Alison Eastaway, VP of People @ Sqreen. Recruitment is broken - but we can fix it.A-Players - The top startups' recipes to build teams of top performers
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- 22 Sep 2020
Alison joined Sqreen super early (Employee #13) to help the founders build a great team and culture. She believes recruitment needs to be fixed and shares her tips on moving from transactional to relational recruitment. Listen to her now!
Talent wins games, but teamwork wins championships. Welcome to eight players. But guess what? We'll tell you how to target, hire, retain and train top performers for your team. So I actually don't think this is quite a controversial take. I don't think there are any good books about recruitment out there today. I think there's one that's very popular in the industry. But I don't recommend and I think it's outdated and probably needs to be rewritten. But I think the number one thing you can do for yourself as a recruiter, as a hiring manager, as a person who makes decisions about other people's livelihood, is to read more fiction, particularly about people who don't look like you.
I recommend founders spend less time reading business books and more time reading fiction and poetry. That takes you a lot more about other people's experience outside of your own. And I think that's what recruitment needs. It needs more empathy. And when I talk about empathy, I'm not saying it's not a soft feeling thing. It's the ability to intellectually put yourself in somebody else's shoes. I am Robin shows you at Higher Suites and we are sourcing automation software that helps tech companies hire the best talent at me.
And for me now on LinkedIn, you want to keep an eye on this? OK, so today we're having listen from screen screen is an up and coming way C company. They raised 40 million in series A, 70 people in the team spread between Europe and the US. And welcome Hisun. Can you tell us more about screen and what you do today on screen? Yeah, absolutely.
Thanks for having me, Robin. So as you mentioned, screen today, we're 70 people spread across Europe and the US. But when I joined the team two years ago, it was a different story. I was employee number 13. So 12 of us at the time all sitting around the same table in Paris. So it's been a busy couple of years, recruiting and growing across the world and and building to the next stages.
Which role did you take to screen when you when you're doing two years ago? Yeah.
Yeah. So when I joined, I was the talent manager. I was the first talent and people dedicated hire. Now some of you listening might say, OK, employee number 13, why would you hire a person so early when you could use that budget for an engineer or for someone to generate revenue like a salesperson? Know it's something that screen CEO and co-founder Peter and I, we shared the idea that building a great culture and these really strong people, foundations from day one of the things that help you avoid a lot of the common pitfalls of scale as you grow, as you get to be 50 and then and then one hundred and then beyond.
So we really invested on that firm from day one. So started out as a talent manager, doing all of the recruitment myself, hands on grew the team from employee number fourteen to around fifty five. And today I'm lucky enough to have a team working with me. So I have someone working on recruitment over here for product and engineering in Paris. So I'm focused on sales and marketing and S.F. and also a team who helps out on the people, operations and workspaces side.
OK, and you recently wrote an article, a blog post called Recruitment is Broken. Can you tell us more about this? Yeah, absolutely.
I could probably talk all day about this, but I won't encourage you to read the article if you haven't essentially. You know, I've had a lot of jobs in my career. If you check out my LinkedIn, you'll see that I've essentially been working for the past 14 years. I don't have a university degree. I've changed jobs, countries, companies, a lot of screens, probably the record for the longest time I've stayed in one place. And a lot of the wisdom we hear, a lot of the advice you hear given to candidates and new graduates is that they should have this really linear CV, that they have to have really predictable experience, that nobody likes a job.
And that just wasn't my experience as a candidate. And it hasn't been my experience as a recruiter or as somebody who hires and then manages people through their careers.
And I know a lot of other people who are in the same case who have these sort of atypical profiles on paper. But when you meet them, you see that there is all these great things they can build. And something that's been playing on my mind a lot lately is how do we productize that? How do we scale that? How do we take it away from the realm of a recruiter who goes the extra mile to understand a nonlinear CV and bring that person in for an interview?
We're all busy recruiters, hiring managers, founders. We don't always have that extra time to dig. And if someone doesn't look like a match on the surface, we're likely to sort of push that person aside and keep moving with with people who we can more easily relate to. And that's something that I'm really keen on changing the way we make those split second upfront decisions at the top of the recruiting funnel about who gets a 30 minute interview and who doesn't know how to change that.
And, yeah, I mean, it's not an easy fix, I think. Otherwise the industry would have already done it by now and a few startups would be making a lot of money out of it, I think. But I think there's a few things we need to change. I think on the surface level, there's a really there's a there's an entry level fix, which is providing alternative pathways into the top of the recruiting funnel that aren't CV or past based.
