How to spin up recruiting at your early-stage startup, the Jam recruiting playbook

When we needed to recruit our first hires at Jam, after we exhausted asking everyone we knew for recommendations, we weren’t sure where to go from there. Do we just post on LinkedIn? Do we work with a recruiting agency? Is TopTal or Hired the way to go?

We found there wasn’t an easy playbook out there to follow for quickly and cost-efficiently spinning up a real recruiting process from scratch for early stage startups. Here is the recipe we’ve found, refined, and suggest to any other early stage startups looking to spin up recruiting.

Our goals were simple:

  • Hire awesome people we love to work with
  • Run a good process that’s fair to the candidate, and trustworthy for us
  • Not spend all our VC’s money on recruiting fees
  • Not spend 100% of our time recruiting

But how to accomplish them! Over the years, we’ve developed an easy & repeatable system you can adopt for your team. It allows you to spin up quick and cost-effective recruiting for an early stage startup within a day or two.

Jam's recruiting playbook you can follow

1. Defining your sourcing criteria

The first step is to figure out and define who exactly would be most likely to be a great candidate for your roles. Do they come from a Facebook or from a Jam-staged company? Are they a few years into their career, or more experienced? Do they actually need any experience in your programming language, or should that be their main expertise?

We created a Google Doc for each role we were hiring for. The doc includes:

Sourcing criteria - in extreme detail. Not only years experience and location, but also specifics about what should or shouldn't be on their LinkedIn.

We found the best way to compile sourcing criteria was to spend 30 minutes sourcing for the role ourselves so we could see what candidates may have on their LinkedIn profiles. Beyond the obvious ones like location, years of experience, and titles, we found there were a lot of other indicators on someone’s LinkedIn that offered clues as to whether they were likely to be a great fit for our open roles.

Companies - a list of example companies to be sourcing from, and a description of what size, stage and industries of companies well-matched candidates are probably coming from

Examples - a list of a couple LinkedIn profiles of people we know of who are perfect candidates for this role as examples

2. Find a sourcer to work with

We primarily use sourcers instead of recruiters because we find they are a better fit to help us in our early stage.

The difference between a sourcer and a recruiter is that a sourcer finds candidates, while a recruiter does that and then also manages the communication with the candidate and making sure they are moving along in the interview process.

Recruiters are helpful when you have a big pipeline of candidates to manage through a long interview process, and when the sourcing volume is so high you need help managing a team of sourcers and performing initial phone screens. However, at our early stage, our volume is low enough that one sourcer is sufficient help, and we are able to keep candidates moving through the interview process smoothly without much overhead. The other benefit to recruiters I should add is that they often have existing relationships with talented people who they have helped place at jobs before, so they often can deliver great candidates out of the gate instead of there being a ramp up outreach time.

To find a sourcer to work with, we first listed a job on Upwork. Our job posting is not very special, but we did include that sourcers would need to have their own LinkedIn Recruiter account.

Once some people applied, we conducted a one hour, paid trial project with the top applicants. In this trial, they needed to read our sourcing criteria and source 10 or so candidates they thought would be a good fit. We evaluated the candidates they sourced to see how closely they were able to follow what we were looking for. Then we chose the top one to continue working with long term.

3. Working with the sourcer to reach out to candidates

Different people will tell you different figures, but recruiters we've talked to have estimated that for each hire, you will need to reach out to about 1,000 candidates. 🤯  That's a lot of outreach! Here's how we worked with a sourcer to run that process:

The first question when you setup your working arrangement is how many hours a week should your sourcer work with you? Of course, the more hours they put in sourcing, the more candidates you’ll have in your pipeline. Depending on the sourcer, we have found that most sourcers are able to reach out to ~20 candidates per hour, depending on the person.

We chose to contract our sourcer for about a day a week, splitting that time between the roles we were hiring for. This should lead to an estimated 150-200 candidates reached out to per week, and we our sourcer sends us an update at the end of each week with the final actual total.

Most sourcers work by filling out a spreadsheet with email addresses of the candidates that you can later run in a mail merge, but we found that this was causing extra work for both the sourcer having to manually add candidates to a spreadsheet, and for us to email them later. We wanted to find a way for the sourcer to be able to reach out on our behalf right away.

So, instead, to save both the sourcer’s and our time, we use Hireflow to reach out to candidates. Hireflow has a Chrome extension that allows you to one-click add candidates from their LinkedIn pages to email campaigns. The sourcer installs the Hireflow Chrome extension, and when they find a candidate who is a good fit for our open roles, they click the Hireflow Chrome extension to add them directly to our recruiting email campaign for the role. Hireflow then handles finding the candidate’s email and delivering our recruiting emails to them. We find that's a much faster workflow for both the sourcer and us.

4. Designing your interview process

Once candidate began responding to our recruiting emails, we quickly needed to create an interview process for them. We wanted to come up with a short process (not too many interviews) where we could figure out:

  • Are they very talented and capable?
  • Are they hardworking and do they approach working the way we want the Jam team to?
  • Do we enjoy working with them?
  • Do the people they have worked with want to work with them again?

That's why we have come up with this 5 step interview process below. The specifics of each interview differs by role, but it always follows the same pattern:

  1. Founder phone screen & chat
  2. Some sort of skills evaluation interview
    (e.g. pair programming for engineers, case study walk through for other roles)
  3. Work-style interview
  4. Project interview
    (We are looking to see what it's actually like to work together in as real a situation as possible, so while the specific project depends on which role it is for, this is always a project where: 1) some of the brainstorming is done collaboratively together, 2) the candidate needs to do some solo work on their own, and 3) the candidate needs to hand over their work back to us at the end.)
  5. Reference checks

One of the most important interviews in every interview process no matter the role is called the “Work-style interview”. This is a one-hour interview where the second Jam co-founder, whoever did not meet the candidate during the initial phone screen, gets to know how the candidate approaches work and teamwork and finds out if it’s aligned with how we want the team at Jam to be doing things.

To design this critically important interview step, we brainstormed what are the things that we value about how teamwork is currently (or aspirationally) done at Jam (e.g. people give each other kudos, we are blame-free, etc), and then came up with interview questions that would help us get a sense of whether the candidate approach work with the same expectations and values.

Good luck!

Recruiting great candidates is one of the most important functions of the founding team, and it can be tricky to figure out how to get the process going. However, using a system like this can help you build a strong pipeline of qualified candidates. This process is what we have continued to use at Jam, each time we are spinning up recruiting for a new role. I hope it helps you too!

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