Life Is A Hire Way: 5 Tips For Startup Hiring
Apologies for the egregious pun (I considered “Hire Way To The Danger Zone” and “Hire Way To Hell” but wisely decided against them), but following hot on the heels of people talking about Aussie startups and Marty’s incessant meme flirtation, I’m going to try to start my own meme – 5 tips for hiring.
Atlassian is growing. We haven’t stopped hiring for the past 5 years. On average, we’ve hired one developer every month for the past 3 years. We have extremely low attrition.
Right now, it feels a little like we’re in hyperdrive. We’ve sailed past 80 people and this week we have 6 new employees starting.
And the clincher? We currently have 27 open positions.
Shameless plug: Want a job? Refer a friend? See what life at Atlassian is like and view our open positions. (I also pay $USD 1k to any mates who refer an employee to Atlassian, if you’re reading this blog I suppose you’re a mate of mine!)
The Meme – Startup Hiring Tips
I want to talk about hiring in a startup. Share, read, learn – you know the drill.
It’s a tough market to hire in around the world. The economy is in good shape. Tech is getting hotter every day. Good developers are like gold dust. Great product managers seem harder to find than water on Mars. So how do you hire?
I know a lot of other startups out there have clever hiring ideas. The techniques they use to convince people you’re the place they want to work, the things they look for in employees, the filter questions they ask, the places they look for people, the innovative programs they’ve put together to find talented people.
Basically, anything that helps them find, select, attract and keep the right people.
Mike’s 5 Startup Hiring Tips
Let me start the ball rolling – here’s my 5 tips. I hope they’re useful. If you share yours, please comment below!
(By the way I realise that giving these away might allow some people to “game the system” when trying to get a job at Atlassian. Then again, if you’re reading my blog or you found this by searching the internet before your interview, well done – there’s a good chance you’re our type of person anyway!)
1. Recruiting Is Marketing
More often than not the best employees are the ones that find you, not the ones you go out and look for. The problem a lot of startups have is, how do I get more people to find me? Simple – think of it as a marketing exercise.
How do you get people to buy your product? Explain it’s benefits on your website and then make sure people can find out about it.
How do you get people hire good people? Explain what it’s like to work for you (in real language, no HR platitudes thanks), what you look for in people and then make sure people find out about it.
We’ve done this in a few ways. We have always clearly explained on our website what we look for in every employee but we never really told people what it was like to work at Atlassian until recently. Quite a few people who came to work here said the actual job was better than they expected – which is a lovely thing to say but really meant that we didn’t do a good job of marketing ourselves to potential employees.
Thus the genesis of the Life At Atlassian page. The aim is to simply show people what the office looks like, what their co-workers do, what blogs we write, what events they can expect during a year – to make them feel comfortable and keen to work here. If you’re doing cool things to keep employees (like Marty) be sure that people can find them when they’re investigating your company. In the 2 or 3 months it has been live, we’ve already hired someone who said it was a deciding factor in applying – score one!
(Oh, and please – no generic stock photography!)
Want more examples? The Omni Group’s hiring page has always been one of my favourites for their honesty and the feel I get for the company from just reading it. Even small firms (like FreshView) can do a good job of selling themselves, it’s a small investment to make.
2. Trust Your Team
You’ve hired smart people already right? You think your team is the best on the planet. So put them in front of candidates! Don’t hide them in a back room. Too many people have their HR people do most of the interviewing.
I’ve had at least two or three new hires mention to me that one of the reasons they decided to come work for Atlassian was because they felt they wanted to work with the guys across the table in their interview. I want people go back to their existing job after an interview, look around at their co-workers and thing “You know what? Those guys at Atlassian were much more fun / smart / interesting than these guys. I could learn from them. I should go work there.”
For example, in our developer interviewing process – you’ll talk to at least 4 different engineers (phone interviews, tech interviews, pair coding tests), our HR director and probably one of two founders. I love our team, so I make damn sure to put them in front of anyone I want to add to it.
3. You Don’t Win With Money
I’d like to politely disagree with all those entrepreneurs I meet who think that the simple way to hire a good team is to throw money at the problem.
