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The Physical Candidate Experience and Your Employer Brand

Just a few of the candles I bought from Anthropologie While I do adore online shopping and its convenience, I don’t think I could give up an afternoon of walking into physical retail shops – feeling the clothes, smelling the perfumes, or testing out make-up – it’s part of the experience that stimulates the senses.

Part of what makes me enter into some stores and not others is the physical experience. Some stores have thought of everything, and I get a warm feeling when I go into them. That’s just what they want. You make judgments and form opinions on the experiences you have when you eat at restaurants, stay at hotels, or go to a football game. Candidates are making those same judgments and forming those same opinions when they enter your offices for a day of interviewing.

The candidate experience has many different components – I’m just going to focus this post on the physical candidate experience - the experience a candidate has when he/she visits an office for interviews. It’s the first face-to-face, physical contact they likely have with your employer brand, and it’s an important one.

Back to my shopping analogy – a great example of experiential shopping is Anthropologie. The very first thing you see are the window displays –unique and elaborate. You’re instantly intrigued. The moment you walk through the doors, you’re hit with the powerful smell of their scented candles, a sweet- but not too sweet- floral, feminine scent (I even bought one so my apartment could smell like the store). You feel like you’re in someone’s living room with the way the products are displayed. They don’t appear to be set out to be purchased, rather they are casually draped on tables like a cozy blanket thrown over the back of a couch.

This store isn’t for everyone. Some people hate the smell and would not dream of owning quirky measuring spoons or $200 satin shorts, but it’s appealing to a certain demographic--just like great recruiting should. The shopping experience reflects the brand. It’s selling a lifestyle, not just products.

It’s proven that brand experience increases customer loyalty. That same notion can be applied to the candidate experience. A candidate walks into your building, nervous, unsure what the day will bring. Every step he takes inside your building… every person he interacts with…every gesture that is given to him…he is making a judgment on whether he would fit in at your company. If that’s true, does it reflect your employer brand and the culture you live everyday?

I once heard of a college admissions office baking chocolate chip cookies right in the office to give to applicants who were interviewing. Genius idea! A nervous 17 -year old kid who is about to experience one of the most important interviews of his life walks into the admissions office…and smells chocolate chip cookies - the quintessential food and smell that oozes comfort. That’s just the emotion you want to evoke in that situation – you want them to feel at home.

Think about treating your candidates like customers and stimulating their senses when they enter into the doors of your company to reflect your brand.

Editor's note: for more information on how to strengthen your candidate experience, consider learning from applying for the Candidate Experience Awards.

Lexi Gordon is a Lead Consultant for exaqueo, a workforce consultancy that helps startups and high-growth companies build their cultures, employer brands and talent strategies. Contact exaqueo to learn more about how we can help you build a workforce that’s aligned with your company culture and develop an employer brand that will allow your business to scale the right way.



How to Hire for a Startup

How to Hire for a StartupIt's a pivotal moment, really. The point when you finally hit the magic budget number and you can add to your startup team. But chances are you have no idea how to hire. No offense, but it's true. Sure, you've worked in companies before and added to your team. You've interviewed before. How hard can it be? Talent is one of the biggest challenges in startups -- and most of us know how much it matters but we don't make any effort to learn how to hire for a startup.

Hiring can be one of the most important -- and oft overlooked parts -- of any startup or high-growth business. It seems easy: write a job description, post it and wait for the masses to apply. Interviews are just conversations and offers are easy. Who wouldn't want to work for you?  But, there's so much more to it, and as a leader, it's your duty to know the major aspects of your business -- especially before you're able to hire all of the experts in sales, marketing, finance, product development, engineering, etc. You may still be doing some of that on your own.

And recruiting? Well, sure, you can farm it out to an agency. But if talent is one of the most important ingredients to your growth, don't you want to own the process (and save money)?

Here's how to hire for a startup:

Know the Legal Basics

It's really important to know what laws apply to you before hiring. There are federal and state laws (depending on where your company is based), laws that apply to companies based on size and those that apply to companies with federal contracts.

You also can't discriminate against a job applicant or an employee because of the person's race, color, religion, gender (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information. Some states also laws that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation.  A basic legal immersion for you and your leadership team can help to minimize risk.

Understand Your Finances

Can you afford that next hire or hires? You don't know until you really run the numbers.

You need to have a good sense of fair market value for compensation (see the "Know the Numbers" section in this post I wrote for The Daily Muse), and then add 20%. You're not paying them more, but an employee typically costs about 20% more than their salary once you factor in additional costs, such as benefits, taxes and insurance.

Budget first before jumping to post that job description.