So we see this emerging in startups and some other startups, particularly for technical roles. So companies like Triple that replace the CV biotechnical test as the point of entry into the funnel. But having this today, I don't think software engineers are the ones who have the hardest time getting a break or finding a job. It's an industry that's perpetually growing where there's more jobs than people qualified for those jobs. So I think that's a great step in the right direction.
But I think we need to take that same approach to non software engineering jobs. And I think the industry is struggling with this transition. We want more diversity. We want different people in the top of our recruitment. But we get really hung up on we've spent all these years, maybe our entire careers being told that we have to rely on CVS's in the past, and it's very hard to detach from that and to say, well, what what will be our next frame of reference or how can we possibly make short cuts and make good decisions?
And so I think that's that's one of the hard things. And and for me, I think one of the the axes that we need to take to get there is to essentially agree upon this sort of industry wide list of skills and competencies today. I think where we get caught up is that one sales development rep might list six core skills and the sales development rep on the team next to them might list six different skills. And and that's where we get really confused.
What actually does this development rep know how to do and how are those skills transferable perhaps to another job? So I think we kind of need to stop that with agreeing on, let's say, one hundred competencies that exist in the top hundred and fifty job titles that people are hiring for and then stop hiring for skills rather than job titles.
Yeah, that's what you mentioned. You give the example of washing dishes in a restaurant and doing data entry showing four out of five Simco skills, right? Yeah, absolutely.
And today, if you were looking for a data clerk, someone to do data entry and somebody applied with CV with the latest job was washing dishes in a restaurant, even the most patient and creative recruiter in the world probably isn't going to give that person an interview just because those two worlds in through the frame of reference of the same completely unrelated. But if you look through a skills based lens and you sort of break down what makes a dishwasher successful in a restaurant, it's things like following processes is things like having a great rhythm and timeliness.
Your restaurants move fast. You need to wash a set number of dishes per hour. And a lot of that is transferable to data entry. The key thing that's different is usage of the computer, for example, but that's easily in twenty twenty. That's easily a skill that you likely have picked up elsewhere. And so the idea would be, for me, an ideal world for recruitment is allowing people to use the breadth and depth of their entire human experience, not just their work experience, to apply for jobs and to get recognized for the different skills that they possess.
And how did you embed that into your recruiting process on screen? Yeah, yeah.
I mean, a lot of what I've talked about here is about particularly serving populations and jobs where mobility can be life changing. So potentially going from an hourly job to something that's more stable, something that's more ongoing office space. That could be a lot of mobility for someone. And and it's interesting, I'm very interested in this area of things, what we might in the past terms, blue collar work or things like this. And today it's creating a lot of the work that we do is sort of in this knowledge work and in that software engineering space, which I mentioned, which is a crowded space.
I don't think, however, that you're excluded from applying this thinking to software engineers. I actually think the engineering world is is far ahead of the rest of the recruiting world in terms of thinking about transferable skills and thinking about how people learn. So for engineers constantly have to be learning and teaching themselves or learning from others because it never stay still languages and the skills you need to be a great engineer. So I think in some ways, working with engineers for the past six years has fed a lot of that thinking.
And then what I'm trying to feed back into it, it's green is the way we look at requirements for a job. I really push our hiring managers and my team as well when we when we say, hey, we're going to start hiring for an engineering manager next week, I say, well, instead of doing that sort of classic at least six to eight years hands on experience as an engineer, followed by at least five years experience managing a team of X, we kind of went, well, those are just those are proxies for what we're looking for.
So why don't we actually look for the skills and then take a step back and see how how might people acquire these skills? And so that'll be the way to work in that screen to be around challenging those sort of very common job descriptions that we see and saying, well, is it possible that we could find someone who has six years of engineering experience and still wouldn't succeed at that job? OK. And is it also true that we could find someone who just started out and who in the right context could actually succeed?
Because maybe they'll bring the professional maturity from their former career working in operations or work in communications? I think for a long time, recruiters, recruiters particularly, who don't have engineering acumen or don't come from that engineering background. I think there's been a lot of mythology, kind of. Grounding the software engineer, and it's very hard to understand the skills, it's not if you sort of break it down, the ability to write code in a specific language is one skill amongst 10 that an engineer needs to succeed and those other nine can probably be found in other industries and other jobs.
So I think I think it's about really sort of unboxing job titles and experience and looking at it from that real what can people do and what might they already know how to do? It's just not packaged up within that software developer job title.
Can you tell us more about the actual process, the civil steps that the candidate goes through when when they want to join the screen, and probably more particularly on the assessment, how do you how do you fit in those two skills that you're targeting? Yeah, absolutely.
