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In the world of recruiting, some people have seen it all. They build recruiting teams from the ground up, hired hundreds of people in the best companies in the world. People love their expertise year after year. I'm Robin Choi and I'm on a mission to collect their learnings. These are their stories. Hi, everyone. Today we're having James Donovan will reply to my LinkedIn message asking for a guest this week. And we've been in a talk for a while with James, and we decided to record an episode today about Discovery. And I often say that discovery is very important in the recruiting process, both Discovery with the candidates and with the hiring manager. So this is what we'll be covering today and James to share, including a template that he uses. So very happy that you're here, James, today. Can you say a bit more about yourself and about the topic that we decided to address today?


Yeah, absolutely. First, I just want to say thanks for having me on. It's been great. I've been interacting with you on LinkedIn for a while and they're putting out so much good content around recruiting and really excited to get to chat in person and get my own ideas out here. And hopefully we can have a little bit of a discussion because very curious to kind of hear how you think about these things as well, to give you a little bit of background on myself. I have a very atypical background, but that's pretty commonplace in recruiting. I feel like no recruiter meant to get into recruiting. We all just kind of ended up here. But I started off as a professional athlete, but not any one of the exciting sports. I was in rowing, so rode in college road for the US team a little bit after you don't make a lot of money as a rower. So I did a lot of coaching of rowing, but also a lot of tutoring, a lot of helping kids get into college, navigate the college application process. But a big part of my thing, interestingly enough, was kind of discovery what kids were looking to do with their careers.


Right. I think that's one of the big areas that's lacking in education more broadly is where we're giving people this nice solid basis, but not really talking about personal development, goal setting, careers, what's out there in the job market. And when I did decide to go into business, felt like recruiting was just a really great match for my skill set and really aligns well with that philosophy that I had of trying to find that right match of what people were looking for. I was pretty lucky. Friend of a friend of a friend who had known for a little while as one of the co founders of the company called Cherry. They were a 25 person real estate data start up in the city. No internal recruiting team joined them as employee 25 and basically helped them hire over 50 people in a year and a half period. All different parts of the business. Ran everything from building out recruiting, tech stack processes, employer branding. I took care of most of the people operations stuff, even stocking the fridge, all of the necessary start up stuff. Pandemic hit. Ended up doing a little bit of contract work here and there across a bunch of different businesses.


Great opportunity to learn a lot of the different philosophies strategies, different tech stocks that are out there. And then the land is here at Rocks. And so I've been leading recruiting for a few different parts of the business here at Rocks, mostly product business, analytics, but I've recruited sales, engineering, finance, basically everything. Made about 70 hires in just shy of a year and a half period here. And we're still growing very quickly, a lot of pressure on us, but it's been a lot of fun. It's just that the one thing that they needed has been building out process standardizing. The recruiting function is pretty young and so I've gotten a lot of opportunities, been a lot of fun helping them build out standard templates for things like intake meetings. But also how do we approach process, how do we approach interviews, how do we approach offers. Really trying to standardize those best practices across the business.


Nice. And before we talk about all these processes, the discovery these templates people will check you on LinkedIn and see that you are a recurring lead and a meme specialist. Can you tell us more about this?


Sure, yeah. So I think it's a little bit of an inside joke at the business. I do a lot of meme in the company chat and I have a little talent acquisition segment at the end of the week. We have like a get together. The whole company trying to promote whatever job that we need referrals for and give people a little bit of an update. And I try to keep it interesting by freshening it up with memes because those company announcements always weekend wake up, they can get a little stale. But I like memes. I think obviously on just kind of the baseline point, they can be very funny, but I think it's a great way to kind of connect, really share that same feeling experience. I think they communicate things a little bit better sometimes than words or pictures or videos and so you can really kind of relate to a good meme. And so I really like to leverage that both in how I interact with people personally and professionally and I just think they're a lot of fun.


Actually I have a great meme on rowing because we use memes ourselves in our monthly meetings with the team. And I didn't use it, but I discovered it and then now we use it every time it's about I'll share it with you and we can get back on track now. And so when we discussed about what we could address in that recording, we both agreed that discovery in the recruiting process is so important, both discovery with the candidate and with the hiring manager and a good discovery early on in the process just makes it so much easier for the entire process. And we decided to talk about that and maybe split it between discovery with the candidate and then with the hiring manager. And the good thing is that you also this template to share. So where do you want to start? Do you want to start with the hiring manager and discovery about the job or with the candidate and discovery about maybe what you've done? Like what do you want to do later?


