Hiring over a thousand people is no easy feat, but the folks at Box managed to do it.
Particularly, Kenny Mendes and his 20-person hiring team made the moves to bring the Los Altos cloud storage company from 40 to over 1,200 in a time when enterprise software was "really unsexy".
Fast forward to 2015, Box is a publicly traded company with nearly 1,600 employees, and the cloud is a virtual seventh heaven.
Missed our webinar with Kenny on how to hire a recruiting team? We took note of Box's sourcing tactics, and the metrics and tools they used to build one of the top hiring orgs of all time.
If you weren't able to stick around for our Q&A from the live webinar (one of the busiest we've ever seen), read on.
How did you motivate recruiters from just filling roles to hiring great people?
One of the things I’d recommend for people to encourage and inspire people is a book called Switch by Chip and Dan Heath. The gist? Everyone has an elephant and a rider, and these are two parts of our mind that work in different ways and the main thing about motivation is getting the two aligned.
You have to lead people to have a very strong central goal, and for us it was what our CEO Aaron Levie said: How do we build one of the top hiring organizations of all time? That was our North Star and we always went back to it.
When it came down to making individual decisions and figuring out if we advance a candidate, we always had that gut check. We also created different rubrics and systems so people always knew different ways of understanding and breaking down what we were looking for.
The team was motivated by a much bigger mission than filling one req today. That state of mind puts the right level of inspiration in people.
We taught that to people who were new in the role by showing them how to move slow in the beginning on individual things like not being afraid to ask questions, ask for help – "Is this the right profile to be looking for?" Over time, they started to get their bearings under them.
We also highlighted examples during team meetings any time any of the recruiters did something special toward our primary goals such as convincing a hiring manager out of making a rash decision to hire someone who probably wouldn’t have been the right fit for the company.
Did you have a formal training program for getting recruiters ramped up?
To make sure our team was effective at sourcing, we had docs including lists of Boolean search strings, and companies we thought were good and not good at hiring. The hiring team spent a lot of time mentoring each other, whether they’d been sourcing for six months or a couple of years.
There was no formal training. One-on-one mentorship interviewing worked better. We had employees shadow other interviewers who were experts, then reverse the roles to practice asking and answering questions.
Getting the right cadence and culture around interviewing is everyone’s responsibility.
Over time, we also encouraged getting employee referrals into the process with incentives and bonuses. Box's referral rate was somewhere between 40% and 50% – one of our best sources of candidates.
How do you measure quality to hire? How do you reward recruiters for finding the right people?
We were driven by metrics in a bit of a different way. I always emphasize rewarding and tracking metrics in the individual’s control instead of giving someone the responsibility of hiring a specific number of people in a certain span of time. There's a lot of volatility that can go on there because at the offer stage, there are a lot of things out of the recruiter’s control.
Recruiters can control how many messages they’re sending out, how many phone calls they’re making, and so on. We worked on building that part of the funnel knowing if we averaged our expected close rates at the end, we should get reasonably close to our goals.
Does compensation work for all recruiters?
Many recruiting organizations compensate recruiters per hire and I always felt that was the absolute wrong thing to do because going back to quality, you’re basically telling people your main goal is to get people hired as fast as possible, and that's not always the right thing to do.
Making the driver the reward, having more team-oriented goals, and doing things like group offsites and celebrations were better than having individual commissions.
Recruiting and sales have a lot of parallels, but people who get into recruiting have a different mission at the end of the day than coin-operating sales folks.
During the interview, how do you identify people who could be a good fit?
We measured personal initiatives like guilt proneness, which means gauging the level of emotion one feels after doing something that let down a friend or colleague. We learned people good at helping those around them and taking action to improve their environment or situation to be highly predictive of a solid candidate.
Our initial sales hiring process was geared toward highly extroverted people in sales, but it turns out extroversion wasn’t predictive in sales. It turned out ambiversion was a better predictor. Ambiverts are defined as the middle of being an introvert and an extrovert, and having the ability to context switch between stuff you needed to get cleaned up.
I thought it was super interesting that the gut instinct to hiring extroverted sales folk wasn’t always accurate. On the flip side, we found extroversion was well-correlated within a function like Customer Success where every single day you’re basically listening to people yelling and screaming at you about XYZ problem and they need your help fixing it. When you’re an extrovert, you seem to have the energy every single day to come back and recharge, and not let that stuff get to you.
I encourage people to break down each function instead of thinking about what the right fit would be for the company. There are lots of personality differences within groups.
How have your hiring processes and challenges changed during Box’s growth?
As we grew, we made our processes scalable and repeatable. This included interview training across the whole company. Over time, we got more and more people into the interviewing cycle to get more people load balanced. We also made sure as many people in the company understood how to interview, what to do, and what not to do.
Do you have to have a technical background to be a tech recruiter?
Tech recruiting is a great place to start to learn about recruiting. At Box, we actually put our sourcers through a pretty intensive training and made sure they actually knew as deeply as possible what types of companies we’re working with today, how our tech stack works, and how our web tier architecture functions. That sort of training helps them connect with engineering candidates on a deep level very different from many recruiters in the Valley.
We also encouraged our recruiters to change up their hiring groups. We had sales recruiters jump into tech recruiting for a couple of quarters, and vice versa. Having that flexibility is critical.
Our main focus was keeping the process simple. Our tech recruiters ran recruiting in a very similar way as our executive recruiting team. They created a search, identified the top people in the world, and tried to connect with them to get them excited about Box.
Because the fundamentals were the same, the learning curve to jumping into a different group entailed communicating with a manager, and understanding the function. We hired people with the passion, drive, and ability to learn quickly, so that was never a problem.
What strategies did you put in place to make sure the transition between sourcer, recruiter and hiring manager was as smooth as possible?
Our emphasis was figuring out how to make sure sourcers were as productive as possible because they were the ones who were driving such stellar pipeline into our process. One of the things we did was make them responsible for a very specific portion – getting as many reachouts as possible every day.
We had a high goal – a 100 reachouts per day. While it was a stretch goal and they didn't hit it every day, the goal helped us see the clear difference between a sourcer who can reach out to 500 people in a week versus 100 people in a week, which had a big impact on our pipeline.
To help them reach their goals, we didn’t burden them with other tasks like phone screens or handoffs, for example. As soon as they could, sourcers tee’d the handoff to the recruiters who then took on ownership to continue the hiring process.
How did your toolbox change as the company scaled? At what stage of growth did you start incorporating tools like Greenhouse or Entelo?
In the last couple of years, we've seen a lot more investment go into recruiting technology. Use these tools when it makes sense for you and always keep an eye about how things are innovating in the recruiting space.
Take a look at new startups building technologies to make our lives better – whether it’s referral technology, a new ATS, or a new way to message candidates. The core tools you want to get in as early as possible is some sort of platform to manage your pipeline and interview feedback. An ATS is a really good investment.
My first ATS was a plastic cubby drawer since I didn't know what an ATS was until joining Box. Over time, you realize that doesn’t scale very quickly. Definitely invest in tools that make your sourcing better early on and make that a primary function of how your team recruits because even if the licenses can be in the thousands of dollars, the second you make one or two good hires from it, you’ve paid yourself 10 times over and you continue to invest in that platform as you grow. An ATS should be an anchor on your team’s recruiting strategy.
What would you change about your time as a Director of Recruiting at Box?
If I had the luxury of using one of the ATSs on the market today, I think we would’ve been a more efficient team.