From a big picture point of view, I always sort of challenge new recruiters on new hiring managers or founders and start ups to say, you know, you don't need an elaborate multi step hiring process. Now bear with me. There are some good reasons to have an elaborate multi step hiring process, but usually a lot of the hiring processes we build, we're comforted by the number of steps and we're comforted by the idea that it seems objective. And we kind of say, look at all this, these steps and these assessment grades and the take home tests.
And probably we're doing an objective assessment. And I always encourage people to step back and say a recruitment process really needs to do two things. One, it needs to ensure that you as a company get the required information to be enthusiastic about hiring that person. And on the candidate side, it requires that they get the information from you to be enthusiastic about choosing you.
Now, some of the most skilled founders, recruiters, hiring managers in the world can do that in one half hour coffee meeting with the candidate. If that's you make that your process. I think it's not the majority of people. And I think I think that generally what we need to do is is is test and sell and do different pieces and build momentum. It's a lot of people compare recruiting to the sales process. I don't always agree, but in this case I do.
There is there are steps to go through, as you know, at the beginning may be a candidate's mildly curious about what you're doing, but by the time that a third person in your company, they're really excited. So we don't think about choosing jobs in the way that we think about choosing a subscription. I imagine, Robert, how many subscriptions do you currently have?
I don't know. In 50, probably more than that. Yeah.
And how many how many full time jobs do you have? Just the ones. And so when people think about choosing a job on the candidate side, they might require more steps, even though you as a as a company have been convinced from day one. So it's all a bit of a balance between selling and testing. But at the end of the day, you just need to do those two things.
Yeah. So the software engineering hiring process, that screen, we've written a lot about it. There's some media articles out there. It has it's quite robust. It has quite a few steps today. And that's something we're working to streamline. We want to make sure that we are giving candidates enough information that they're meeting the right people, but that they're not getting exhausted, going through too many steps. We're also very aware that the majority of candidates for software engineering roles have full time jobs and possibly interviewing with five, six, 10 other companies.
So we're quite sensitive to that in the way we design things. We make sure that we don't test the same things at every step. Right. The goal is not to have a conversation with me and then with the hiring manager and then with a peer. That's exactly the same thing. So what we try and do is divide skills into gateways. What things do I need to know or my my recruiters on my team need to know on a first call to make it worth the time for both the candidate and the hiring manager to jump on a second goal.
What skills do we need to test with a take home technical test, for example, that would be better served by that format than by a live whiteboard coding session, for example? So we're intentional about interview design, about what should happen in each set, but we're also very careful to make sure it's not heavy on candidates and that they're never more than twenty four hours without news from us or without news on the next step. And we've been concerned with candidate experience since the beginning of screen.
We've been lucky enough to have some great gospel reviews from candidates who we didn't hire, which is a really nice thing. But we also wanted to put some data around our suspicions. And so at the beginning of this year, we put in place a candidate. For those of you who aren't familiar, it's a net promoter score or something more often used in products. And when we started to put this in place, we realized that there wasn't really an industry benchmark for this.
So we. We'll just track our own progress over the next few quarters. Watch the trends. And so we've been pleasantly surprised with the results. We fixed ourselves an objective of being over 60 consistently for the quarter where currently sitting at seventy five for the second month in a row. But what's more important to us is that when candidates write the experience, they can also leave comments. And that's what we've been learning about, about things we can change potentially where even the best design process might have gone awry and we needed to fix that.
So that's been really helpful for us. OK?
And with all the tools, the different tools you're using, what's your stock today doing the interview process starting maybe from sourcing to closing?
Yeah, I'd have to say we probably have one of the least sophisticated stacks of any reporters I know. And it's not because it's not because we don't believe in tools.
It's just that tools are a way to do something. And if we had sort of no tools, we'd still want to be able to to continue our recruitment activity. We run a very relational style of recruitment versus transactional and transactional recruitment. You see a lot with founders or hiring managers who are doing this for the first time or recruiters or early in their career where they're very, very focused on short term ROIC, whether that's from a tool or a conversation.
And they're very focused on being data driven. That doesn't serve them, I think. And a lot of that comes from an agency mindset. And I understand it's the game. You need your junior recruiters to make X amount of outreaches on on LinkedIn and to have X amount of phone calls and and quality is is supposed to be driven out of quantity. And we take an opposite approach. So we do a very qualitative recruitment. We play for the for the long term.