Yeah, I think the hiring manager kind of role definition makes the most sense to start there, but to talk just at a high level and we were talking about this in the beginning, I think really what this comes down to is finding the right fit from both sides. You can't just find a candidate who has the skills fit for the job that you're looking for because they might not find that work interesting, they might not resonate with company culture and that's not going to be a long term fit. You're going to end up having to backfill that one pretty quickly. And then on the other side, if you hire someone who has that skill set but they don't resonate well with the hiring manager, they're not getting along with culture from the company standpoint, they might not be a good fit long term for the business as well. And so finding that fit to your point, it's about discovery on both sides and we had talked about bringing in knowledge strategy process from other disciplines. I work a lot in product management and I see a lot of the work that I do with hiring managers very similar to the product management work of really trying to understand what the stakeholder wants, what the customer wants and building that ideal product.


And then I see the candidate side as being very salesy right, understanding what the customer is interested in, what are their pain points, what do they really care about and making sure that you kind of address that through the sales process and I think you can do that the same thing with recruiting for a players.


Okay, so maybe before even we start, why do you believe it's important to so I understand the fits, but also why is it so important to run a proper discovery process? And maybe you can give the answer that I'm trying to get you to because that's one of my convictions is that if you just ask a person what they're looking for be the hiring manager or the candidate. They'll tell you one thing and if you don't really dig and if you don't go to the root causes. You can come back three months later and the person picked another job completely different. Or the hiring manager hired someone who was much younger or didn't have the expected skill set. So would you agree that the goal of a good discovery is to scrap beyond the surface and really go deep and understand the motives behind what the person says, not just what you want, but why do you want that? Right?


Yeah, I think you hit the nail on the head, and I think if you're a recruiter out there listening to this, we've all had that experience where you hire someone, you think that they're great, you're super excited. The hiring manager is super excited. Even the candidates super excited. They start and then even just sometimes just a couple of weeks in the candidates, like, I don't think this is the right fit for me. And that's heartbreaking because typically by that point, you've wound down your pipeline, you projected all the candidates. The hiring team has kind of moved on, and they're happy that they're probably not going to have to run too many interviews in the near future, and then you have to go all back over and do that all again. And I think that really comes down to there was some miscommunication of what was to be expected, and you can solve that miscommunication in a few ways. And I think that the first place and kind of go back to what we wanted to start with is really understanding from the hiring managers perspective what they're looking for. And I think you're absolutely right when you say a lot of times people just don't know what they're looking for.


They haven't articulated it yet. Right. And it's the same thing in product management. You have a stakeholder and they have a very strong belief that we need to build this thing and we need to do that thing. And really what a good product manager typically does is they say, hey, hold on, before you're telling me what we need to build, let's talk about what problems we're solving, what are the business goals, what are the customers need in the marketplace? Right. Those kinds of questions. And I think similar in recruiting. It's like, okay, before we say you need this engineer with the skills and these kinds of things, what are you really trying to solve for in the business? And sometimes this can be a little too high level, but I think it's important in my experience for hiring managers to help me understand these things. Because a big part of the way I see recruiting is I'm trying to save the hiring manager time. And the more I can kind of align and understand what they're looking for, the more I can be involved in looking at resumes or doing sourcing or having those initial conversations and being able to kind of suss out if a candidate is a good fit and also being able to sell the role effectively to those candidates.


And so I think that all the time that you spend with the hiring manager, even if you feel like you're spending an extra half an hour than you normally would, you're going to get that paid back many times over through the process. But part of to go to the template that I'm going to be sharing with everyone when we publish the video, well, there's a few ideas. Obviously, you base this, the A players idea on the who book, the Guide to Hiring A Players. And that has been a really great source of knowledge for me, especially when I first started recruiting. But I think one of the big things that he talks about in that book is the importance of really defining a purpose for the role that you're hiring. For having that clear definition. Because that's going to live with that person. Not just through the interview process. Not only will help inform the candidate. Also the hiring team. What they're assessing. But once you're on boarding and you're assessing and you're orienting that person at the business. It's helpful knowledge to know. So starting there at that high level, we talk about purpose, responsibility, deliverables.


