Lessons in Recruiting
How to get the best people on your team--and keep them there.
The art of recruiting is the purest form of evangelism because you're not simply asking people to try your product, buy your product or partner with you. Instead, you're asking them to bet their lives on your organization. Can it get any scarier for them and tougher for you than this? To make it a little easier on everyone, follow these nine tips:
- Hire better than yourself. We used to have a saying, "A players hire A players; B players hire C players." Meaning: Great people hire great people, and mediocre people hire candidates who aren't as good as they are so they can feel superior to them. (If you start down this slippery slope, you'll soon end up with Z players; this is called The Bozo Explosion. It's followed by The Layoff.) I have come to believe that we were wrong: A players actually hire A+ players. It takes self-confidence and self-awareness, but it's the only way to build a great team.
- Hire infected people. Classically, organizations look for the right educational and professional backgrounds. But I would add a third quality: Is the candidate infected with a love of your product? Because all the education and work experience in the world doesn't matter if the candidate doesn't get it and love it.
- Ignore the irrelevant. This is somewhat redundant with No. 2, but it merits repetition. Often a candidate's education and work experience are relevant on paper but irrelevant in the real world. Would a senior vice president from Microsoft be ideal for a startup? Not necessarily. This poor guy has been working for a company with 73 percent market share, and he woke up every day not worried about the competition but worried about the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice. The flip side is also true: The candidate without the perfect background could be the diamond in the rough.
- Double-check your intuition. Everyone has stories about the candidate he knew would work out who turned out to be a nightmare employee--or the employee he knew wouldn't work out who turned out to be the employee of the decade. The problem with intuition is that it's probably wrong as often as it's right. I recommend asking every candidate the same questions and taking extensive notes. Maybe even conduct the first interview by phone so you don't judge the candidates by their appearance. In particular, startup founders believe they have a good gut feel for candidates, so they conduct unstructured, subjective interviews and end up with lousy hires.
- Check independent references. How many of us have limited reference checking to only those provided by the candidate? Can we be more stupid than this? We like the gal, so we only call the references she's provided, because we don't want to hear that we actually like a bozo. Check independent references, preferably at least one person she worked for and one person who worked for her.
- Apply the Shopping Center Test. Suppose you're at a shopping center and you see the candidate. He's 50 feet away and hasn't seen you. You have three choices: 1) beeline it over to him and say hello, 2) say to yourself, "If I bump into him, then I'll say hello," or 3) get in your car and go to another shopping center. My contention is that unless the candidate elicits the first response, you shouldn't hire him.
- Use all your weapons. Once you've found the perfect candidate, use any weapons at your disposal to win her over--not just salary and options. More important--and more telling--is the attractiveness of your vision for how you will change the world. (Who doesn't like to work with smart people who are kicking butt?) To this armory, throw in the resume-building potential of working for a great organization like yours.
- Wait to compensate. Using an offer letter as the starting point for negotiation is risky because you don't know what the reaction will be to this first data point. An offer letter confirms what everyone has agreed to. It's the last step in negotiations, not the first.
- Don't assume you're done. Garage Technology Ventures once recruited an investment banker (mea culpa No. 1) from a large (mea culpa No. 2) firm. After weeks of wooing and several offers and counteroffers, he accepted a position with us. He worked for us for a few days but then called in sick. Late the next night, he sent me an e-mail saying he had accepted an offer from a former client of his old investment bank. I learned a valuable lesson: Never assume your recruiting is done. Frankly, you should recruit every employee every day, because when they go home at night, you might never see them again if you don't keep the lovin' strong.
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