Teamable Blog

A blog about recruiting, talent management, and trends

Recruiting Engineers Through the Employee Network

How we doubled our team of engineering unicorns in days while winning the fight of our life for our initial large enterprise customers...

Within our first two months as a company, we needed to immediately hire another senior python django developer, frontend developer and data scientist because we got two large enterprise customer opportunities at the same time after showing them our prototype.  We didn't expect these types of opportunities for months; we were competing against full product suites, highway billboards and even internal development initiatives. All we had was a short six week POC (proof-of-concept) to show we could do better than all of the above...

Basically we needed to double our team in days and hire three senior unicorns for our market without distracting any of us or jeopardizing that special thing which made the initial team so #teamable.

But these were pretty hard hires given local market conditions. django especially wasn't in the stack of any of the major SW companies or taught at the top universities in our region, and when I asked the dev team if they knew anyone, they all of course said no. So then I looked in Teamable at the analytics and noticed a little web development boutique company (who used django) that our developers were well connected to - that I would have never heard of otherwise. We searched our connections there and found our top developers were very socially connected to their developers. I asked the team to refer the top three, and they said two of the three were great developers but weren't good cultural fits, but the second was great, and our top developer reached out to him. We hired him within days and within weeks he was fully productive.

We also looked in our designer's network to find two front end developers that also joined us within a week, and in our data scientists' networks to find a great data scientist who was just finishing his math masters. In each case, the employee with the best connection to the recruit was the initial point of contact, and although all of our recruits had never heard of us at the time and were gainfully employed, they joined us with little to no recruiting distraction. Identifying who to target took minutes, and it was instantly obvious who the best person to reach out to them was.  Of course we also posted on job boards and social media to see what would happen, but most of the action on that was generally time wasting and involved sorting through and responding to low quality candidates or people without the right skills or profile.

Good recruitment technology enables the engineering and data science teams to focus on developing great products. Within our first year we have customers who in aggregate have tens of billions of dollars in annual revenue and hundreds of enterprise users in over 50 countries across two products. We acquired these customers in competitive situations against much larger competitors (including winning both of those initial opportunities!), all with no sales or marketing resources. It’s a testament to the power of engineers, especially when recruiting doesn’t distract them from spending their time building great products.

I don't think that if we had tried to look through our networks manually without the benefit of the employee referral intelligence in our aggregate networks, we would have had the same results. And it would have taken us forever to even come close. I know, given the pressure cooker of those initial wins, if we had just hired "good enough" and not used our relationships to go after and hire the best, we'd have failed.

Laura Bilazarian is the CEO of Teamable, the employee referral engine that transforms the employee network into the company’s talent pool. Photo Credit Flickr.

But rewards aren’t everything when it comes to referrals. While there’s a whole group of people who can’t generate referrals because of a terrible company culture, there are also people who haven’t figured out how to inject marketing principals so it’s easy in the first place for people to refer and rewards are easily executed.

A great referral program and referral software mirrors a great marketing call to action – and uses a lot of the same models to keep it functioning. As more companies are looking to evaluate referral software, there are a few things that come to mind.

  • Check Yourself: One traditional referral model does not fit all. Consider what motivates most of your employees or, consider offering different levels of rewards. For example, Teamable found that executives and junior employees respond to different rewards. Senior employees/executives are more motivated by protecting their reputation and competition among other senior employees/executives whereas junior employees are more motivated by recognition and small rewards for actions that are in their control such as messaging people in their networks about open positions. Remember, junior employees have a lot less input into the ultimate hiring decision so making a reward contingent on a hire can be demotivating over time if the things that are out of their control (salary, hiring manager preferences, etc.) knock their referrals out late in the funnel. Equally de-motivating for both groups is never finding out what happened to their referral, or worse, having a referral ignored.
  • Get Specific: If you tell someone to think of the best baseball team of all time, there are a million follow up questions. A lot of what-if scenarios. But if we make it more specific, for example – who is the greatest baseball player of all time: Jackie Robinson or Babe Ruth, you can answer that question. You can because it’s specific. Because it triggers a flashback to muscle memory, not a vague question where you are trying to pick one decision point from a wide array of ideas and concepts your brain is processing. The same goes for referring a colleague. If I ask if you know any engineers, a few may come to mind. But if I ask who was the best engineer at Care.com, perhaps a more specific name comes to mind. You need software that suggests, not one that just hosts that infrastructure. Better yet, tap into employees’ digital memory – aka, their social connections and email address books – to help them recall the best talent they know.
  • Share, No Shit: The way you recommend people matters, too. Your software must embed social networks. That feels like common sense in a world where you’re more likely to first post on Facebook instead of calling your own mother but we all know common sense isn’t so common.
  • Amazon Level Easy: It has to be as easy as an Amazon purchase to contact those friends, too. It’s because we’re spoon feeding them the ideas they need to be effective and make the next choice.  Going to employees with specific people from their network and messaging content already written for them about specific jobs to send to those people can boost participation in programs from roughly 30% to 80% and the number of quality (meaning right fit for opening positions) referrals per employee by 100 – 500%. (Pro tip – don’t forget about networks like FB, Github for engineers, Twitter for marketers, etc as these represent strong connections that employees are likely to have influence over) Having a good tracking and recognition mechanism ensures participation continues over time too.

Tag, you’re it.

Katrina Kibben is the Managing Editor for RecruitingDaily. Follow her on Twitter @KatrinaKibben or connect with her on LinkedIn.

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