“If you can’t recruit, then you can’t be a manager.” Jack Gifford, the founding CEO of Maxim Integrated Products, said that to his management team over and over again as he built Maxim into one of the most successful companies in its space. The key, as I look back on my experience working at Maxim, was Gifford’s obsession, especially in the early days of the company, on hiring.
So, it’s no surprise that I took Gifford’s message to heart when I started my own company. the highest priority we had was building our team. Here’s my learnings based on my own experience, and the experience I’ve had working with other CEOs:
A. Recruiting starts with you, the CEO.
There’s an old saying about the responsibilities of a startup CEO. It goes, “You should recruit, recruit, recruit, and you should sell, sell, sell.” The nice thing about this old saying is it’s true.
Your primary job, especially when you’re just starting up is recruiting the initial team. In my case I spent more time on recruiting than I did anything else.
I either directly recruited engineers through my network, or I helped close the engineers that my co-founder, Jeroen, recruited. Plus, I helped recruit and hire the other members of the team too.
My thought process was pretty simple regarding recruiting. “If I’m not spending my time recruiting, how can I expect anyone else to spend their time recruiting.”
B. Make recruiting the first thing you talk about at every staff meeting.
The criticality of recruiting needs to be part of your company culture. A great way to make sure everyone on your team understands this is to start your staff meetings with a review of the open reqs.
Now, you’re holding everyone accountable for recruiting their team when you do this. The idea isn’t to humiliate someone if they’re struggling. The idea is to put a focus on the problem so it gets solved.
Finally, don’t just gloss over the status of the open reqs. Dig in. You can have other team members help if someone needs the help.
C. Make recruiting the first thing you talk about at every 1:1.
I liked to start my 1:1s with asking my direct reports to tell me again about the status of their open reqs. The idea, again, is to make sure everything is on track, and you want to emphasize the importance of recruiting. Also, it’s a perfect time to ask, “How can I help?”
There’s other hidden benefit to talking about recruiting first in your 1:1s is you’re teaching the behavior you want your managers to exhibit with their direct reports. That’s how recruiting becomes part of your company culture.
D. Ask potential managers, who they are going to bring with them if they join your company.
There are a couple of really good recruiting questions you should ask any potential manager you’re thinking of hiring. The first is, “who are you going to bring with you?”
I like this question, especially for senior mangers, because senior managers should have a following, and they should be thinking about who they’re going to ask to join them at your company.
It’s definitely a red flag when a senior manager says they’re not going to bring anyone with them because it indicates they may not have people that believe in them. At a minimum, it’s really concerning because every great manager has people that love working with her.
E. Ask potential managers what their hiring plan is if they join your company.
You want to know the thought process of how a new manager is going to build their team. For example, I asked a potential engineering director we were considering to hire how he would build his team and he said, “I love cycling, so I’m going to find engineers through my cycling.”
You just want to hear something logical and rational, that’s all.
F. Augmenting your team with an in-house recruiter is fine.
Anyone that used to work with me is probably laughing that I am saying that adding an in-house recruiter is fine since I was so adamantly against this when I was CEO. Let’s just say I’ve evolved since then.
The reason is really simple. I’ve worked with too many CEOs that have had in-house recruiters really help their recruiting efforts.
The challenge, if you add an in-house recruiter, is you don’t want your managers to use the recruiter as a crutch. The way to fix that is to make sure each manager understands they are still responsible for growing their team, not the recruiter.
So, when your marketing VP points the finger at the recruiter, you have to stop that behavior immediately. Say something like, “It’s your problem, not the recruiter’s. You’re responsible for building your team, not the recruiter.
“If you feel the recruiter isn’t helping you then we’ll look into that. However, it’s on you, not the recruiter, to meet your goals.”
G. Paying market rate is critical in hiring top talent.
Maybe the biggest change of the last 20 years in recruiting top talent into startups is great talent is no longer willing to work for a discount at your startup. To hire the best, you’re likely going to have to pay market rate salaries.
This doesn’t mean paying above market rate. You’ll hire mercenaries if you do that.
It does mean that top talent has gotten a lot smarter. And you have to recognize it. You may, if you’re early on and bootstrapping or on a small amount of angel funding, not be able to afford top talent because top talent may not be lured by large amount of equity.
That’s okay. They may join at a later date. That’s what we had happen.