Seed Workshop: Candidate Engagement
Hiring your core team is difficult and time-consuming. We partnered with Growth by Design, a talent consulting firm specializing in startups, to develop a workshop covering tactics and tools for engaging top talent. The session is designed specifically for seed founders hiring their core teams.
This candidate sourcing and engagement workshop covered the following:
- Improving your online presence to optimize your candidate outreach.
- Creating good habits around discovering and engaging with talent beyond your immediate network.
- Optimizing your time to build connections and bring more high-quality candidates into your hiring funnel.
In addition to the notes below, additional best practices for developing a strong hiring process can be found here.
Why Candidate Sourcing & Engagement Matters
Developing a high quality hiring funnel remains a persistent challenge for founders at every stage.
Early hires determine a company’s DNA. It's critical to think and plan how to approach sourcing and engaging with candidates to build a solid team foundation.
A healthy funnel has “Happy 3rds”: ~30% of hires coming from passive, inbound, and employee referrals. While this workshop focuses on passive and referral candidates, the techniques are relevant to inbound.
Optimizing Online Presence to Attract Candidates
One of the unique challenges for early-stage companies is how to establish credibility and reduce risk perception. One effective strategy founders should consider is social proofing.
Social proofing is putting yourself in the candidates' shoes and evaluating how they might see your company when you reach out to them.
Candidates are likely to examine your Crunchbase profile, the founders’ internet presence, Linkedin, Angel List profile, and your company website to assess whether your organization is worth exploring further. If you find that your company is not attracting strong candidates, there are several ways to provide social proof.
- Clear and visible mission statement or value proposition: Focus on what you're building and your overarching values. If you're in stealth mode, you can indicate your values, industry expertise, and past experience without giving away any proprietary information. Below are some examples of mission statements that work:
- Resim: A succinct two-sentence company synopsis that's easy to read.
- CueIn: Instead of a statement that focuses on what the company is currently working on, their statement describes the founding team and their past accomplishments and expertise.
- Have advisors/investors listed on your website: Showcase advisors, investors, or anyone you're working with that has personal branding and authority in your space on your website to lend credibility to your company.
- Leverage press, or create your own: If you have press, make sure you're putting it on all your profiles. You can also create your own press by building Medium posts or website blog posts.
- Diversify where you’re posting jobs: While LinkedIn is a popular platform, you can also post jobs on AngelList, which is great for early-stage companies, Lenny Newsletters for product and growth roles, and Lightspeed’s Job Board. You can also ask people where they are finding roles, and adjust where you’re posting jobs accordingly.
- Make sure DEI is showing up externally: Even if your company isn’t currently as diverse as you would like, you can show a commitment through a DEI statement on your website. For example, Carta has a DEI page showing their company’s DEI commitment.
Establishing a Sourcing Process
Once you’ve done an audit on how you show up to candidates, you should set up a sourcing funnel that optimizes your time.
Setting Up Your Sourcing Funnel with GEM or Ashby
GEM is a great tool that helps you automate candidates and keep track of your outreach. If you spend 2-3 hours setting up your account and building default sequences, you can spend ~30 minutes/week engaging with candidates and sending lightly customized messages.
Identifying Candidates (beyond your first set of contacts)
When reaching out to candidates, here are few considerations:
- Make it easy for your people to refer candidates from their network: When you reach out for referrals, we recommend having a clear message that makes it easy for people to help you and do a warm introduction. You can use the message template in the workbook and customize it for your company.
- Expand your target list with tangent sourcing: Use tangent sourcing, identifying and reaching out to people within your contact’s network, to widen your pool of high-quality, potential candidates.
- Go beyond LinkedIn (Github, Twitter, Meetups, etc.): Ask people that you meet where they hear about jobs, and post on those sites. You can also attend suggested conferences or live events.
- Play the long game with a high-priority list: Make a wish list of people you would like to hire in 12-18 months, and start reaching out and building a connection with them now.
When discovering and engaging with talent, ensure your messages are candidate-centric and you’re following up 2-4 times, if necessary.
- Don’t try to do everything in your first message: The only goal of the first message is to get a warm response. When you try to do everything in the first message, it becomes too long and generic.
