Hack The Hiring Funnel
How to create the right hiring process for your startup, the journey of Workable, growth of Greek startup industry, 6 funding rounds, storytelling, empowering product teams and more
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Hack The Hiring Funnel by Andreas Nomikos, Software Engineer at Connectly
This week, I’m really excited to have Andreas Nomikos on the newsletter, for a guest post on how to create the right hiring process for your startup. Andreas has direct experience with the hiring process in Big Tech companies, working for several years as a Software Engineer at Uber and Facebook, and most recently at Connectly. Connectly is a startup building an AI-powered, messaging-first business platform to help businesses manage their customer communications. They have a remote team around the world, including Greece and are currently hiring. Right below, Andreas deep dives into hiring funnels, shares best practices, presents an often-overlooked area by most teams, and much more. Enjoy!
A critical part of scaling a startup is the ability to quickly and effectively achieve a desirable headcount to capitalize on breakthroughs and maintain growth momentum. In this article, I’m presenting my take on the Hiring Funnel including a frequently overlooked step: Onboarding. Based on Big Tech and startup experience, I’m sharing best practices on how to structure, measure, identify/mitigate risks and set up new hires for success.
“It's easy to double, It's very hard to quadruple every year.” Eric Schmidt
You have found that elusive dragon of product-market fit, secured some sweet new funding and are ready to grow the company’s headcount. It's time to Blitzscale.
How do you approach setting up your first real hiring process in a way that maximizes efficiency, candidate satisfaction and long-term employee retention using resources you can afford? Having a good framework allows you to look at the purpose of every step of the hiring process, measure and optimize. With the market for talent, especially engineering, having reached searing hot levels, you need to be at the top of your game.
The good will you accumulate during your hiring process will set you up for success, allow you to effectively scale your organization and catapult you to the next echelons of success. If you falter, you will stall your growth momentum and dilute your company culture, while your current workforce slowly starts to burn out and eventually heads for the exits.
A traditional hiring funnel will usually guide you until the employee start date, but in my view, this omits one of the most crucial steps: Onboarding. Onboarding is your opportunity to present the best version of your company and inject new ideas into your organization, before the reality of OKRs, deadlines and performance cycles sets in.
With that in mind, let's take a look at the main steps of the hiring process. This framework could be used with other disciplines, but my point of view is heavily influenced by the software engineering market. I’m organizing each step of the hiring funnel based on the following attributes:
Activities: sample activities around which you can organize operations.
Do’s: best practices to incorporate.
Don’ts: pitfalls to avoid during each step.
Metrics: track them to differentiate success from failure and iterate on your process.
tl;dr: Start with a purposeful job description. Identify the necessary skills that candidates will need to possess in order to be successful in the role for the first 18 months and communicate those succinctly. Utilize your strengths to drive as many of them into the next step of your pipeline; a list of (hopefully) qualified and engaged candidates on your favourite applicant tracking system e.g. Workable, Lever, Greenhouse.
Write down job descriptions outlining not only the necessary skills, but also visualizing the role details and potential career progression. Programming languages and tech stack knowledge are a good start, but an engineering job goes beyond that, especially in an early-stage company.
Utilize recruiting resources like agencies, contractors, VCs and in-house teams that can help with search, direct outreach and operations. Use them wisely (e.g. for critical hires) and always evaluate the ROI.
Be where your potential candidates are. Develop a strong presence in communities through active outreach and participation. For hiring engineers, Hackernews, Twitter, Reddit, developer conferences, tech meetups & Github projects are more impactful than an article on Business Insider or Forbes.
Maintain an active engineering and company blog. Showcase your strengths, your company and engineering culture, interesting problems the team is working on and exciting business opportunities e.g. “How we make decisions/review code”, “Sample retro from a recent outage”.
Employee referrals program. If people working in your company don’t want to bring in people they know, you need to root–cause immediately.
Proactively get the word out about what you do as a company and what you stand for. You can’t fill a pipeline within a week, so it's crucial to have an established presence for the time you need to scale.
Increase your reputation as an employer of choice. If you reach out to a candidate, you have way better chances if the candidate has already heard of you.
