Talent pros are no strangers to the challenges of building a pipeline of qualified candidates. Diversity, company culture, budget, and retention make up just the tip of the iceberg. Leading a whole hiring team is a different ballgame, and anyone in the space knows hiring and managing is more of an art than a juggling act. Marissa Huang is a paragon for both.
As Thumbtack's director of talent and first in-house recruiter, Marissa made over 80 hires in a little over a year. At Facebook, she led recruiting for all of Instagram. She was also ranked in the top 3 percentile of sourcers during her time at Google. These days, she's heading talent at Figma, ready to do it all over again. What's the secret?
Marissa recently visited the Entelo office for an upcoming episode of Hiring On All Cylinders (tune in here!) armed with a solid hiring playbook. So we took notes. Here's what she had to say.
With over seven years of experience growth hiring, we want to hear about the recruiting and hiring processes you've honed. How have these evolved between working at Facebook, Thumbtack, and now, Figma?
I’ve been really lucky that I could take my experience hiring at scale at Google and Facebook and use it as a foundation to build out talent functions at Thumbtack and Figma. I’ve been able to take what’s worked well at late stage companies and tailor it to early stage companies where you have to build everything out from scratch.
The biggest takeaway from my experience is investing the time upfront to not only engage your team and educate them on the importance of recruiting, but also to establish a great recruiting process upon which you can continuously build and iterate.
Without these two components, you’re likely going to be wasting time putting effort into a broken system. This will also help set expectations for the team around your role – they’ll likely view the talent function as more prescriptive and strategic versus purely operational.
How do you combat the different challenges you face hiring at an early stage company and at a later stage company?
Two main challenges are around building recruitment branding and process.
Building a strong recruiting brand
- At an early stage company, you may have little or no company brand and likely no recruiting brand. Some later stage companies likely have a strong company brand, but lack a recruiting brand. If this is the case for your company, you’ll need to engage your team to help signal to potential candidates that your company is a great place to work.
- For engineering recruiting, developing a recruiting brand means hosting meetups and tech talks, writing technically relevant blog posts, being active on GitHub and Quora, open sourcing your code, and attending and presenting at conferences.
Most of the things I listed require a lot of work from others outside of recruiting, but really do make a difference to candidates as they’re trying to figure out whether they should join your company or the handful of others they’re considering.
The company brand and recruiting brand as two separate entities that have some overlap.
- Your company brand is how your investors and users think of your product.
- Your recruiting brand is how potential candidates view your company as a place they’d like to work. Are people smart, fun, motivated, etc.? Is the company focused on mentorship, learning, and career progression for their employees? What’s the culture like? Will you have good work-life balance?
Building a strong recruiting process
At a later stage company, you often have the benefit of coming into an organization with a more defined recruiting process and structure. This can be advantageous if whoever built the processes truly understands recruiting, but it can be an obstacle if their philosophies around people and hiring aren’t aligned with what you believe to be necessary for a strong recruiting process or for creating a great candidate experience. When this happens, you may have to convince others why the process should change. Try to show data and incorporate past experience when talking through why you think things should work differently.
At an earlier stage company, you may be expected to build out the entire recruiting process. I prefer getting to build out a new process over coming into a company that’s already established. It’s likely more work upfront, but you can educate people on best hiring practices and set expectations early. You also don’t have to worry as much about bad habits like interviewers being late to interviews or tardy in submitting feedback.
Which recruiting techniques and skills should more talent pros work on and pay attention to? What's underrated and what's overused?
Recruiters often need to move quickly to hit aggressive hiring targets, so they sometimes try to take shortcuts or skip steps, especially early on in the hiring lifecycle. This can be a big mistake.
Spend time discussing new roles and planning out the interview process.
Sit down with your hiring team to figure out the key responsibilities and requirements for the position and understand how the role will contribute to the success of the company. You can then map that to key skills and attributes to help you build your job description and interview plan. If you get this part right, it makes sourcing, engaging, interviewing, and closing much easier. You not only avoid a generic job description that doesn’t cover specifics about what a potential candidate will be doing day-to-day or what’s attractive about a position, but also you can prevent creating an interview process with either overlapping questions or missing signal in areas that are key to the role.
Additionally, your recruiting and interview team are now able to confidently speak to candidates about the position. You’re also able to share details for this position with the rest of your team to get more targeted referrals.
