This post was written by Sarah Corboliou (Employee Success at Unito.io, a porfolio company of the Montreal Founder Institute) and originally published on the Unito blog.
Did you know that the average job posting garners approximately 250 resumes? Do you even know 250 people?! That’s 250 candidates to sort through, research, and vet in an effort to find the one individual who will help bring your company to the next level. Picking the wrong candidate? Well, that can set you back six months in a heartbeat. It’s little wonder that a study of 200 startups found that the team — the people you hire to support your mission — was the second most important factor in startup success.
At Unito, we take hiring very seriously. The team we’ve built is tight-knit, passionate, and supportive, with everyone moving in the same direction towards the same goals. We’ve built this team using an approach to hiring that we’ve honed and iterated on over several years.
This is Unito’s guide to hiring.
Start with the need
The single most important thing in recruitment is crafting a good hiring plan. If you’re opening a position because your team has a scheduled headcount increase for this quarter, you’re probably doing it wrong. Here’s the process we go through to define what roles we need and when:
- First, we look at our product roadmap, revenue projections, and more internal data. These factors should be defined before you start thinking about your hiring plan.
- Second, we figure out how we can link these numbers to a projected headcount by finding the key KPIs that will trigger a hire. Here are some examples:
- A targeted number of customers can tell you how many Customer Success Reps you’ll need for each quarter.
- The number of new products or features you’re planning to launch can tell you how many devs you’ll need to develop and maintain them.
- The number of devs you’re planning to hire can tell you how many Product Managers and UX Designers you’ll need (1:1:4 is a good benchmark for a lot of companies).
- Some roles are harder to figure out with this data driven approach (eg. hiring marketing people specialized in different areas). For these, we rely on AoRs (Areas of Responsibility):
- We look at a team, figure out the skills we already have, and what we’re missing to accomplish this team’s objectives.
- Once we have that list of missing skills (or AoRs with missing owners), we decide where we’ll need to hire, where we can upgrade the skills of our current team through training, and where we can use external contractors to fill the gaps.
- Finally, we build that whole model in a spreadsheet, look at each team’s resulting hiring plan, then spend time tweaking & adjusting it to make sure it’s realistic (eg. we’re not crazy about doubling the company’s headcount overnight)
One cool bonus of building your hiring plan that way: you get to make sure your revenue projections and product roadmap make sense!
When you’re a tech company, your team is your most precious resource, the one you spend all your money on. How many people you’ve got working on your product and how good they are at it is going to be a major factor in defining how fast you’re gonna be able to grow. So spend time on your hiring plan, and use it as a way to back your financial projections.
Write the internal profile
The hiring manager (usually the lead of the team we’re recruiting for) is in charge of writing a hiring profile.
The hiring profile is not the job description. After defining the AORs that we want the role to own, our next step is to map out what owning those AORs will look like. When someone is new at a company, they generally don’t know enough about what they’re doing to set their own goals. So once we’re equipped with AORs, we define the objectives and key results that the role should be measured on for the first 3 to 6 months. We use OKRs at Unito because we’ve found they’re a great way to align the whole team around common business-critical goals and also show team members how they’re part of our company successes.
Once we’ve created the AORs and the OKRs, we start defining evaluation criteria (which then end up in a scorecard we use to evaluate candidates) and requirements (the internal version of must-haves and nice-to-haves).
To top it all off, we build a questionnaire that we send to all candidates. It’s specific to the role and helps us disqualify “tourist” candidates while giving the great ones an opportunity to shine. For example, for marketing roles, we tend to ask questions like: “Looking at the way we currently market ourselves, what recommendations would you make to our team?”
By doing all of this work up front, you’re setting your new hire up for success: they’ll know before they even start working what kind of problems they’re going to own and what kind of metrics and goals you’ll use to evaluate how successful they are at owning them. This also makes it super easy to show your job candidate the career path that they are on when taking the role, and get them excited about what it’s going to mean to work with you.
Once the internal profile is built, a member of the Employee Success team (ie. HR) will schedule a kickoff meeting with the Hiring Manager and whoever else is involved in the recruiting for that position. The goal of this meeting is to make sure everyone is on the same page before we actually launch the job posting. If needed, we’ll do it again during the process — meeting with candidates can often change your perspective on a role.
Write the job posting and publish
This part is done by a member of the Employee Success team, not the hiring manager.
This is the easy part at this point, because you’ve already done all of the hard work of figuring out what the role will need to do. There are probably millions of examples of almost any kind of job post out there; go look for one that seems like a good fit for you and tailor it to match.
The things we pay close attention to when writing our job posts are the following:
- Diversity friendliness: There are tons of guidelines on this online. Here’s an article that helped us.
- Limit the number of requirements: Less is more! If you only give people three absolute requirements, they’ll be more likely to actually respect these requirements.
- Context is key: Instead of adding a ton of must-haves, we try to give candidates a ton of detail about what they’ll be doing, what they’ll own in the company, and what the team they’ll be joining looks like. You’re far more likely to get someone excited about an opportunity if they can visualize it.