In choosing a place to work people look at the company, the role, the people, the environment and the money. Pretty much in that order, but it’s important to keep balance among all the variables.
As long as the money is competitive (and this is key), the other factors should decide the final outcome. Money doesn’t win people over, money prevents you from losing them. It gets you in the game. People value their time and while you might be able to ‘buy it’ with an outrageous salary that’s a temporary measure. They’ll eventually realise that doing a boring job 10 hours a day for huge dollars isn’t the way they want to spend their life. It’s not a way to build a company, it’s a short term band aid strategy.
You don’t win people with a lot of money and I’d say you don’t want to. People who chose a job purely on the larger salary are probably people you don’t want on your team anyway. That said, the corollary here is that you can definitely lose people with money. If you’re not paying what the market is or your firm just pays really low salaries, people will go elsewhere. It’s all about balance.
4. Make Space For Smart People
Sometimes people come along who don’t fit into any existing role. We encourage it on our website by saying that if you want to come and work for us, but we don’t have a job ad that matches your skills – send your resume along anyway and we’ll see what we can do. Some of our best hires have come this way.
At the same time, don’t be afraid to redirect a candidate if you feel they’re interviewing for the wrong job. I’ve created a number of roles on the spot when I met someone, because they were smart, I wanted them on the team and I felt they could fill a need we had.
For example, last year I was interviewing Michael for a role but he didn’t seem to fit. I’m sure he would have done a fine job, but the person position match wasn’t right to me. However I knew that hosted services was something we were considering doing and given his background he seemed to have all the qualifications we would looking for if there was a role. So what did we do? I brainstormed a role in the interview, asked for his input, he got instantly excited about the possibility and the rest is history (incidentally read How you know you hired the right guy… for the detail).
Stewart Mader (our wiki evangelist) was hired exactly the same way. After a meeting about his upcoming Wikis In Education book late last year, everyone around the table spontaneously decided that Stewart would make a brilliant evangelist for us – he knew about wikis, he was passionate to the extreme, smart, fun, got-things-done (he just wrote a book!) and would be a great addition to the company generally. The amusing thing? Before the meeting we had no plans to hire an evangelist, he just seemed to fit. We made space for a smart person.
5. Know When To Fold’em
The hire-or-don’t-hire decision is critical. Why is this decision so important? The damage a wrong choice can do to morale, to your product, to your company should never be overstated. It’s a little like poker, the most important and hardest skill to learn is when to fold a hand not when to bet. Not hiring a few good people is far better in the long term than hiring a few bad ones. Err on the side of caution.
Over time, we’ve developed some rules of thumb internally that help us evaluate this choice.
Try to develop rules that work for your organisation. Look at your best people, what do they have in common? Why are they the best? Is it because of the way they perform their job or is it something broader, the things they contribute to the company as a whole?
Here are 3 of our “gut check tests”:
- Do you want him on your team? This is the number one question we ask our interviewers. Not do you think this person should work for the company, do you think they’re good but do you want them on your team. Is working closely with them for the next year something you’d want to do?
- Does he pass the beer test? Basically, if I was in a bar with this person drinking beer (or juice, or tea or anything) are they interesting? Would I learn something from them? Would I want to stay? If so – they’re probably someone I want to be around.
- Are they fired up, passionate, enthusiastic? Simply put, positive people make for positive teams in tough times. Passionate people rub off on the whole team. Try to find as many of them as possible, put ‘em in a room and let ‘em make magic.
Quickie Bonus Tip: No Keyword Hiring
This mostly applies to developers. Don’t hire based on keywords in a resume. Some of the best people we’ve hired wouldn’t pass a keyword test. Too many companies look for “JMS”, “EJB 3” and “J2EE” and assume someone is a good developer. We don’t look for people who know technologies, we try to look for people who are good at learning new technologies.
digg_url = ‘http://blogs.atlassian.com/rebelutionary/archives/2007/03/life_is_a_hire_way_5_tips_for_startup_hi.html’;
So there you have it. I hope that was useful – love to hear you feedback, or your own tips.
Thusly, I’m going to tag a few CEOs I think know a little something about hiring to see if I can’t learn something from them – Marty, Don, Graham, Nik and Mark – consider yourselves tagged! How do you build your teams?