It’s A Courtship, Not A Gauntlet

on 04 | 08 | 2013

Every startup knows how important it is to hire great talent.  We have countless clients who are obsessed with how to rigorously evaluate engineering candidates, whether it be brainteasers, code challenges, or some other test.

Those evaluations are important, and I’m not here to debate the merits of qualifying candidate abilities.  The problem is that hiring is not just about evaluating. It’s about promoting your company, opportunity, team, and role to a candidate.

Just as much as you, the hiring manager, are evaluating a candidate, they are evaluating you from the minute you begin the courtship we call “recruiting.”  Many of our clients fail to recognize this reality, and as a result, they do not spend enough time upfront in the hiring process wooing candidates, waiting until the offer stage to do so.

At that point, it is too late. Passive candidates effectively become active through the recruiting process. They are courting multiple firms that, in return, are trying to excite the candidate about their respective opportunities. When you wait until the offer stage, you are squandering multiple opportunities to build trust and rapport that essentially serves as a “down payment” on closing your candidate later.

The cost of not wooing candidates early in the hiring process is substantial. Not only do you risk losing a hire, but you ultimately hurt your team’s productivity from excessive interviewing, a prolonged hiring cycle, and disruption in the team’s ability to scale by not hiring fast enough.

Here are a few reasons companies fail to actively promote earlier in the interview process:

  • Lack of awareness that promotion matters—“I didn’t realize that we were not inspiring the candidate about the opportunity here. I thought you took care of that as the recruiter.”
  • Arrogance—“We are the best company in the Valley. I don’t get why we have to sell.”
  • Blindness—“I joined this company and love everyone here. I don’t see why that is not obvious to those who I speak with.”

So now that we’ve convinced you this is important, what specifically do you promote? Many of our clients will tout their founders, the source of their funding, and the pain point they are solving in the marketplace. That is all good, but it’s just the starting point.

When it comes to offer stage, the factors that motivate the candidate to accept are the same ones that we heard when we first talked to them. They want an exciting, challenging, and rewarding opportunity to advance their career. Yes, they want free food and other perks, but when push comes to shove, they want to join a great team offering an exciting role with impact and influence in an exciting industry. They want real opportunity. How you communicate will vary with each candidate, which is the subject of another blog post (“Candidates Are Not Sold—They Buy.”)

With one client, we had more than 11 offers rejected over the course of six months. In almost all of the cases, the candidates uniformly bought into the client’s team, the funding, the market opportunity, and company business model. But,  to varying degrees, the candidates did not truly understand what their role would be, nor did they see their role as having impact tied to the company’s mission.

In your case, the role may not be the issue, but the point is that you have to promote multiple attributes and hone in on the ones most relevant to the candidate with whom you are speaking.

The bottom line is that evaluating and promoting go hand-in-hand. Getting a candidate excited about your opportunity needs to start the moment you begin interacting with them.  In fact, the more senior or higher caliber the candidate is, the more important this step is, especially if your employer brand awareness and perception lags behind your competitors.