I also have some things that are a little bit more specific to us at Rocks, where we have levels, I guess that could be easily translated to the seniority of the role. Exactly. But then getting into the candidate profile itself.


I'm looking at the template now, but I'm not sure it's clear for people listening to us. So all descriptions, you start with these five questions. Purpose, what is this role meant to completion? Rocks. This is like North Star. What is this person supposed to do? What the areas of responsibilities? So that's the second question. Responsibilities deliverables. What's expected from this higher in actual numbers? What are the metric driven results that are expected from this? Higher. So I like this as well because this forces the hiring manager to put numbers on this. And it's not just about, well, we're looking for a new salesperson, so obviously she will need to drive revenue. But what do you expect from them? Exactly? What's the type of deals? What's the size of deals? What's the ACV? These are already very good, but the position in the organization, this one, I've never really heard about this one before, but it's both obvious and very important to have this. Like, who does this world report to? What does the team look like? Will this hire have any reports? That's very important. You just have this written down because sometimes it feels obvious.


But it's exactly the same as in sales. As long as the person didn't say this exactly, then you shouldn't assume anything. Right? So you shouldn't assume before asking the question and then the lever runs the question, right?


Yeah. And I think not all of these are at the same level of importance. It's definitely those first three of Purpose, responsibility and deliverables. But I think when you're thinking about these broader pictures, kind of figuring out where this person sitting. the.ORG chart relevant for me as I'm understanding the role. But it's a question that I get a lot from candidates is who am I reporting to? Who am I going to work with? And I think that from a candidate's perspective, we'll talk a little bit later about, especially if you're young, learning is really important. You want to make sure you have a mentor in the person who is going to lead you. You want to have peers that you can collaborate with that are helpful and so kind of getting that sense of where you sit. I think it's something that typically thoughtful candidates are thinking about. It's good to kind of have that answer ready to go and then connects.


To the selling part of the integrity that you'll cover later. Right. How do you sell the company, the role, the person you'll be working with?


Yeah, so the next piece that I typically go into is talking about that candidate profile. And what I find is just like product uses, user stories, trying to use this idea of a candidate story because I feel that people tend to understand things in story form a lot better. And so if I can ask a hiring manager, tell me what is the resume story of this candidate and what they would be looking for? They might say, we're looking for a business analyst. They studied either computer science or some sort of analytics degree in college. They graduated, ideally, they worked at a smaller company where they were a little bit more kind of agile and they had to build things and learn from scratch. But maybe they had a pretty good mentor and they learned quickly. Right. And we're looking for someone who's kind of early mid, who is eager to be part of a growing team. Not something super early stage, but where they can kind of learn from the people that they're working with and learn from their mentor and have a lot of chance to kind of grow and elevate. Once you kind of have this picture of what this person might look like, then you can go into all of those pieces of the must haves and the nice to haves that I break down into kind of experience hard skills and soft skills.


And this is really helpful for when you create process. I like to create a spreadsheet where you have all of those things that are kind of key to the right candidate. You have all the stages of the interview process and you can map those things out, make sure that you're really having ideally redundancy on those things as well and making sure that you're assessing all of those pieces because there's nothing worse than getting to the end of an interview process and being like, oh, we didn't really assess this element or we're concerned about that. And then you have to go back and you have to add ad hoc interviews. It's always not the ideal experience.


I'll just have to hear and again, this is because I probably see things that you are getting used to. But I like that there was two questions on the candidate profile. The candidate store, that is great. And it's also great because this way people will think of the job as a stepping stone in the candidate's journey.




It's not just we need somebody again, we need a salesperson. So she will be doing sales. It's also what's in it for her? Why should she want to join the company? And then there are the skills must have. What would be a deal breaker if the candidate did not have so like this one, because it's really okay. Can't you hire someone who doesn't have that skill? I guess I probably can hire someone who doesn't have this. Okay, so this is not a deal breaker. This is not a must have. This is a nice to have. And then the question for nice to have is what would greatly enhance the disability of qualified candidates? I love it because it's not just a simple bonus, right. It's greatly enhanced. It's not a deal breaker. But you understand that you probably need this, but it's not a deal breaker. So I like it as well. And a lot of companies tend to put too many things under my house because they don't have that second category, right?


