Startup Should Have

Most young entrepreneurs (including myself) have an allergic reaction to anything with the word “process” in it.  So before you break out in hives and curl up in ball with cold sweats, take a Benadryl and hear me out.  There is one area that every startup, no matter what stage you are at, should have a process for.  Hiring.  Why?

  1. Time - Hiring is one of the most time consuming tasks for you and your team.  With out a well-structured process, hiring can be chaotic and drastically increase the “time suck” while decreasing the results.
  2. Evaluation – Properly evaluating candidates is about more then asking the right questions.  A great hiring process will help you evaluate candidates better and make more confident decisions.
  3. Impression – Hiring is an opportunity to leave a killer impression of your company, regardless if you hire a candidate.  The startup community is small.  Candidates talk and word spreads fast.  If
    your hiring process seems unorganized, chaotic, and executed poorly to
    the candidate, they will walk away with a negative opinion of your

The often overlooked details between sourcing a candidate and issuing an offer are critical to hiring successfully. Here are some keys to a killer hiring process…

Sell, Sell, Sell 

Many managers think a thorough evaluation is the key to a great hiring process.  In a startup the most important element is to SELL.  The best candidates will always have many opportunities to choose from.  If you don’t convince a candidate that your company is the best opportunity, you won’t have a shot at them in the first place.

When you sell your startup, don’t lead with
your product or vision. Most candidates don’t make their employment
decisions on the product.  Studies have shown the two most important
factors people consider when deciding on a place of employment are
actually Team, and Culture (work environment).  Always sell your team
first, your culture second, and your product and vision last.  

Be Efficient 

A widely accepted startup mantra is “Hire
Slow, Fire Fast,” This has never made sense to me. Just because you’re
“hiring slow” doesn’t mean you are making better decisions.  A slow
hiring process creates more problems then it solves.  Great candidates
will have plenty of job opportunities.  The longer you take with your
process, the greater the chance that they will go somewhere else. Just
like you, they don’t want to waste time. A fast-paced process garners
respect as you demonstrate an ideology that your own and their time.   

Make It Thorough and Challenging     

Being efficient doesn’t mean cutting
corners. While it can be tempting to skip parts of your process in order
to save time, you run the risk of leaving a negative impression on the
candidate. Great candidates want to be in an environment where they feel
challenged, are learning and being pushed by talented peers.  Your hiring process should represent that.  Knowing
a candidates weaknesses are just as important as knowing their
strengths when constructing a team that compliments each other.  You will never find a person’s weaknesses unless you challenge them. 

Be Consistent 

More than likely, you’ll have dozens of
candidates coming through your doors for a single position. The only way
to compare apples to apples is to be consistent. Every candidate should
go through similar set of base steps, questions, and people.
Additionally, current team members want to see everyone run a similar
gauntlet that they did.  Even if you have known someone since birth, be wary of giving special treatment to select candidates.

Involve The Team, Infuse Your Culture 

Involve various team members including other
managers and individual contributors. Involving your team will help sell
them to the candidate, and yield a broader set of perspectives about
the candidate. Involving your team will also help you infuse your
culture into the hiring experience. People will often make large trade
offs to be part of a work environment that they feel they will enjoy.   

One Decision Maker  

Although team participation is vital to the
hiring process, a democratic decision will lead to decision paralysis.
The team is there to provide feedback to one decision maker for an open
position, the hiring manager. You need one person with an over-arching
view of the team to make a proper decision about if/how/where a
candidate fits.  The hiring manager should be the driver of the process,
making sure that everything is always moving forward.  

Make It Personal 

When you’re interviewing a lot of people at
once, it’s easy to treat them like pieces of data to sort. Don’t make a
candidate feel like a number.  A personal touch makes them feel
important. Take the time to answer their questions about the company,
the team, and the role at every step of the process.  Offer them
something to drink and eat when they come in.  Make sure everyone knows
how to pronounce his or her name correctly.  You’d be surprised how
often the little things make a difference. I once asked a phenomenal
Rails engineer ho he chose his last company among numerous offers from
several high-caliber startups.  His answer:  ”They were the nicest and
gave me my favorite cookies.”

Be Transparent and Brutally Honest 

Don’t be a black box.  Candidates want to
know what your hiring process is, how long each step is, when they
should hear back, and how soon you are looking to fill the role. More
importantly, give them honest feedback at each step of the process.
 Tell them why they aren’t a fit or where they fell short.  If you are
honest with them, candidates usually respond in one of three ways.  

1. They respect your honesty and move on with
a positive impression.  The really good ones will ask for guidance on
how they can improve their weak areas.  

2. They make an effort to change your perception.  You will then need to decide if it’s a good idea to give them another shot. 

3.  They take offense to your honest
feedback.  While many hiring managers are afraid of this scenario, I
have found it to occur the least.  If a candidate does take offense, I
take it as confirmation that I made the right choice (a word of advice
to candidates: you gain nothing from this scenario). 

Document The Process 

Document everything.  The candidate’s
background, where/how you found them, what stage of the process they
made it to, their strengths, their negatives, and any other relevant
information.  While a person may not be a fit for the current role at
the current time, there could always be future opportunities. Getting
into a habit of document everything will also keep the process
organized, efficient, and result in easy-to-do status reports.

Train Your Employees to use Your Process 

Your process is useless unless you train the
entire team to use it. Train your team not only how to interview, but
also how to sell the team, culture and vision.  The message should be consistent and compelling.  

Beyond The Offer Letter 

The offer acceptance is the middle of the hiring process, not
the end. Hiring also includes how you integrate new hires into the rest
of the company. The first 30 days is an important time that will set the
tone for that person’s employment.  It’s an opportunity to ensure that a
new hire can start contributing quickly and meld with the team.
Outlining a clear on-boarding process (including performance evaluation
milestones) will help you execute a hire fast, fire fast process.  

Brian Balfour is currently a Co-Founder of Boundless Learning, and previously Co-Founder and
VP of Product Marketing at Viximo.  You can find this post, as well as
additional content on his blog located here
You can also follow Brian on Twitter (@bbalfour)
by clicking here.