The proof. Just yesterday in San Francisco, we unboarded an account executive, Tom, who we first started talking to in January twenty nineteen. And that's the third recruitment of its type. There are some people I have in hiring processes who I met three companies ago for the first time, and because we took that relational long game with them, we're able to bring them in and it's the right time for them and for us. And it's a great experience.
That said, we don't do everything with pen and paper or with Excel. So today I'm a big fan of LinkedIn recruiter. I think it's a good tool. That's, well, price that's accessible for startups. One year use of the search for LinkedIn recruiter is essentially the equivalent of half of what you pay an agency for one hire and you get just such a great volume of contacts. And thanks for that. So LinkedIn recruiter for me is a no brainer.
The second thing that we use, we're always open to working with platforms, whether it be hire suite, whether it be talent that we think have really understood the way software engineers think about their own careers and the way they like to be contacted and who are thinking about their products with a product mindset as opposed to an agency mindset. So we tend to use platforms like that opportunistically. We do a lot of our hiring outside of our own geographical area.
So today we have physical offices in France, in Paris and in San Francisco. But we have people operating from 14 different locations around the world. So we do a combination. We relocate people into into Paris, for example. We've got probably about seven members of the team who've made that shift. And we also hire people in the place where they currently living to work with us. And so given that often our tools need to be global and not geographic specific, and that's where things like LinkedIn refer to come in handy and then to organize everything, we work with an old lever.
I've been lucky enough to meet the co-founder and some of the team leader in San Francisco, and I love the way they're thinking about recruitment software as design first as opposed to some of these highly customizable but really not user friendly software that we've typically been stuck with over the past ten years was great.
We had some people from Liver on the podcast as well. Also, you mentioned that you you mentioned that you oftentimes hire people for years before and after the first touch points. How do you nurture your talent pool? Do you use liver to take people or do you have an external Google spreadsheet where you track everybody you want to close in the next few years? What's the hold? You create that?
Yeah, I'd come back to how unsophisticated our out of our stack is. I'd say essentially it's it's a combination of searching my Gmail, LinkedIn inboxes and a good memory. And because we are doing this, as I said, it's relational, it's long game, it's not quantity over quality. There's probably thirty people who fall into that category. Right. It's not three hundred and. Managing and it's fun, I don't even think about managing those relationships, because usually what happens is we've met someone great.
It was clear that it wasn't the right fit or timing or for whatever reason, but there was a compelling enough reason for us to say, hey, this is someone we should keep on our radar. And so quite naturally, if we're hosting an event at screen, whether that be something online or in pre twenty, twenty one, we're hosting sort of a regular monthly social events that screen. They would just be people who would say, oh, I haven't seen them in a while, we should invite them across, or it might be someone who follows us on medium or on LinkedIn and one of us or the other will reach out saying, hey, I saw a cool thing you did.
So it's very natural. It's very organic. It's not something that I think we need to scale that particular approach. And then I'd say there's a secondary piece of that, which is people who apply, for example, maybe we have them through a recruitment process and they're a little early in their career for our state. That doesn't mean that too early in their career to work for the job. But it's more if we're hiring our very first customer success manager and we have someone who'd be a great second or third hire, that's not going to we're not going to set them up for success today, but probably in 12 months.
And in which case we would use Leever and a snooze function and I'll get a ping in nine months saying, hey, Allison, you should reach out to this person.
And for us, that works well enough for today and about setting them up for success. And then you spent a lot of time refining the voting process. Can you tell us more about what you learned in the process? Yeah, yeah.
Maybe a set before the onboarding as well. I think there's there's a bigger picture. Question around should recruit is just recruiting and should people just do people stuff. And I'm a big proponent for those two things being linked. It's my profile. I was both recruiting and leading people at screen and now I oversee both the both areas of things. And I have people in my team who straddle both recruitment and people, and that's intentional. I think if you split incentives or split focus where you have someone who's just focused on getting people through the door and filling roles, and then you have someone else whose job it is to make them successful, I think naturally you'll have some conflict of interest.
And so today my whole team and everyone in the hiring process is incentivized in the same way. Sure, we need to hire to go faster. Sure, we need people in these roles, but we also still need them there in three months, six months, three years. And that's a real sort of combined work that happens through the hiring process. It happens at onboarding and it happens through our whole talent and career development phase. And that's a joint work between the recruiter who's bringing them in, the people team and managers and hiring managers through there on the what we would tend to do at our stage if we don't if we think someone's great, but we can't set them up for success because perhaps they need mentoring and we don't have someone specifically available for that, or they would require more assistance on pure engineering.