Absolutely. And I think your point earlier really resonated with me is to me, this is also about empathy. You're saying like, hey, this is a person, this isn't just a salesperson we're chunking into a spot in the company. This is someone who's going to have their own ambitions, their own interests. And the more we can kind of connect with them as a person. Kind of get inside their head what they might be like and what they might be looking for. The more we're actually going to be able to build that relationship. Build that fit. And really feel like we're going to make a good longterm hire that's really going to both benefit the company and it's going to be good for them as well.


And then the next step, which is sourcing. And this is where you discuss sourcing with the hiring manager, right?


So, yeah, different recruiters have different levels of responsibility when it comes to sourcing. I don't spend a lot of time on this, but you'd be surprised, even just a very small conversation, the amount of information that you can pull out of a hiring manager. Sometimes there's job titles that you're not aware of that might be a good fit. Sometimes there are companies that they know that are pretty close to what your company does or good places to source from. Keywords. I also ask, hey, is there anyone in your network who you could connect me with or you think might be a good fit, or you might have managed a team where we could pull someone from or something like that, or even people at the business. I think a lot of my approach when I have hard to fill roles is go seek out the product management team and sit down with them and go through their LinkedIn and see if there's people that they know that they can reach out to. Because I think that with the oversaturation of outreach on in mail and email, those personal connection referrals and outreach go a long way.


And then getting into the selling, as you mentioned earlier, I think that a good candidate has a lot of options. And if you're really going to attract the best of the best, you can't just expect to win because your company is going to pay better or they should know that you're a great company to work for, right? You really should have to work for selling these people and to prep for a call. I went back and I listened to I think it was Amanda, amanda Bell episode. And I thought, great episode. Highly recommend for anyone who's our first.


Episode, if you want to check it out. First one.


I mean, I was blown away because I think she had such great insight into how to ask questions, how to talk to people in those screens, and how to find really good people. But I think she absolutely hit the nail on the head when she said that selling was such an integral part and you understand what the candidate is looking for early on, and you make sure that the team is selling that through the interview process. It can't just be an assessment gauntlet. Especially with good candidates, you have to kind of engage. You have to get them excited. And I'm always amazed with the selling category of the intake meeting. There are so many times where hiring managers have told me an aspect of the role that is exciting that I did not see myself right. I would have never guessed in a million years we had a more kind of junior product role that just kind of opened up recently. And the hiring manager was telling me this is kind of its own thing at the company. There's not a lot of it's not interconnected with a lot of things. And so you can move very quickly, have a big impact, and this can really take off.


There's a lot of growth potential in this role. And my position as recruiter, I would have never known that, would have never seen that. But I understand when I talk to candidates, they always having that impact, having that ability to grow. It's a huge selling point. And all of a sudden, I have a really big talking point that I can use in all of my screens just because I asked this question in the intake meeting. So I think kind of asking how to sell to the hiring manager usually goes a long way.


And do you try and point the hiring manager in different directions or you just ask like what's good about this? Or what's interesting? How do you organize this and how do you try and generate ideas from the hiring manager?


Sure. So when I think about selling, I think that there's a few standard categories that those normal things that appeal to people rest in. So learning and growth is a big one, especially for people early in their career. But I think throughout your whole career you're always looking to what maybe you learned by doing interesting problems. So that's the second one. Interesting problems. What are they going to be working on? What's interesting about what they're working on? Career advancement, the ability to kind of move up at a company, especially a start up that's agile and always wants to reward and retain people. I think we're always keen to do that here at Rock the Team. And the people I talk more and more of people that are looking to be part of a great culture, a great group of people who are very collaborative. That kind of mindset of if someone drops a ball or something happens, it's not a bunch of people saying, hey, that's not in my job description. It's a bunch of people kind of jumping and say, hey, how can I help? I think you kind of have that environment where everyone's willing to kind of help out when need be.