Be Clear About Roles

Speaking of job descriptions, you may be eager to share how cool your startup is, and how much fun the team has together. That's all good, but what really matters is the jobs themselves.

Candidates want to know what they'll be doing and what a typical day might look like.  You don't have to describe every specific task but even if the role has some ambiguity, spell out major responsibilities so expectations are clear. The best job descriptions include responsibilities, behaviors (how the successful candidate might behave or handle certain situations), what the company culture is like (strengths and weaknesses), and future prospects for both the position and the company.

It may be tempting to get cheeky or creative, but don't do it at the expense of the job itself. Otherwise you'll be wading through hundreds of resumes attracted to the cheeky instead of the work -- many of whom won't be qualified.

Create a Defined Hiring Process

What are the steps in your hiring process? It's important to be clear, define each step and the desired outcome. If you're doing phone screens, what are you hoping to learn in order to determine who moves forward?

Don't let interviewers ask whatever they want either. Have a set of questions that clearly gets at the job itself -- both skills (Do candidates have the level of programming proficiency they claim?) and behaviors (When a crisis happens the day before a major launch, how would they handle it?).

It's important to ensure that you never ask any questions that address:  arrest records, garnishment records, marital status, child-care provisions, pregnancy or plans for future childbearing, physical or mental disabilities, age, nationality, race or ancestry.

And ask similar questions of all candidates so you can compare them fairly.

Create Clear Rules for Selection

I once had a startup leader tell me she hires with her gut. Don't do that, ever. It's risky, unfair and leads to bad-fit decisions.

Instead, have a defined set of criteria to determine who moves forward in the hiring process and why. Compare candidates to that set of criteria rather than to each other. Who's the better fit?

And if you're doing background or reference checks as part of the hiring process, make sure you get permission from the candidates to do so.

Ask for Help, But Don't Pass Off Responsibility

You've got an accountant to do your taxes, programmers to make sure your product launches successfully and a sales manager to drive revenue. Why are you trying to create a recruiting strategy alone?

It's not to say you can't recruit yourself -- you CAN. But get some guidance and advice to create a hiring process that works for your business and your market.

On the flip side, don't just hand off the process to an outside agency. This is YOUR company. You have to have a vested interest in the process and a long-term stake in the game. Agencies can be expensive, and it's hard for them to really get to know your business.

Want more help and guidance on this topic or a list of laws to consider? Contact us and we're happy to help.

exaqueo is a human resources consultancy that helps startups and high-growth companies build their cultures, employer brands and talent strategies. Contact us to learn more about how we can help you build a workforce that’s aligned with your company culture and develop an employer brand that will allow your business to grow in the right way.




Talent and HR News Roundup: Building Your Team Edition

Talent and HR News Roundup: Building Your Team EditionStartups and high-growth companies always struggle when they hit the bumps in the road recruiting and managing talent.  Part of the challenge is that most founders aren't experts in people and human capital management. Like finance, sales and product development, managing the strategy for a growing team is a specific area of expertise. In this week's news roundup we focus on some great articles about building your team, steps to avoid and the perspective of the job seeker.

1) Zynga Layoffs: What Happens When Startups Grow Too Fast at Entrepreneur:

It's tempting to move quickly and grow fast. After all, you have products and services to push. And let's be honest -- you need to make money.  The first default might be to hire, hire, hire. But expanding your workforce too quickly can have negative consequences.

2) Edward Snowden: No Degree, Lied on His Resume, Promptly Hired for $122K a Year... at The HR Capitalist:

When you're growing quickly, it's easy to bypass steps that take extra time and take bigger risks. But when it comes to talent, bypassing background checks or thinking employment law doesn't apply to you is a huge mistake -- one that even big companies make.

3) The Secret to Building Dream Teams at Talent Management:

Just like job seekers think if they talk, they can interview, managers and startup leaders think hiring is as simple as asking a few questions. It's actually more of a science than you think and the bigger you grow, the more important it is.

4) 3 Steps to Negotiating a Startup Job Offer at The Daily Muse:

If you're trying to figure out how to convince that perfect candidate to join your company, get in their head. What are they thinking about when deciphering and negotiating the offer?

exaqueo is a human resources consultancy that helps startups and high-growth companies build their cultures, employer brands and talent strategies. Contact us to learn more about how we can help you build a workforce that’s aligned with your company culture and develop an employer brand that will allow your business to grow in the right way.