Hire for raw talent/potential/personal excellence attributes. Evaluate your actual job requirements and your capacity to teach skills, especially for early-stage engineers.
Incentivize employees for contributing. Help them out by providing writing resources/training for blog posts. The highest quality of leads comes from people you have already hired and have filtered potential peers in previous projects.
Be mindful of hiring bias as you build your pipeline. Double-check your content for wording that would encourage only certain types of personalities and backgrounds to apply. Construct your target cohorts to be inclusive by choosing general population criteria and market job opportunities widely. Many problems with hiring diversity start at the top of the funnel.
Avoid job description word salads the same way that you expect candidates to present you with a well-crafted CV.
Overly detailed and steep requirements will unnecessarily narrow your applicants or worse, embarrass you e.g. 5 year experience on a framework that exists for 3 years.
A complex application process that is too long and tedious. Asking questions that require long answers when the same question can take 1 minute during a screening call or making people re-enter every line of their resume.
Number of visits on your company career page & relevant blog posts.
Engagement on your company’s social media.
Number and quality of reviews on your Glassdoor page or similar.
Number and percentage of responses in cold outreach messages.
Distribution of applicants per job post. Bonus points for including source (recruitment channel) breakdown.
Conversion rate per job post.
Drop off points and rate for people that start filling out your application.
tl;dr: Use Simple Rules (example here, but you need to come up with your own!) to allow you to quickly and efficiently trim down your Lead Pipeline to the order of magnitude that you can handle in the Evaluation step.
Review party where the team goes through the list of resumes to narrow down the candidates. Make it a team activity and have everybody on the same page.
Recruiter Phone screen. Gauge level of interest, verify and expand on resume points, build rapport and excitement.
Manager/Technical Phone screen. A 360 rapid-fire evaluation best done by experienced interviewers to assess candidate level of readiness/preparedness to go through the Evaluation step.
Simple and efficient rules e.g. candidate must have at least X (25% or 50% usually) chance to pass the Evaluation step. You will need a basic point system to apply uniformly to order resumes/profiles.
Scope the screening process based on the resources you have available. e.g. With only a few resumes at hand in an early-stage company, you may have the hiring manager do the screening interview themselves. This will give you a better signal for the Evaluation step, but the workload can become overwhelming later on.
Sell the dream (see here). “Either people get it and get excited or you move on to the next person.”
Let the candidate ease in the process. The initial contact can always feel awkward, so have the candidate talk more about themselves in a semi-structured format during any initial screening calls and focus on clarifying hiring process issues.
Be upfront about some non-negotiable parts of the position like remote vs office expectations and salary ranges. Avoid spending all that effort in the Evaluation step only to discover obvious misalignments in the Negotiation step.
Overextend the process. The clock starts now so it's better to keep the candidate’s time overhead to a minimum.
Number and percentage of candidates that meet the basic job requirements indicated by your simple point system. A high percentage of low qualified applicants may indicate that your job requirements need a revision.
Drop-off rate at screening step with reasoning.
Latency: distribution of time needed from initial application to scheduling evaluations.
Throughput: number of total applicants reaching the Evaluation step.
Offer rate per initial point system bucket or other simple rules specific breakdown. Monitor and revise!
tl;dr: A range of interviews with each candidate focused on extracting as much signal about the capacity to be successful at the role, followed by a final decision based on that signal.
Interview day/onsite. A “full” day of in-person interviews with the candidate (4-6 interviews overall), typically broken down into several focus areas (Coding, Systems, Behavioral, Algorithms, etc.) with at least 1 interview per area.
Interview day/remote. An attempt to emulate the onsite experience, but through digital means.
Take Home Project. Prepare and submit a coding project over a small time period (about a week) that gets reviewed asynchronously. Sometimes also used for screening purposes.
Project/Interview hybrid. Prepare based on a project prompt then present and extend your work during a live interview. This can work for coding, as well as system design interviews, and is geared towards a remote process.
Hiring committee. Assemble feedback from all interviewers and come up with a unanimous decision through discussion. Unconscious bias training can help tremendously in the same way it helps during a performance review, so you should invest in it when appropriate.
