Some notes on Startup Hiring

Hiring has never been an easy task. But in the last few years, hiring engineers has become especially difficult. We have always tried to avoid traditional job ads, as these attract a lot of fortune-seekers and underqualified people. Good people are usually overloaded with work and rarely read those ads, and even more rarely send out their CVs.

Head hunting did not work. What we used to do was a form of head hunting. We systematically scanned CV portals for new CVs and filtered out those who matched our profile. We then contacted these people to set up a phone interview, and a test in our office if the interview went well. The whole process was time-consuming, and overall had very low efficiency. Most people did not bother answering, and although the phone interview itself was fast in weeding out incompetent people, we soon found that there were just not enough qualified candidates in our pipeline. During a 6-month period we processed over 1000 CVs, had approximately 40 phone interviews, and 10 onsite tests. And we only hired one developer! What a waste of time!

Let’s try another way. Meanwhile, we started noticing a different pattern – people from our friends’ networks were approaching us and applying for jobs. We then decided to scrap the CV-scanning process and instead to amplify the network effect. To do that we organized a Facebook campaign that linked to a special landing page.

We set up a page with a cool video (only in Estonian at the moment, but you should get the point), and a link to an online test. The site has a very brief description of the job, and the main focus is on the test. Yes, you can’t send us an e-mail or a CV, instead, you need to do a simple skill-set test. Our intention was to stimulate curiosity and a sense of challenge in competent developers, and to scare off fortune-seekers.

The test itself was based on an open-source project, which was created by a fellow Toggl developer, Alex –

We assumed that most regional software developers are in our team members’ 1st or 2nd tier Facebook networks. So to spread the word, we just had everyone share the landing page link on their Facebook wall, and that was it. Oh, we also promised a Toggl t-shirt for anyone who got over 60% in the test. Our goal for the campaign was to hire at least two great front-end developers.

Setting up the whole thing (including filming a video and programming a testing framework) took a couple of weeks. We launched the campaign on a Thursday afternoon, and waited for the first results quite curiously.

Worked out surprisingly well. It appeared that our alternative take on hiring was quite successful. 110 tests were completed in the first 2 days, 32 of those had a result of over 60%. So, suddenly, we had a decent pool of talented guys becoming interested in us. Definitely a totally different situation than we were in previously. We jumped at the opportunity, and ended up hiring 3 really good guys in just a couple of weeks.

We were so happy with the result that we did a similar successful campaign to find a new support person just a month later.

So, to conclude – it’s extremely important for a startup to stand out from the crowd. Both in terms of product, but also in hiring. If one approach does not work, change it, do it fast and in a way that is both smart and different.

What are your experiences in hiring great people?

By On December 16, 2013