Tips For Job Seekers: What Recruiters Don't Want You To Know

As a talent strategy consultant and career coach, I tell clients all the time: "I get the other side of the equation."  Companies like that I am coaching job seekers, and job seekers like that I consult with talent acquisition teams at companies. Having a foot in both worlds means I don't forget what it's like on both sides of the aisle. It's like recruiting bipartisanship. But every once in awhile, I take sides. And job seekers, this is for you.There are a million nuances to being a recruiter--like many jobs, to an outsider it may seem straightforward. But there are multiple stakeholders, laws and budgets vying for attention that make it really difficult sometimes. And the more you know and understand, the more effective you'lll be. Recruiters may not want you to know their secrets but here are five tips to help you get both feet in the door and the attention of a recruiter.  You'll thank me now. They'll thank me later. 1) An important part of the job is inside sales

Like any job, recruiters are measured, evaluated and lauded (or not) based on how well they perform. But it's often with strange (to you) metrics like time to fill, or percentage of job postings (called requisitions) that have closed. More rarely are they measured on quality of hire (i.e., how well you're performing a year after you're hired.) This means recruiters are biased towards selling candidates to the hiring manager. Hard. They want that job to close fast. So make it easy on them to sell you.

Bottom line: Don't assume they'll figure out your skills are transferable. Apply for jobs where you're clearly a fit and supplement any networking, cover letters, and phone screens with clear examples they can turn around and use. One time a candidate had a unique technical skill so he called to explain it and tell me why it mattered in our business. I loved that.

2) Weird behavior makes recruiters nervous

Being on the phone all day can make a recruiter crazy. That means in between interviews, sourcing calls and offer deliveries, they're sharing tales of insanity--odd calls, strange answers to interview questions, and tales of incredulity (such as: "Why did this guy apply to three different jobs? Does he not know I can see all of them?")  There's nothing wrong with getting a recruiter's attention, but if you cross a line, they're just going to ignore you. It's JUST like dating. Say "I love you" too soon, call too many times in a row, or try too hard and you're out.

Bottom line: Make an effort to get noticed but don't border on pathetic. Follow-up and check on your candidacy but don't call every day or start sending LinkedIn invitations to the entire team. If it feels strange don't do it. Making the recruiter nervous is a reason for them to focus on someone else. I once had a candidate email me every day. Stalker--you're out.

3) Sometimes it's a crapshoot

A recruiter typically has a collection of requisitions she is responsible for. In most companies, it's usually an unmanageable number (at least to the recruiter). So in the morning, she may come in and open her ATS (applicant tracking system) and start looking at what resumes came in for what position (requisition) overnight. She's human, so while scanning resumes, she might be distracted by her boss popping by, a tweet or a phone call. That means some resumes get the six-second glance, some get 30. There's no guarantee of fairness--it's absolutely impossible.  And if she already has enough candidates interviewing, she might barely glance, if at all, at new resumes.

Bottom line: Sometimes it's a crapshoot. You might feel like you're a perfect fit for the job, but the timing of when you apply or simply how busy the recruiter is that day could determine your fate. That's where networking comes in. Never apply for a job cold. Make a connection in the organization first that can check up on your candidacy with the recruiter. Depending on where she is in the process you might not get a fair shake, but at least you'll be in the know. As a recruiter, I could ignore resumes in my ATS queue but I couldn't ignore a colleague at my door asking about a referral.

4) They influence but rarely, if ever, decide...

A hiring decision usually comes from the hiring manager. It may even have to be approved by his boss. But the recruiter doesn't decide. She will contribute to the discussion and provide opinions on interactions with candidates. She'll provide context like salary ranges, or market analyses, But she won't decide.

Bottom line: Don't rely on the recruiter throughout the entire process. Figure out who else is important in the decision-making process and build relationships. Send follow-up emails that show you did your research and take them up on the offer to ask additional questions. Just don't go overboard. Weird behavior makes hiring managers nervous too. (See #2).

5) ...but they have a tremendous amount of insider information.

Recruiters know what the hiring managers are like, what matters most to them and what interview strategies succeed. So don't ignore them. It's really important to have the recruiter on your side. You want to make their job easier and set them up for success. In turn, the recruiter can share that valuable insider information if you just ask: "As I prepare for the interview later this week, any suggestions you have on what matters to the hiring manager are greatly appreciated--I really value your advice." The worst they can say is no.

Bottom line: A strong relationship with the recruiter is part of the equation. Recognize that she's busy and may have a million priorities (while the job you want is your only one right now). Respect her time and help her help you. In return, she may be able to help you prepare, understand and strengthen your candidacy over others who don't even bother to ask or care. As a recruiter I often felt under-appreciated. Thanks from a candidate and recognition that I played an important role in the process went a long way.