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An Observation on Tech Startup Recruiting in the U.S.

I’ve been privy to enough recruiting processes inside of VC-backed startups that the process for sourcing and having conversations with passive talent seems straightforward, but somewhat inconsistent and disorganized.

1-minute 30-second read

First, some context:

When using the term passive candidate, I’m referring to (predominantly) software engineers who are currently employed at other tech companies but are open to exploring new and interesting opportunities that present themselves. They are not actively applying for jobs through traditional channels. Instead, they are selectively taking conversations with recruiters and hiring managers. “Passive” is a debatable term in the recruiting space. But for the sake of this post, I’m using the term to differentiate between candidate types.

Now, my observation:

I’ve been privy to enough recruiting processes inside of VC-backed startups that the process for sourcing and having conversations with passive talent seems straightforward, but somewhat inconsistent and disorganized. But it’s not a total mess. Startups are able to get away with offering a less organized and less consistent experience when function leaders are heavily involved. This is because the candidate is talking to the right people—all of the time. The candidate is not wasting time talking to ill-informed recruiters who act like robots during a screening process. Therefore, the candidate's experience is still generally good and acceptable. Potentially even great. Because to an engineer; good, acceptable, or even great = my time is being respected and worth the investment.

On the other hand, the process for servicing inbound applications is somewhat of a nightmare—if it’s even a thing at all. This is partially due to unqualified applicants applying for these types of jobs and partially due to limited recruiter bandwidth coupled with sourcing being the prioritized activity. There’s only so much time and resources to go around within small recruiting teams.

That said, the desired outcome when sourcing passive talent at a tech startup is a conversation. It’s not an application. Any startup that is optimizing for applications is setting itself up to disappoint a lot of active job seekers and potentially hurt brand cred in the process. Unless a startup can a) create a way to drive a high percentage of truly qualified inbound applications, and b) design a process that properly services inbound applicants, their resources are best spent on sourcing and generating candidate referrals. (There are too many caveats about referrals to address in this post).

Lastly, an insight I’ve developed:

Recruiting a passive candidate is closely related to an enterprise sale. There is a clear process for selling enterprise software and services—including sales ops, sales enablement, and marketing (brand, content, digital, SEO).

It boggles my mind that tech startups don’t see the similarities and instead choose to take extremely limited (and cheap) approaches to recruit the highest-in-demand talent.

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