This first post will cover some basics around how to kick off a recruiting program.  Let’s assume that you have several engineering positions to fill, but your start-up hasn’t done much recruiting previously, beyond bringing in the founding team and a few friends of friends.  Here are some guidelines:

Set up a Careers Web Presence

This may seem obvious, but if your company has a web site, make sure that you have allocated space for a Careers section. It should have a prominent link to “Careers” on the main navigation.  This link should be top-level (not buried in About Us), and should be easy to find.  In the Careers section, you should first tell the prospect why they would want to work at your company.  This is best accomplished with a landing page that the prospect hits first, upon entering the Careers section. Here is some content that you can put on the landing page:

  • Company overview.  This should be short, but at least cover a brief history of the company, what product the company delivers, the target audience and how well the company is doing.  Highlighting company successes, exciting metrics or major accomplishments can help build interest.  If your company is very early stage, and doesn’t have achievements to highlight yet, then talk about the potential.
  • Customer testimonials.  Prospective employees want to know that what they work on will have meaning.  If your company provides a product that has emotional appeal for its users, try to weave this into the content.  For example, Zoosk provides testimonials from happy couples who met on the dating site and describe their experience as “life changing”.
  • Benefits.  Introduce some perks of working at your company.  Certainly mention your competitive salary and benefits program.  You can also talk about career development and training opportunities.  If there are social events, volunteering activities and/or parties, mention them (better yet, show pictures).  Also, include any special offerings around vacation time, maternity leave, 401k match or other unique programs.
  • Culture.  If you have a mission statement, set of core values or general philosophy that you think uniquely defines the experience of working at your company, include that.
  • Pictures or videos.  Pictures of existing employees help bring a more human side to your pitch.  Remember, you are trying to make a connection with a prospective employee.  The best pictures show employees either deeply engaged in building your product or doing some fun activity.  While showing pictures of individuals working alone is okay, mix in pictures of multiple employees collaborating to show the team-oriented aspect of your culture.  A video can have real impact.  Video production can be informal, like an interview with a founder or various employees shot from an inexpensive camera.  As you get bigger, you could consider getting something professionally made.

On the landing page, you can embed links to “View Open Positions”, which allows the prospect to see the list of open positions.  If your company is in stealth mode, you should still include the basics of a Careers section.  Simply have the home page of the main URL say that the company is in stealth mode, and provide a big link to “Join our Team”.

For the Job Listings page, you should outsource the hosting of the actual job listings.  Jobvite is an example of a vendor that provides this service.  A job listings vendor should provide you with a CMS that allows you to enter, update and store job postings.  They should also provide tools for prospects to submit their resume and a CRM-like system for your team to use to track the submissions and subsequent steps in the hiring process.  Good systems also provide reporting tools, which allow you to track metrics around hiring success.

Write Effective Job Postings

Each open position on your job listings page should have a job description.  An effective job description should consist of at least the following four sections:

  • Title and location.  At the top should be the title of the position and where it will be located.  If you allow for some percentage of telecommuting, or the position can be fully remote, then state this.
  • General description.  This is the first section of the job description.  It is usually written in a paragraph form, versus a list of bullet points.  In the general description, you want to describe how the position fits within the company and the engineering group.  It will cover the team which this position will join and that team’s responsibilities.  Specific metrics on the team’s performance or scope are also helpful.  “As a member of the DevOps team, you will build the production environment that delivers our award-winning app to 2 million users every day.”
  • Responsibilities.  In the next section, you will describe what the position will do.  This can be formatted as bullet points.  Each bullet point can represent a major task that the position will perform.  These are often better if they are outcome oriented.  Instead of “responsible for maintaining production systems”, use “devise monitoring systems that allow the DevOps team to deliver xx.x% service availability”.
  • Qualifications.  This list describes what skills or experience are desired in candidates.  Include both professional (specific technical skills or knowledge – “3+ years managing large MySQL installations”) and behavioral (“able to adapt as part of a fast-paced environment”) abilities.  Add qualifiers where appropriate, like “preferred”, to clarify which skills are absolutes versus not (“experience working with NoSQL technologies, Cassandra preferred”).

Inbound Marketing  

The term inbound marketing refers to the use of published content as a means of drawing in prospective customers. This is usually in the form of blogs, videos, podcasts, social media, whitepapers, etc. The idea is that by providing useful content to prospects for free, a vendor “earns” the right to get the customer’s attention, and business.  An example is an accountant who publishes a free newsletter about recent changes to tax rules.  Readers of this newsletter might logically hire the accountant to do their taxes.