And we don't have someone in that time zone to do that will air on the side of being transparent and not making the hire. We'd rather it be a great experience for everyone than bring people in and say, well, it's up to you to figure it out, but we're not here to support you for us. That's not a good way to do things. And so a lot of those hires I mentioned earlier fall into that category where we say it's not an excuse, it's not a brush off to say in 12 months we should work together.
It's high. In twelve months, we'll have this manager in place. We'll have this sort of role and we could bring you in on voting. That said, that's something that we've spent a lot of time thinking about, because I think it's something people generally don't do a good job of. I can count the number of times I've shown up to a full day of work and my manager wasn't there that day. Nobody knew who I was. There was no desk.
They said, hey, read the manual. And that's seven p.m. that night. And you leave saying, did I make the right choice? So the on voting is is make sure that the first week your new hires feel absolutely convinced that they couldn't have made a bit of decision. And that takes a lot of so it doesn't have to be complex, make sure that contract is is ready and make sure they've got the hardware set up, make sure there's a desk and that someone's expecting them and make sure everyone acts like they're really excited for them to be there.
And the rest the rest is bonus. Right. The rest is content. The rest is figuring out documenting a one on ones or videos. But that's that's the details. What you want is the feeling you want people to feel welcome and expected and then to know where they need to get the information so that they can quickly be efficient.
OK, we still have five minutes left. I'd like to to ask a few quick questions. What's the what's the main advice you'd like to give to your ten years younger self when it comes to hiring?
Obviously, I think I think I got so caught up in and this happens a lot with self profiles. I got caught up in the things I didn't know instead of working with what I did have. And I think play to your strengths is. Really, what I'd say doesn't matter if it doesn't look like what everyone else is doing. You mentioned my medium post writing is something that comes quite easily to me, but it's something that's not usually considered a recruitment skill today.
I'd say absolutely right. And great things will come out of that.
Basically, your strengths and and what's the what's the you hate the most about hiring and recruiting? And you must find one. Yeah, just one of I think there's a lot about the industry that I but I think is broken, but I don't blame the players and I think that should be clear. I don't know. A lot of people hate on recruiters, LinkedIn and elsewhere. It's it's not their fault. It's it's an industry and social wide thing.
But for me, it's elitism in all its forms. It's not serving us in any way, shape or form, particularly in the startup industry. We need to let go of this attachment to top schools, big companies. We need to get much more creative and much smarter about where we find talent. Elitism isn't how we win.
OK, and you mentioned that you have people in the team in 14 different locations, right? So what's your advice? And companies that are making the switch to full remote teams? No, because they don't have to.
Yeah, for sure. And to be fair, I think for me it's probably easier than what we're currently doing. We're doing hybrid and we probably always will do a hybrid with office locations that people love and then the ability to be based wherever you wish to, to be based. I actually think that's the model. I think all of us feel remote is easier, but the advice in any case is overcommunicate. Feeling of connection is more important than efficiency of communication.
You know, there was a lot of buzz in twenty nineteen around Synchronoss and asynchronous communication. It's still important when you have time phones, but all of that goes out the window in a time like twenty twenty where human connection, when you can't see your colleagues every day or even every month or every quarter becomes important. So overcommunicate I think is the key to to feel remote.
OK, my last question would be, I know that your leg Beukes contains recommendations, communities. What are the best books, the best content that you'd recommend reading today?
Yeah, so I actually don't think this is quite a controversial topic. I don't think there are any good books about recruitment out there today. I think that's one that's very popular in the industry. But I don't recommend and I think it's outdated and probably needs to be rewritten. But I think the number one thing you can do for yourself as a recruiter, as a hiring manager, as a person who makes decisions about other people's livelihood, is to read more fiction, particularly about people who don't look like you.
I recommend founders spend less time reading business books and more time reading fiction and poetry. That'll teach you a lot more about other people's experience outside of your own. And I think that's what recruitment is. It needs more empathy. And when I talk about empathy, I'm not saying it's not a soft feeling thing. It's the ability to intellectually put yourself in somebody else's shoes. So I would say, yeah, read fiction by people, by authors, by black authors, by people who grew up in different socioeconomic situations than yourself.
That's the best thing you can do for yourself as a reporter. What's your top of mind recommendations?
Oh. Oh, that would be I'll have to I'll have to get back to you on that one. Okay. Thanks a lot. Alison has been a great conversation and thanks for sharing it with us today. My pleasure. Thanks, Robin. Thanks for listening. Podcast till the end, if you're still with us. It's probably that you enjoyed the players. Eight players is brought to you by myself and higher suites while building a saucing automation software. And we already have nine other tech companies.
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