Generally that kind of pans out over time. You kind of get a chance to pay it back if someone helped you out before driving. Business value. I think a lot of people like to see the value that they're driving to the business. They like to feel good that they're able to create and accomplish something and then confident benefits. I think you got to get paid well for what you do. And we do a lot of really cool stuff. I think a lot of startups are trying to find fun ways to keep work interesting. We do this thing called our yearly kick off and we went out to Hawaii a couple of weeks ago. All expense paid trip for a week. That was really good fun bonding event. And I know a lot of companies do a lot of cool like events, but we have training allowances, things like that. So there's a bunch of standard things. But I also think that you can sometimes find certain situations, certain things that kind of makes individual roles exciting.


Okay, and now we're touching on the candidate side of the discovery process. So now you've done this. You have a clear view of the role. You have a clear purpose, metric driven results expected from the hire in the first few months. You have a clear candidate profile and a candidate story with actual must haves. You know where to source, you know the selling points. You start to source, you start getting replies because you did a good outreach message, because you had the good selling points, and now you have the first printing call, and you're back to discovery again with the candidate. Right?


Yeah. And I think the first question that I ask candidates when we have that initial call is, what interested you in this opportunity? Why us? And I learned a lot from that question. First off, I learned that what their actual answer is, what are the things that are appealing about the company? But it's also, to some degree, understanding how much preparation did they do? What are the things that stand out to them? Because if you read a book or look at a piece of art, you're looking at it through your own lens. And the things that stand out to you also say a lot about who you are. Right. So the people coming and looking at a company, it's different things that will stand out. Some of it will be the culture, some of it will be the growth. Right. And once you can kind of understand what's appealing to them, then I usually give a pitch on the company, and I can really lean into those areas of the pitch. I can tailor it specifically to what they care about. And then the second question that I'll ask is, if you received an offer from every single company that you send a resume to or were mildly interested in, how would you make a decision between those different companies?


And I always liked that question. It's a little bit removed from what are you looking for in the right company? I think it's very easy. People kind of expect that question. They have the nice generic answer that they might give you sometimes. But if you get people to think about it in that way of like, hey, you have unlimited possibilities, really sky's the limit. What are you interested in? I think it really encourages people to talk about the things that are most important to them. And to our point earlier, if you can kind of discover what that is, you can sell through the interview process. But I also think one of the articles that I wrote up on my website is called Solving the Work Problem. And I think one of the best ways to assess people in such a short time, because that's what we kind of need to do as recruiters, is be able to kind of give a yes or no in just half an hour is to understand, ask them about how they're solving the problem of their career. It should be a very big problem in everyone's life. You should spend a lot of time and energy want to solve it very well.


And I always like to give people easier questions when interviewing because they should be able to you kind of get to see that the upper range of what they're capable of, and you. Would assume that finding the right job is something that they would work very hard to do. And so kind of asking those questions of what are your goals in your career? What are you really driving towards? I'm kind of laying into that question, giving them a little bit time and space to answer, and you can learn a lot about people in that moment.


Okay, I'm reading the altitude now, so it's on Jamescaid and I'll share the link in the description, episode description as well. I like the question. So I like both those questions. You just have the person on the call and you say, so why are we talking? Right? What you tick in my message? Or where did you apply on a landing page? It's a good way to make them start speaking. And then if you received an offer from all the different companies you applied and send a resume to, how would you make your decision? There's one I like to ask as well, is how likely are you on a scale of zero to ten, how likely are you to pick us and why not more? The person say, I would say you are an eight, and why not more? What's lacking for ten? What other questions do you use in the discovery process with candidates? How you organize that first screening call?


So if I'm kind of enjoying that, I usually do a little small talk at the beginning, kind of get a sense if someone's in a kind of friendly conversational mood or if they're in more of a business professional mood. If I feel the friendly conversational vibe, I do have, like, really fun ways that I ask my questions. And so the different way of asking the offer question, what are you looking for? Is you come across a lamp and you rub the lamp and out pops the genie. But this isn't your normal wish genie. This is a job genie, and they can grant you whatever job you want. Sky's the limit. Infinite cosmic power. What do you tell the job genie so you can get your best job again? Kind of covering the real intent of the question in kind of like a funny context really helps people think about it from a fresh perspective. They don't fall back on their default answer. I also really like to ask people, what advice would you give yourself if you had just started out in your career? If you can kind of go back you have a time machine.