Founder review. Relevant in companies where the founders feel strongly about certain cultural aspects or personal traits and they may try to review all hiring decisions/packets for red flags. This can work well in early company stages, but will not scale infinitely.
Communicate the interview timeline clearly to candidates. Respect their time and your time.
Make sure that interviewers are sufficiently trained in the process. Utilize the “See one, Do one, Teach One” concept to ensure that interviewers have enough exposure to the process to run it smoothly and professionally.
Ensure that interviewers have sufficient domain expertise to evaluate the candidate. While it may be useful to occasionally have people at lower levels (L-1) interview candidates for level L, in general, you should rely on interviewers at or above the target level including at least an L+1 to lead the evaluation loop.
Try to include interviewers from adjacent orgs and teams to provide a well-rounded evaluation, especially for Staff+ candidates that will end up interacting with multiple teams.
Be courteous to candidates that are not hired and try to provide them with as much feedback as reasonably (or legally) possible. Many candidates will usually return for an interview down the line.
Overcomplicate the process. 4-5 direct interviews over 1 day (if you are using the onsite process) should be enough to extract significant signals to enable an accurate evaluation.
Avoid multiple rounds over a period of time trying to narrow down candidates to the “Chosen One”. Candidates aren’t likely to stay around for a third or even a second round of interviews with the current job market.
Percentage of candidates that get unanimous no-hire recommendations from interviewers.
Drop-off rate at Evaluation step with reasoning.
Latency: distribution of time needed from initial scheduled evaluation to hire/no-hire decision.
Throughput: number of total offers going out.
Offer rate per interviewer recommendation.
tl;dr: A very tricky part of the process due to the dynamics involved. Be upfront and straightforward as much as possible and use proper etiquette and techniques to reach an equitable agreement, which will lead to an accepted and signed offer letter with a starting date.
Hiring Manager reverse interview: Make the hiring manager or a company leader available for a reverse interview to address questions about the company, the role, the team and selling the dream.
Meet the team. Take the candidate out for a quick lunch/coffee or organize a virtual Meet & Greet or a team activity.
Be respectful and answer questions truthfully and in a straightforward manner. Senior candidates understand the market too well to hide or obfuscate things. It can be completely demoralizing for a new hire to show up and discover an entirely different reality.
Find out what matters to your chosen candidate and include it in your offer. It’s not always strictly about monetary rewards e.g. people may want their start date delayed because they need to take care of a loved one or have time to decompress.
Capture and incorporate qualitative feedback from both people that accept and reject your offers.
Don’t wait until this step to disclose important aspects of the position like remote/non-remote.
Similarly, verifying aspects of the candidate’s resume should have been done already.
Offer acceptance rate with dropoff reasoning.
Throughput: number of total acceptances.
Capture and incorporate quantitative and qualitative feedback through surveys. Beware of selection bias and try to get an accurate view of your evaluation process from people that are not offered a job as well.
tl;dr: Major opportunity to influence the next generation of employees at their most formative time with the company. Create a thoughtful and deliberate process balancing inspirational long-term vision with short-term priorities and help new hires hit the ground running.
Onboarding package: Material prepared from HR, Legal, IT, etc. to introduce a new employee to important company processes, requirements, equipment and enable them to get the lay of the land. Particularly important for remote-first companies is to introduce the cross-company communication tools, patterns and etiquette.
Onboarding plan: A 2-pager prepared by the Hiring Manager outlining the personalized 3 month plan for the new employee with week 1 and 30/90 day expectations and milestones.
Onboarding tasks/Codelabs: Backlog items or runbooks tailored to allow new team members to acclimate to the tech stack, team processes, tools and codebase. If you can’t commit and maybe ship something on your first day, the development process is too complex.
Onboarding week/University: A full week of activities/talks from leadership and domain-specific workshops to enable newcomers to understand the current company and org priorities, as well as the basics of the current technology stage and solutions.
Bootcamp: A multi-week (6-8 usually) process for new hires that combines elements of the above activities in a cohesive narrative. That’s certainly a large initial investment, but at the same time a unique and rewarding experience with many cultural benefits.
