Recruiting for a Startup When You're Not a Recruiter

Finding good people is tough. However, it's extremely tough when you don't personally know many candidates, aren't well connected, aren't well known, aren't launching the next Google, don't have investors to help out, you're already busy with other responsibilities, and you don't have a lot of money to pay a recruiter.

During the past three years, when we needed to hire someone, we all pitched in. We collectively reached out to friends, wrote job postings, interviewed, administered capability assessments, and wrote pre-screening tests (for developers). It worked really well.

About 6 months ago we started growing so fast that no one had any extra time to do anything other than their primary responsibilities. We were treading water and needed to hire more people immediately. Being the catch all account that founders are, it was mine to get done.

Recruiters weren't an option because we had tried using them before without success. Our pain was acute and I had to get it done now.

One of the reasons why hiring is so difficult at Braintree is that we expect people to be self-managed. We don't have management so we have unusually high expectations about people's ability to not only manage themselves, but everything around them, and be exceptional. We also have some pretty strong preferences about the type of culture we're building so if personality and culture are not the right fit, it doesn't matter how talented someone is.

Needing to hire 10 people for non-technical roles such as sales, support, application processing, underwriting, marketing, and of course recruiting, I started the daunting task and began posting on various job sites.

For some positions, I'd receive over 100 resumes, which would make my eyes glaze over. With this many, I lost my ability to discern and started making poor judgments. I was already short on time. I had to figure out how to write a job posting that 1) hit home with the right people and 2) deterred others from applying.

This is still a work in progress, but here are a few things we've learned:

1. Send smoke signals, and as many as you can.

We wanted to provide concrete data about what it was like to work at Braintree. We would share tidbits about our culture, the characteristics we valued in people, our goals, the challenges, and what we did for fun. We linked to our About Us page and invited them to learn more by doing their own research.

2. Spill the beans for the job description, including the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Instead of using general responsibilities to explain the position, we would list out exactly what people were doing on a daily basis. Some descriptions included 30 bullet points and most included the challenges and more unattractive aspects. We originally used "What to Expect" but recently started using the title "This is what you would have done had you been with us last month." to describe this section (thanks, Jason Fried). The accuracy and openness resonated with people and gave them a lot of information to consider.

3. State what you do NOT want.

We included a "Please DO NOT apply if" section and were surprised with its effectiveness. We were including things such as "Please DO NOT apply if: you'd feel like a fish out of water without a well defined traditional corporate structure" or "if you have not consistently performed in the top 12% among your peers in sales performance." We loved the effect this had on applicants because it spoke loud and clear to those we were trying to attract. We found it was almost more important to state what weren't looking for.

We also had a "Please DO apply if" section including "your friends and co-workers gush about your awesomeness and attitude".

4. Get them out of script mode

We all act certain ways when engaged in different situations. When applying for a job or interviewing, people are typically more stiff, scripted, guarded and cautious. Some of those things can be good, but it also increases the uncertainty for both the employer and employee because the real data set is being hidden.

To try and get applicants out of script mode, we would ask questions like "Who is your favorite super hero and why?", or "If you could only use one utensil for the rest of your life, what would you choose and why? (spork is not an option)." Their answers would provide some insight that we could use to more quickly make judgments regarding our interest.

5. Offer job seekers a referral fee for their qualified friends.

While many qualified candidates are unemployed, many more are currently employed, but not actively looking for a job. We wanted to expand our reach into the employed-but-not-looking category by offering up $2,000 for a referred hire.

The results
We hired four exceptional people within 45 days, all of which said the job posting triggered sharp interest. A month in, I asked our new team members if what they were experiencing was consistent with what we were advertising. They all said yes and three said it was better.

The ad made my job of screening so much easier. I would simply look for people who connected with us. I quickly passed on the others. Some people wrote short novels explaining their enthusiasm and desire to be interviewed. I was honestly taken back a bit by the level of enthusiasm and passion.

Some of the responses we received to the job posting:
"Wow, this is the best job posting I've ever seen!"
"I have to work for you!"
"Your job posting is one of the most detailed, honest - and fun postings I've ever come across."
"You have absolutely the best ad I have ever seen on Craig's List!"
"Sounds like you think too much of yourself!" (clearly was not our intent to communicate this)

The original idea to hack the job posting was suggested to me by Chuck Templeton. He referenced the newspaper ad that explorer Ernest Shackleton used to assemble a team for his bold Antarctic expedition. The ad read as follows: "Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in event of success."

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What else have you done that's worked?

Braintree We enable beautiful commerce experiences so that people and ideas can flourish. More posts by this author

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