Go back to when you were younger. We're talking, I guess, Marvel Cinematic timeline rules. Not like disrupting the timeline or continuum or anything like that, but you learn a lot from people, kind of like the knowledge that they've accumulated, what they think is important. I also think the cool thing about an interview like this, where you're talking about what are your goals, what would you tell yourself? Like, what's important to you? Sometimes people don't think about these things as often as they should. And that conversation as a recruiter that we have with these candidates, it's an opportunity for them to become a little bit more conscientious about what they want, a little bit more directed. So I almost feel like we get to serve this very practical business purpose of trying to find the right candidates. We also serve this kind of like therapeutic self guidance purpose of helping to encourage people to think about what they want, what's important to them. Because I think that the advice that you would give yourself. And I think you asked Amanda Bell this in the first interview, and I was like, I love that, because that's the question.


I was like, oh, man, it's like so much stuff that I agree with you, I love. And I think you give that advice to yourself now. I think that advice is always even relevant now. And then the last question is, I generally ask people, how do you think about your work? Like, if you had full agency to kind of run your work process however you wanted. Talk to me a little bit about that because I think that the degree at which people understand their work and can communicate that well shows a lot about the level of knowledge that they have. And one of the things that I'm working on currently article in progress is how to talk about your work in an interview. And in my mind, you can also kind of flip that as from a career standpoint, how do you assess someone's level of knowledge of their work? And I think that there's four levels. So the first level is kind of like a what they can give kind of examples of process. Like, oh, we do this step, we do this step, we do this. The second level is more of a why, right?


First, it's about understanding the problem. So we meet with the hiring manager, kind of work through, and that scoping is really important. Then it's about process feedback loops. So there's this kind of like structure to it. The third level is an Iterative. So saying, oh, it depends on are we hiring a high level role, a C suite role? Are we hiring an entry level role? There are different situations. Are we hiring for a fast moving tech company? Are we moving hiring for kind of a more blue collar position that maybe we're sourcing differently, maybe we're approaching it differently. Maybe they don't have access to video cameras or different zoom chats or stuff like that. Maybe we have to do things by phone call. And then the fourth is innovating in that space. And I think that's kind of like where you and a lot of your guests are coming from that I've listened to, is they're thinking about new ways of doing things, pushing things further. And it's very cool when you get to run into candidates or thinking about that stuff, because those are always fun conversations, but those are kind of generally the four categories that I see when I talk to people and ask them about their work and really kind of helps me understand where they are.


I don't need to know too much about what they're doing. I can just kind of understand the level of, you know, that they're talking about those things. And I'm not always right. It's hard to get a read in 30 minutes, but I think it's a good way of kind of getting a sense.


Okay, nice. And I think we can close with that question if you're ready for it. So what's the advice you would give to your younger self? And you cannot disrupt the timeline, and you cannot break the following of the universe. You just can't give you an advice. So what would you do? What would you say?


Yeah, I think that the advice that keeps coming up in my mind is, don't stress too much. Don't sweat too hard. Don't take life too seriously. I think that it's a nuanced idea. It's like, obviously, life is serious, and you should try to do your best, but knowing that those little things that happen day to day, it's the aggregate of all the decisions that you're going to make over a longer period of time. And the more you kind of react less to those little things and kind of stay focused on the big picture, I think you tend to get there. And that was always tough, especially when I was transitioning into recruiting. I didn't know if it was going to work out, but I think it's been consistent hard work and a lot of great mentorship and great connections, and that's kind of led me to being where I am now.


Enjoy the process.


Exactly right.


Well, thanks a lot. James was great. We'll keep an eye out for the next articles on your blog. Thanks again. You're saying you're talking about hard work, reactivity, enjoying the process. And I really appreciate that you've been able to recall a business that fast, because we talked literally 6 hours ago. So I think that summarizes Wallace advice, like, see the opportunities when they come. So thanks for this, and it was a great episode. And we'll also share the templates that we've been discussing so that people can follow up.


Awesome. Yeah, it was my pleasure, Robin. Thanks for having me.


Hey there. This is Robin. Most of our listeners come from word of mouth, so thanks a lot for your support, and if you enjoy the players, please keep on sharing it with your team and friends. Stay tuned for the next episode, and if you can't wait, follow me on LinkedIn for more content and recruiting. Talk to you next week.