Hiring Tech Talent for Startups in One Sprint: Part 4
Ever seen one of those posts on Linkedin that say: “after 107 job applications and 16 interview invitations, I am pleased to announce that I have finally accepted an offer to join….”? What goes through your mind when you see those? “The poster probably isn’t so good at what they do”? “Meh, job searching is pretty tough these days”? “Oh my, that’s a lot of job applications”? “I’m happy for you, it must have been difficult”? Or, if you are like me: “Why do you need that many applications to get one job?”. After decades of innovation around how we apply to jobs, thankfully, we are finally able to apply to a job in one click via platforms like Linkedin and stackoverflow. Recruiters are also able to forward candidates for multiple roles at a go, with minimal overhead on the side of the candidates. Yes, there are still companies that pretty much ask you to fill out the same details already in your CV one after the other, — outlining each employer, years spent there, salary, timesheet, and how many bottles of beer you had during your time there — in your job application, these can easily be ignored and are more exceptional cases than norms to be honest. Applying to most jobs these days takes just one button click if you are already registered on a platform or a five-field form at most where you fill your name, phone number, email address, and upload your CV. It’s easy to see how an enthusiastic job seeker could end up applying to 100 jobs in just a few days. But this isn’t what’s most interesting about the post above. It’s the fact that just 16 interviews came out of all those applications. So, again, I ask: Why does anyone need that many applications to get one job? Surely a candidate that applies to 100 job adverts isn’t the picky one. Well, the answer is simple: Most job applications are ignored by companies. To be fair, not completely ignored most times. They just do not lead to anything and this could be due to many reasons. Sometimes, candidates simply apply without making sure they are a good fit for the role advertised. Sometimes, companies are overwhelmed with legitimate applications. Whatever the case, one thing is clear: predictability is completely lost with regards to logical next steps after a job application.
What happens when a job application is sent? The application joins a pool of other candidates from the same and other sources and there’s a screening process at some point to decide on which candidates to invite for the first interviews. This could be done by the first point of contact in the process, often the internal recruiter or HR in a startup environment, not necessarily the hiring manager. This person cross checks the candidate profiles against the job/role requirements and decides on which candidates to further consider. For the candidates not selected during this pre-selection phase, the best outcome is often a generic rejection email and the worst outcome is that their applications are left on read or sometimes unread altogether. This pre-selection feedback is often handled carelessly, however, it’s probably fair that a candidate who clearly doesn’t qualify for a job is aired if they apply for the job. What is uncool however, is that sometimes, not all applications are considered. While it’s understandable how one can get to be in this situation, it’s a completely avoidable problem and the candidate pool can be 100% controlled. A bite-sized workflow is adopted in pretty much every operational aspect of a startup. Surely, it shouldn’t be so complex to achieve the same with recruitment. From my personal experience hiring developers, I’ve found it very helpful to have a fixed amount of applications to consider per time, after relevant filters, the number is reduced to candidates that will be invited for interviews and depending on the outcome of this process, it is either repeated or closed. This way, every application would be attended to and everyone has a fair chance at being considered for the role. Chance, luck, or the time of application would have no role to play in the process. It also helps to deal with the constant feeling that a better candidate is out there. It’s easier and more ‘startupy’ to simply accept about 50 applications and temporarily close the forms while you run through the 50, as opposed to waking up one day to a backlog of 200 candidates you are absolutely certain you have neither the time nor resources to even pre-screen. This way, the amount of job openings at any given time is kept a bit more realistic and reflective of what the market looks like, the options to candidates are fewer at any given time, but with a higher likelihood of a feedback or even an interview and the overall process is kept simple, practical and realistic. The ratio of application to interviews are more positive and encouraging, the industry as a whole looks a lot better. Things also move faster from a recruitment point of view. You might even be able to complete a hire within one sprint! Candidates will easily feel inadequate if there seems to be a thousand openings at all times but they are unable to get a job even when applying to a hundred per week.
What’s been outlined so far is a valid problem that startups tend to have in terms of their candidate pool. It’s sometimes too much, other times not enough and most times, it’s not practical to reach out to every applicant individually or even en-mass. Standard pre-screen coding assessments are sometimes adopted. These can be effective, but it can also give a similar outcome, especially if the difficulty of such a coding assessment is rather moderate. Once this has been navigated successfully and a first conversation has been established with a candidate, certainly, it is not too much to ask that every candidate from this step onward get personalised feedback however the process goes and whatever interview stage they make it to. If the originally filtered list is kept manageable, this is a practical thing to do and in my opinion, the minimum expectation. After a conversation with a candidate, both parties have decided to invest some time in getting to know each other, it’s only fair that if there’s any reason not to take the relationship any further, the other party should be informed, preferably with reasons if possible, so they have some improvement points to take with them, and this goes both ways. If a candidate, for whatever reason can’t proceed, they are expected to inform the company. In the same vein, the company should inform the candidate if they are unable to proceed. I think after any form of more personal, non-generic communication with a candidate, closure is an implicit expectation in the event it doesn’t end in an employment relationship.
A combination of — controlling the candidate pool to manageable extents from the company’s side, and applying only to job adverts that are a good fit from the candidate’s side -, will result in a matchmaking process that is faster, easier to manage and navigate, and more respectful for both parties.
Sometimes, candidates have a good feeling after an interview. The vibe is positive and they’re fairly certain there’s a mutual interest. This may or may not be far from the truth and probably just a reflection of the interviewer(s) being professional and providing a safe space for the candidate. The candidate might in fact be very far off the mark and below par with regards to the role being filled. It is all the more important that the candidate gets candid feedback after the interview in this case. Candidates are left confused all too frequently and ghosting doesn’t do much to help their self esteem in further interviews. The least a company should do is reach out with or without personalised feedback. Ignoring people you were recently actively interacting with is considered rude in a social context and an interview context isn’t any different.