Quality & Quantity: The Secret to Hiring Smart at Scale

One of the biggest challenges for high-growth startup companies is scaling up their hiring capabilities. There is a lot to contend with when you’re hiring at that volume. Often, one of the biggest hurdles is dealing with an ad-hoc process (which is pretty typical of startups), and a team that may or may not have previous hiring manager experience. Ramping up recruitment and hiring in that environment can be a huge adjustment. The only way to accomplish it is by establishing efficient, repeatable processes.

To get insight into what a successful transition looks like, I spoke with Jovana Teodorovic, Director of Talent at Socrata, a company that provides data discovery services for opening government data (also an OpenView portfolio company). Socrata hired 70+ people in 2014, doubling the employee headcount and setting the stage for continued growth.

“I knew we were going to have to move very quickly,” Teodorovic explains. “At the same time, it’s very important to me and our CEO Kevin Merritt that the quality of the hires we make is as strong as possible, because that’s going to have the biggest impact on our business being successful.”

For startup leaders looking to make similar jumps, here are three steps you can take based on Teodorovic’s advice.

How to Hire Smart at Scale

Jovana Teodorovic, Director of Talent at Socrata

Step 1: Streamline & Standardize Your Hiring Process

“When I first started at Socrata, I met with almost the entire company one-on-one, finding out what they liked and didn’t like about the hiring process,” says Teodorovic. “Much of the feedback was the same — the interview process was too long. It had too many steps. It was redundant.”

Her first task was incorporating that feedback and cleaning up the process to make sure it was consistent for all candidates, and that the quality of the process was high. When hiring at a high volume, creating a standardized, repeatable process is key to ensuring interviews are efficient, productive, and designed to bring in the best talent.

For Socrata, that process turned out to include two phone interviews, an onsite loop consisting of no more than four hours of interviews, and a 30-minute debrief with the hiring team.

Each of the four hour-long onsite interviews are customized, with interviewers focusing their discussions around a separate core company value. As a result, the hiring team covers more ground and the candidate doesn’t have to sit through four carbon copies of the same interview.

Step 2: Set the Standard

To keep the bar high across all hires, Teodorovic’s team implemented a group called the Socrata Standards Bearers group (SSB).

“Amazon has Bar Raisers, Microsoft has as-appropriates, and we have our SSB. That’s a group of our most trained interviewers. There is one SSB in on every single interview loop that occurs on-site,” Teodorovic saysThe SSB’s are nominated and added to the program every couple of months.

The role of the SSB is to uphold the hiring bar as an impartial third party. This person is not the hiring manager, or on the team. They are part of the interview team in order to make sure the quality of the interviews is high, ensure process is followed, and train the interviewers, if needed.

Step 3: Debrief, Iterate, and Continuously Improve

It also became clear there was a gap in the hiring process — there was no opportunity for interview team members to come together as a group and discuss feedback after the interviews.

To address that, Socrata introduced the debrief — a 30-minute meeting that occurs 24 hours after the on-site interviews. Led by the SSB, all of the interviewers participate. They go over all of the feedback that has been documented in the application tracking system, and ultimately come out of the meeting with a hire or no hire decision.

Common questions that arise in the debrief are:

  • Where does this person raise the bar?
  • Why should we hire this person?
  • How will they make us better as a company?

If the interviewers cannot answer those questions with compelling enough evidence, the team passes on the candidate because they didn’t meet the bar set forth by Socrata.

“It’s a really great way for everyone to see how the process is working and to compare and benchmark each other. Someone might say, ‘Oh my gosh, Steve did a really good job interviewing. He asked all the right questions and I didn’t. By comparison, it’s making me feel like I didn’t do a good enough job, so next time, I will do better,’” Teodorovic says.

The debrief is also an important opportunity to determine what’s working, what’s not, and how interviewers can improve their own skills. This may lead to new training, or something as simple as a good interview question that one person on the team asked that others will think about using moving forward. It’s a learning opportunity in addition to a decision-making meeting.

Finally, if you want to stay competitive in the talent market it’s important to continue to iterate and get creative in your talent acquisition. For Socrata, that means not only looking back on what worked while doubling headcount in 2014, but also refining and trying new approaches that will help them continue to grow.

“We will continue evolving and maturing in 2015 and 2016 to stay competitive in the market,” Teodorovic says. “We’re already making tweaks now.”

Photo by: Eric Wienke

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Carlie Smith
Carlie Smith
Director of Talent

Carlie Smith was the Senior Talent Manager, Sales & Marketing at OpenView. She worked directly with hiring managers and key stakeholders within OpenView and its portfolio to lead vital searches and provided process guidance on recruitment strategy, including talent identification, strategic sourcing, relationship building, and competitive intelligence. Currently, Carlie is the Director of Circle.
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