Recruiting the right team member is always difficult. I start off knowing that I need someone to perform a task, and imagine what qualities that person might possess. How, in a sea of people, can I find my ideal candidate?
In the past, I would have posted job ads on all the appropriate websites and braced for a flood of applications. I’d spend a weekend afternoon sifting through them all, deleting three quarters and writing follow-up emails to the rest. I always mailed a list of questions for each candidate to complete, with a deadline for their return. This enabled me to filter out at least another half who either didn’t reply in time, wrote dud answers or couldn’t spell and didn’t pay attention to details. Finally, I’d have 10 or so interviews. Often, they would all be disappointing.
My problem was that the best candidates all had good positions and were not reading job advertisements. Somehow, I had to find these people and convince them to take a risk by joining our start-up. The only solution seemed to be to hire a recruiter and, as a cash-strapped small business, we just couldn’t afford to shell out a recruitment fee of 20 percent of the candidate’s annual salary.
Earlier this year I signed up to LinkedIn’s Recruiter service. For $2,200 per quarter, I can run detailed searches on exactly the type of candidates I’m looking for and then approach them en masse. I can search by location, previous and current job titles, previous employers, which universities they attended and how long they’ve been in their current jobs. One of my biggest challenges since starting Posse has been the recruitment of high-quality developers: I’m not an engineer, so I don’t have a great network in this area. I know the people who apply through online job ads are seldom the best candidates, but we need to expand our development team.
Some companies, like Google, have a reputation for hiring the best developers. On LinkedIn I can run a search specifically for engineers who have worked or are currently working for Google in my area and have been in their positions for more than two years — so they might be looking for a new challenge. When I did this recently, I turned up around 90 results so I browsed through the profile headlines, eliminated anyone who seemed too senior to be interested, and then sent out emails to the 60 or so who were left. LinkedIn’s Recruiter enabled me to create personalized emails.
At least 60 percent of the people I contacted replied, and about 5 percent were interested in hearing more. I arranged to catch up with them for coffee and — if they were the right cultural fit — try to sell them on our vision for Posse and why they should join our team. I landed some exceptional candidates. In one afternoon, I was able to set up meetings with three senior developers who work at a large competitor of ours. I’ve learned that the more personal I can make the email, the more likely they are to reply. For example, I’ll search for candidates who went to a certain university and now work at a certain company. Then I can contact 50 candidates, but make the email sound like it’s been written just for them.
As a small-business owner, I recognize that building the right team is crucial. We only have room for A-plus players, who will always be in good positions and may require quite a bit of convincing to leave. LinkedIn gives us access to the passive job hunter market that used to be available only through expensive recruiters, and it helps us seek out top quality candidates from within other companies.
There is one catch. If I’m trying to poach the best people from our competitors, I can be sure that they’re trying to steal my best people, too. Once we turned down an acquisition offer from a competitor only to have the company approach all of our staff members individually on LinkedIn. This is almost impossible to prevent, but I’ve come up with a couple of strategies that may help. First, if your business is small, I see little benefit in setting up a LinkedIn page for it. Doing so just enables competitors to find and attack all your staff members at once.
Second, you can try to discourage your staffers from using the platform – although this is nearly impossible. When we relocated team members from Sydney to New York, a recruiter suggested that I ask our engineers not to change their location on LinkedIn because it would highlight them as fresh meat for the hungry New York recruiters.