- Make the candidate feel chosen: Call out their accomplishments and show why you’re interested in the candidate.
- Use social engineering: Similar to employer branding above, try to increase your perception of legitimacy by calling out your expertise or authority that would be relevant to candidates.
- Master your company pitch: State a clear vision, compelling hook, and personal connection that the candidates can connect with.
- Send sequences: Follow up with candidates! Aim for 2-3 follow-ups (ideally 4 follow-ups). Many candidates are responding to the 2nd or even 4th message, so it’s critical you develop an outreach sequence (that you can incorporate in GEM).
- Focus on your subject lines: Mentioning connections and personalizing company differences in your subject lines adds credibility to your message. As you see below, messages that have 2 pieces of personalization in their subject lines receive 2x the response rate.
Q: We’re in stealth and have little information on our website. How do we balance adding funding information to our website with publications (TechCrunch, etc.) wanting exclusivity when we decide to announce funding?
If you can't show Lightspeed on your website or are waiting to do an announcement, consider other social proof points you could sell to journalists. Are there technical advisors, angel investors, or people with personal branding you've partnered with that are willing to be highlighted on your site? Or can you do more framing and branding around yourself as a founder instead of an IC?
Consider the rest of your network and share more about yourself, the mission, and industry if you can't talk about the product.
Lightspeed also has a marketing team to help with your funding announcement and strategy as well as a media training team to help you get press ready and nail your announcement messaging.
Q: Do you recommend we upgrade our basic LinkedIn?
Yes, we recommend using LinkedIn Business or Recruiting Lite that's ~100/month. It’s particularly useful because you can use LinkedIn InMail to find email addresses and email interesting candidates, which is more effective.
Note: We've also seen sending a connection request with a short note attached (or a blank request) and then a more detailed message after the accepted connection gets better response rates than InMail messaging.
Note: GEM provides the ability to find personal emails, which will minimize the amount of InMails you need to send.
Q: What are best practices on incentivizing friends or my network that’s outside of my company to refer people?
The best practice for acknowledging referrals is through thoughtful gestures. Super referrers aren’t necessarily motivated by money but rather, their relationship with you, their desire to be helpful, or simply, liking you as a person. This social capital and/or acknowledgement of their help may be sufficient.
However, one easy way to know what motivates them is to ask what incentives would interest them.
Q: How do you prioritize customization when there are so many candidates?
You should have a 2-tier candidate outreach framework.
- Tier 1: Candidates you would like to engage with, regardless if they have a current role. This would be the highest level of customization.
- Tier 2: People who may have little on their profiles and/or you're not sure about their experience. These candidates would require a lower level of customization.
Get clear on the criteria for each level and use GEM to create templated messages for the 2nd tier.
When writing customized messages for tier 1 candidates, remember that practice makes perfect. Writing these messages is like exercising a muscle: you can even set goals or challenges for yourself, like writing a customized message in 20 seconds to practice and become more efficient at crafting them.
Q: Have you ever measured customization vs. no customization outreach? If so, what are the findings?
There is a 20%+ increased response rate for personalized messages. So, if you can send a high-volume of messages with no customization, you'll see similar results if you were to customize them.
However, if you don't have a sourcing team for example, and you're messaging yourself, which will take more time, customizing it can lead to 10-20% response rate increase.
Q: As a founder, I’m worried about dedicating 100% of my time to recruitment. Have you seen companies find success with screening interviews as a way to reduce time spent on recruiting?
In reality, you will never spend less than 30% of your time recruiting, often more.
For Tier 1 candidates (dream hires), it’s important to speak with them directly.
However, for Tier 2 candidates, an effective approach could be to suggest that the candidate speak with one of your team members in an effort to get to know them more and let them know about what you’re working on.
It’s important that the candidate feels like it’s an informational conversation rather than being screened or checked off a list, which can lead to a more negative experience with the company. If you would like to try this approach, make sure to coach your sourcer to make the conversation feel more like an informational interview.
If you would like to do a working session on candidate engagement (customizing messages, GEM setup, overarching goals for sourcing candidates, etc.), contact Luke Beseda - firstname.lastname@example.org.