Invest time in researching the role.
After you have a good grasp of the role specifics, invest time doing research into the position for which you’re hiring and figure out what the market looks like before starting your search. You can then use this information to adequately map out the talent market, so hiring managers have a sense of who’s out there and what’s realistic. Even with all of this preparation, there may still be some questions around exactly what you need, but talking through the steps makes a huge difference and will save you time in the long run.
Be thoughtful about referrals and diversity recruiting.
Referrals are great, but make sure that it isn’t your only source of hires as this can hurt diversity and stifle innovation. When you’re small, 50-70% of hires coming from referrals isn’t that strange, and sometimes a good indicator people are passionate about the company. Try to diversify within your referral pool so you aren’t just hiring people from the same company and school.
Make sure you focus on diversity early – when you get to ten engineers, and they’re all male, it’s going to be incredibly difficult to hire a woman engineer. I primarily focus on women in engineering at my current company, but diversity encompasses differences in age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, culture, and experience.
Avoid mass emails, InMails, and relying on resumes.
Mass emails and InMails are a waste of time. Be creative – everyone is looking on LinkedIn, so try Boolean strings or search tools like Entelo. I love using Entelo (hey thanks, Marissa!) because they often show things like if a candidate is likely to move, their presence on other social media sites, and their email. I never send InMails – I’ll ask the CEO or CTO to send a PM on Twitter if we can’t find a person’s personal email.
You have limited time, so separate your leads list into two batches, with one batch being semi-customized messages that include a few personal traits and the other batch being super-customized messages specifically crafted for that particular candidate. (I typically send these out through the CEO’s or hiring manager’s account.)
Remember to send follow-up emails. My initial email response rate is about 25%, but it jumps up to about 40% with follow-up emails. Keep in mind this is a company with no branding and which is still in stealth mode. At a more well-known company like FB, my response rate was at around 70%.
Don’t rely on resumes or LI profiles. Instead take time to look into a candidate’s background through other social networking sites like GitHub, Twitter, Quora, Kaggle, Dribbble, etc. as it will provide a more accurate picture of a potential candidate’s skills and interests.
What are recruiters doing wrong today? What's to blame for the disconnect between talent and recruiters?
As hiring becomes more competitive, some recruiters are so focused on hitting targets that they become too transactional and numbers-focused, and they lose sight of the candidate experience. Candidates often tell me horror stories about their past recruiting experiences, and most of the issues boil down to a lack of empathy, honesty, transparency, and communication. Regardless of whether the candidate is hired, I want them to walk away from the experience feeling excited about the company.
There’s a lot to be said in taking the time to get to know your candidates, understanding their goals and what makes them most happy and productive in a position. It’s not just about what this candidate can do for your company, but what your company can do for this candidate. It’s really important to understand what motivates your candidate to change jobs and to try to put yourself in their shoes.
More often than not, great candidates talk about wanting to be challenged or to learn from other smart people – it’s rarely about making the most money or having a specific title.
A lot of what I do is working to build trust with my candidates. I think of myself as their biggest advocate. As a recruiter, you always believe your company is the best opportunity, but sometimes it’s not the best fit for the candidate based on his or her own personal situation or experience level, and you should be honest about that.
Lots of companies don’t provide feedback on interviews for liability reasons. I like to provide feedback to candidates, especially if they didn’t pass our process. They might be actively looking for new opportunities, and I am hoping the feedback is helpful. They spent time interviewing with us – it’s the least we can do.
There’s really no such thing as over-communicating with your candidates. After the first phone call or meeting, they should have a clear understanding of your company’s mission and values, position, and why they would want to work with you. Listening is a big part of good communication. You can get so much more information out of candidates if you ask the right questions and take time to listen. We typically have a 24-hour service level agreement for getting back to candidates. If we know there will be a delay, we let them know ahead of time so they’re not feeling nervous waiting.
Leverage your network to establish an employer brand. Welcome feedback to build a better recruiting brand. Take the time to learn which sourcing and hiring processes work, and align recruiter and hiring manager expectations. Tune into our upcoming Hiring On All Cylinders episode to how Marissa differentiates talent from staff, how to spot a candidate with upwards potential, and how to manage a sourcing and recruiting team.