Applicants go through six stages during our hiring process:
1. The application
We only ask for three things at this point: their name, resume, and contact info. We specifically don’t let candidates submit Cover Letters because, frankly, they don’t provide much value (read: we hate them). Most people have template cover letters that they barely customize (if they do it at all), so it doesn’t help us figure out whether they’ll be right for the role or the company.
And here’s the big secret: everyone gets to move on to the next stage — answering our questionnaire. Here’s why we decided to do that:
- We used to waste a lot of time going through applications from people who weren’t remotely qualified, who didn’t speak English or French at all, or who are just not that interested in working with us! The questionnaire we send everyone makes it far easier to weed out the tourist applicants.
- We tried making the questionnaire part of the initial application form but it would sometimes scare off good applicants. Sending it in an email the next day makes people more motivated to take the time to answer. You’ve already submitted an application, might as well invest five more minutes to the process.
So yes, that email candidates receive one day after applying is automated. It doesn’t require applicants to spend more time on their application than they would otherwise and it saves us a lot of time when screening candidates. Easy win-win.
2. The questionnaire
Here’s what we ask candidates at this point:
- A role specific question defined when building the internal profile.
- Which tools have you worked with? No one gets disqualified based on this one, we just like to know how much people know about our space and the tools we use internally.
- Your level of English and French. English is a must for us; we won’t hire you unless you have at least an intermediate level. French is a big bonus (60% of our staff has French as one of their native languages).
- Immigration situation. Unfortunately, we’re not at a stage where we can wait five months for a new hire to start working. So in most cases, if you don’t have an open work permit, permanent residency, or citizenship, we won’t move forward with your application.
- Why Unito? This is where we expect candidates to go all out and tell us all about their deep motivations for working with us and in this role. That’s our replacement for cover letters. Although it’s worth noting that copy-pasting a slightly personalized cover letter you used for other job applications probably won’t do the trick here.
Only about half the people who apply ever bother to answer these questions, which only makes us feel stronger about that step. How motivated are you to get the role if writing two small paragraphs is enough to make you rethink it?
3. The phone screen
At this point we’ll have reviewed people’s resumes and questionnaire answers. The ones who make it through get an email asking them to schedule a time for a phone screen with a member of our Employee Success team (which are so much better than the HR interviews people are used to!).
This call lasts 30 minutes or less and our goal at this stage is to figure out the following:
- Is the candidate qualified for the role?
- Is it what they’re looking for? Alignment is key! Do they really want to work for a startup or would they be a better fit for a bigger company? Does this role offer them the right amount of responsibility? Do their salary expectations match the level of seniority we’re looking for?
- Do they fit our company culture? We’re not looking for more of the same people but we do need to make sure they’ll be able to handle our work environment (radical transparency, fast growth, work hard/play hard).
The last 10 minutes of the call are dedicated to the candidate’s questions. We’re committed to transparency and will tell them pretty much anything they want to know.
4. The interview
- The panel of interviewers is defined during the kickoff meeting, before the process actually starts.
- It’s conducted by the Hiring Manager and a member of his team.
- We ask people to come to our office if possible, but can it be done remotely if required.
- We try not to do second interviews. Here why and how:
- You’ll notice that the next stage requires quite a bit of time & effort on both the company and candidate’s parts, so we aim to make the rest of the process as light as possible.
- If we need a third person to evaluate a candidate at this stage, we’ll make sure they’re available at the time of the interview and bring them in if the interview looks promising.
5. The pilot
The pilot project is our secret recipe to making sure we bring on the right people. It’s our way of trialing candidates outside of the artificial interview environment. It’s not a technical test, it’s real work, based on real company challenges and opportunities. Which is why we also pay people fairly for that work. If the output is good (eg. you wrote a blog post for us), you can be sure that we’ll use it, whether you end up working with us or not.
- We ask people to come spend some time at the office if they can. It’s not mandatory, but it makes for a richer experience.
- It usually takes about 15 to 20 hours of work to complete.
- We give candidates access to any company information or resources they might need (including a Slack channel where they can ask staff for help).
- We try to run several pilots for the same role at once, so our team experiences working with each candidate in close proximity.
This is where the rubber meets the road: people who interview brilliantly can crash and burn when asked to perform work, and people whose interviewing skills were a bit sub-par can get a chance to show if they do a better job doing than talking. The goal here is to expose the candidate to as many different people in the company as possible and get all of them to consider what working with that person would be like.
And that’s it! That was the last step! If a candidate is successful after this step, they get an offer.
As the last 2,500 words can attest, hiring isn’t something we take lightly. But all of this pre-work saves us the immense trouble of having to rehire and re-onboard when candidates don’t work out. Plus, this is the system that has helped us build a company full of passionate, supportive people. The time spent on hiring has paid off tenfold in time that we might have spent dealing with culture or team issues.
If you’ve made it this far, you’re probably pretty interested in our hiring process! Check out Unito's careers page and see if there are any roles you might be a fit for!
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