Applied to a start-up’s engineering team, you would publish content about what the engineering team is doing, which might be useful or interesting for other engineers.  The best form of this is an engineering blog.  There are many great engineering blogs out there, like Code as Craft from Etsy. Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook all have long-standing engineering blogs.  The blog should be updated regularly, depending on the size of your team.  At least one post a month reflects a reasonably active blog.  Make sure that your team can commit to this, though.  A blog with no posts for 6 months can become a negative (you could consider removing publish dates from the posts initially).  In engineering groups I have managed in the past, we rotated responsibility for the next blog post amongst team members, and worked it into goal-setting for the review process.

Extending the visibility of your engineering team through events, conference speaking engagements and open source can also help attract prospects.  You can sponsor a meet-up to get engineers into your space.  I once participated in a panel with 5 other VP’s of Engineering that was sponsored by a payments processing company in San Francisco. The payments company provided a moderator and we spoke about various technology topics of interest.  They publicized the meet-up and invited engineers to attend.  It generated great exposure for the company.  Conferences are another source of prospects.  Having someone from your team speak at a conference can provide a lot of visibility for your team.  As an example, a QA manager on my team spoke at several QA-related conferences.  This gave instant credibility to him and our QA effort.  Finally, contributions to open source can help.  Whether team members are contributors to existing projects, or you kick off your own project on Github, these are worth highlighting.

Outbound Marketing  

The opposite of inbound marketing is the traditional form of advertising, where you are trying to grab the prospect’s attention through some sort of broadcast message or targeted contact.  Applied to recruiting, this would consist of activities you conduct to attract prospects to your open positions.  There is usually some sort of cost associated with these actions.

  • Publish your job postings on the major job sites.  Examples are Indeed and LinkedIn.
  • Pay to advertise your jobs on niche content sites that are popular with your target hire (like High Scalability for DevOps).
  • Ask your team members and other company leaders to publicize open positions through their social media accounts, like LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter.  LinkedIn is particularly well-suited for this.
  • Reach out to individuals directly. If you have an in-house or dedicated recruiter, they may have a database of candidates that they maintain. Alternately, you can search through profiles on LinkedIn to find individuals who might be a match.  In this case, you can try to connect with them and send an InMail describing your position.  If you take this route, be sure to make the connection very personalized, reflecting that you read through the prospect’s profile and state why you think they would be a good fit for your company.

Finally, you can really level up in a competitive hiring market.  Here is an example of an ad campaign that OneLogin ran in downtown San Francisco BART stations. In this case, they appear to be targeting female engineers.

OneLogin Ad

General Process

Once you have laid the foundation for getting candidates in the door, you should establish the process for vetting them. Think through the series of steps that a candidate will pass through, from resume submission to offer.  Then, assign clear roles and defined responsibilities for handling each step. Each role should have an owner on your team. If you have an in-house recruiter, they will be heavily involved in this process, but don’t allow them to do everything. The most productive contact is between the prospect and the hiring manager.  I will plan a future post to dig into the interviewing process, but you should consider at least the following questions:

  • Who will initially receive and review candidate resume submissions?
  • Who will set up phone screens or interviews?
  • Who will conduct phone screens?  Who will be on the interview loop?
  • Who needs to be involved to create an offer?  Who will deliver the offer?

Some Other Notes

  • Please don’t say that you only hire “A+” players or the “best” in the field.  It’s kind of obvious that you want to hire the most qualified talent available.  We understand that you want to selective, but this can also turn off potential employees. One also has to wonder how many “A” players there are to go around, if every company only hires them.
  • Anticipate investing a lot of time in the recruiting process. As VP of Engineering for a small, rapidly growing team, you could spend up to 50% of your time on recruiting and team building.  While you will feel that you should be spending your time on the technology and not “manager” type work, this is the furthest thing from the truth.  Building a high performance team is your most important goal as a VP of Engineering. Expect to invest sufficient time in the process.
  • Consider hiring a full time recruiter early in the company’s growth, or at least on a part-time basis. While you should expect to personally invest a lot of time in the recruiting process, there are a number of tasks that a recruiter can drive. Lacking a recruiter, you could “borrow” an administrative assistant’s time, or even hire a temp, to at least handle scheduling and perfunctory communications with candidates.