3 min read

Sometimes “Best Practices” Aren’t Really The Best

A guest post by Madeleine Nguyen

This is a guest post by Madeleine Nguyen. Madeleine has led recruiting at some of the fastest-growing tech companies including Uber, Snapchat, and Instacart and is now Cofounder and CEO of Talentdrop where she’s helping managers understand how to source and retain great talent through modern technology and the latest HR and psychology research.

This post is truly a gem. There are best practices in recruiting, then there’s the reality. This is the reality. And the reality = better.


Sometimes “best practices” aren’t really the best, but a regression to the mean. I managed recruiting operations at high-growth tech companies for 7 years and wanted to share some better practices for the recruiting process where I’ve seen people get stuck or even harm their employer brand.

Sourcing. Use whatever tool you want; it won't help you. It takes time, and a good employer brand.

P.S. People seem to like Gem.

P.P.S. I think it’s good for founders whose companies are like 5 or 10 employees or fewer to spend some time doing their own recruiting. Hiring is never as important as it is at that stage; also, it will force you to think about how to pitch yourself as a great place to work directly to the market, and hear the feedback.

  1. The outreach message. "Would I really respond to this?" is the last thing that should cross your mind before clicking send.
  2. The debrief. Don't. They're a waste of time. Prebrief instead, to avoid using the process to align. Debrief only once, when you’re ready to make a hiring decision. Hash-out > recap.
  3. Comparing people. I don’t know why recruiters get told to train teams not to do this. Once you have a pipeline, compare, offer the best candidate.
  4. Deciding. Don’t pressure yourself into answering, “should we hire this person?” too early in the process. Keep things moving by asking yourself, “do I have enough information to confidently decide whether this person should continue to the next step?”

Compensation. Talk about it sooner than you think. Be direct but empathetic. Follow the law. Maybe don't make it up.

Remember: you want to lose someone to compensation at the beginning of the process, not the end.

The backchannel or the reference check. Don't skip it. Strive to do them for every candidate, and do as many as you can. Why cut yourself off from more data? You might not ultimately act on it, but give yourself a shot at making an informed decision.

P.S. No, it's not illegal (unless someone is breaking defamation laws).
P.P.S. If you do skip it, consider keeping things fair and skip it for everyone.

  1. Offer delivery. Don't, DO NOT, do the thing where you "start low and let them negotiate up." Studies show women and people from underrepresented minority groups are at a disadvantage, and often will not negotiate salary. Second, if you want to work with someone, pay them what they're worth, the best you can (I mean, you also have a duty to mind your budget). Offer that number. Let them know how you got that number and genuinely become curious about their reaction to it. Let them know you're not playing games. If you do negotiate (significantly), they'll just wonder why you didn't offer that in the first place, and you'll all start out distrusting each other.
  2. More offer delivery. Don't say "I was able to get you X" or "I fought to get you X." Remove yourself from the glory and think about what a bad, political internal business practice it would be if this is how compensation were determined. Instead try something like, “Here’s our thought process…” or “We think this is fair because…”.
  3. More offer delivery. Don't hoard offer paperwork until the candidate gives you a verbal yes. It's weird and rude. Send it right after you discuss it with them and give them time to digest it on their own. It’s a big moment for them!
  4. More offer delivery. Read the paperwork. If you don't understand it, they probably don't either. It's okay. Legalese and equity are complex. Have someone help you understand it.
  5. Culture. "Culture" is vague. If someone asks what the culture is like, gently redirect them. Ask what specific aspect of culture they are curious about. Even offer suggestions. Do you mean, what hours do people work? Or, what are the stated core values from the leaders? Do people expect email responses right away? Do people wear suits? Are people expected to be direct in their communication style with one another? Does it feel like a meeting-heavy environment? Is everyone 23 and white? How are the snacks? Do you even have an office anymore?

    P.S. Company culture actually doesn't really affect a person's work experience. Team culture does. Team is the level at which the vast majority of the work and social interactions happen. People just get told by the internet to care about "culture." Focus the conversations on the team. (Exception: if your company is small and team-sized.)
  6. Ask. Trying to figure out what someone is worried about? How much cash they need? Wondering if they're concerned about the commute? Don't guess. Just ask them.
  7. Listen.