Customize your process based on the company’s lifecycle, purpose and cultural elements. Remember, this is your critical opportunity to delight, inspire and engage.
Never allow new hires to drift. Plan frequent check-ins to track progress and acclimation.
Employees quitting especially during the first 90 days or more generally in under 18 months, indicates a fundamental problem with your hiring process. It's time to ask the tough questions.
Capture and incorporate quantitative and qualitative feedback akin to the rest of your HR processes. You can use an onboarding satisfaction survey.
First performance rate after hire distribution. That’s a good overall metric that measures your hiring funnel e2e. Bad indicators here should trigger a deep root-cause analysis.
If you want to learn more about hacking the hiring funnel, I’ve published an extended version of this post, which you can check out here. You can also reach out to me on LinkedIn or Twitter. I’m currently hiring for a number of engineering roles (including several openings for recent graduates).
Looking for your next opportunity? Check out job postings from Greek startups in Greece, abroad, and remotely.
Instabox, the automated parcel locker service, announced a $190m round at over $1b valuation.
Used-car digital platform Spotawheel raised €100m. The equity round (also debt component) was led by VentureFriends with participation from several investors, as the team plans to expand to more countries and upgrade its proprietary sourcing engine.
Altoida, the precision neurology company pioneering non-invasive brain health measurement and neurological disease diagnostics, raised $14m, bringing its total Series A funds to $20.3m.
Adadot, an analytics tool that helps technical teams improve performance and wellbeing, announced a $1m round.
Swaplanet, a kid’s clothing swapping platform in Greece, raised €425k led by Zeno Capital and Genesis Ventures.
Social audio chat, Nup, raised a funding round to expand into the US market.
Electric vehicle charging app, Carge, is in talks for an acquisition by DEI, the biggest electric power company in Greece. More details here.
Public Group launches an investment arm of €20m to support startups in Greece.
Start4health, an acceleration program powered by Pfizer and focused on health tech startups, is accepting applications until April 29.
Cogitat, tgndata, PD Neurotechnology, Kodika
Interesting Reads & Podcasts
How can the Greek startup industry accelerate its growth with Argyris Kaninis, George Sidiropoulos, Aimilios Chalamandaris and Antonios Chalkiopoulos, founders of Softomotive, Think Silicon, Innoetics and Lenses io, here.
A podcast with Panos Papadopoulos, Partner at Marathon Venture Capital, on the Greek startup industry, VC fund dynamics, remote work and tech hiring, storytelling, and much more.
Nikos Moraitakis and Spyros Magiatis, founders of Workable, discuss their journey building a startup that grew to become one of the most successful HR tech companies globally with Marco Veremis, Partner at Big Pi Ventures, here.
Biggest mistakes early-stage founders make with Anthony Collias, co-founder of Stasher and Treepoints, here.
A post by Joseph Alvertis, SVP Product at Orfium, on empowering your product teams with access to clients.
Three German tech companies are building engineering hubs in the city of Ioannina. More details here.
A curated list of resources on front end development by Nikos Papageorgiou, Front End Software Engineer at Viva Wallet.
“London Greeks in Tech” by Marathon VC on May 3
“Toronto Greeks in Tech” by Marathon VC on May 3
“A day in the life of a Scrum Master” by Agile Thessaloniki on May 3
“Frontiers in Life Sciences, the Greek connection” by Hellenic Innovation Network on May 4
“Boston Greeks in Tech” by Marathon VC on May 5
“Open Coffee Athens #108” by Open Coffee Athens on May 6
“Athens DAO” by Grape Network on May 22-28
Hot Southeast Europe Deals
BtcTurk | Turkish crypto exchange in talks to be acquired by Coinbase for $3.2b
Avi Medical | Romanian founded health tech startup raised €50m Series B
Bunnyshell | Romanian dev tool raised $4m
Rush | Bulgarian e-commerce startup raised €2.5m
Musixen | Turkish digital entertainment platform raised $2m
Layer | Turkish MLOps platform raised a new funding round
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