We all know recruiting is hard. Almost everyone, universally, complains about it. I’ve never heard anyone say that they’re always able to hire the best people, whenever they want, easily. It just doesn’t happen. More often than not though, at least in my experience, it’s actually a problem of effort and not something else. Sure it’s always hard to recruit and different cities have different problems. In Silicon Valley and San Francisco it might be salaries and the fact that there’s tons of competition from hot companies. Everywhere else, it’s a general lack of talent (and I’m speaking mostly about tech talent: developers & designers). So recruiting awesome people is hard…we get it.
Everyone likes to complain about it but very few people do anything about it. And that was the point of a presentation that I gave recently on recruiting (see below). While in hindsight it might seem a bit grumpy and mercenary, I had a simple message: You can succeed at recruiting if (a) your company doesn’t suck (unfortunately, most do); and (b) you put in a shit ton of work (unfortunately, most don’t). If your company sucks and you don’t want to try hard at recruiting, I seriously cannot help you. No one can. Give up now. If only one of those statements is true, you have a fighting chance. If neither is true (so you don’t suck and you do want to work hard at it, or already are), you’re winning and don’t even need to look at the presentation.
While giving the presentation, I saw quite a few faces that looked unimpressed. Perhaps it really did come off as insulting, but that wasn’t the point. I want to expand on a few of the points below, although I won’t reiterate the 7 steps, because they’re fairly clear in the presentation:
- Recruiting is top down: It’s amazing to me how few CEOs/founders really work at recruiting. Someone in the audience asked the question (I’m paraphrasing), “I get that I have to put in a lot of work to recruit, but I’m doing so much else too, how can I balance it all?” I didn’t respond this way (someone else on the panel spoke before I did), but in my head I was thinking, “It’s fucking hard. That’s it. I can’t say anything else. It’s just plain fucking hard.” But if people are your most important asset, how can you justify not putting the effort? How can you ever have a hope of winning without great people?
Recruiting is top down. CEOs/founders have to do the heavy lifting, which in turn will inspire everyone else at the company to recruit as well.
- Asses in seats is not a recruitment strategy: Personally, I thought this was one of my best lines. Sadly, it didn’t get the laugh I thought it would. If you think of hiring as a means of putting asses in seats, then you’re screwed. Please remember: You’re not trying to fill chairs with asses, you’re trying to fill your company with awesomeness.
- Most companies are meh: There are a lot of crappy companies out there. Having said that, people still work at those companies. So I suppose the lesson is that even if you’re a crappy company you can still, somehow, succeed. That’s not true in startups though; each person is so insanely important that if there’s one bad apple, everything falls apart. In larger companies (which are often the ones that are crappy), you can have plenty of bad or mediocre people sneaking about…eventually it chews away at things, but it can take a long time.
- People want to be paid well: During my presentation this seemed to hang people up, particularly the early stage founders who don’t have a lot of money to pay people. I get it. I’ve paid people in pizza before too. But my point is this: In Canada (at least) we tend to under value people (particularly developers and designers) and in return pay them less than they’re worth. Are we paying less because the cost of living is so much lower here? Really? Pay people more, it makes a difference. Note: You can’t pay developers more and have a crappy company / crappy work environment and expect them to stay; money doesn’t solve all the problems…but the best developers are really worth a lot.
- Brain drain happens: People leave Canada. It happens. People also come to Canada, but generally we seem obsessed with the people that are leaving. In my mind the only way to stop someone from leaving is to build a great company and convince them to work there. That’s it. Government subsidies and other strategies may work sometimes or once in awhile, but at the end of the day, it’s the best companies that get the best people. And the best people create the best companies–talk about a virtuous cycle!
If you want to hire great people, you have to put in the work. You need to put in a lot of effort, throughout your entire company. You need to attack recruiting like you would sales. You need to play the short game and the long game. You need to stand out.