How We Recruit Talent

This post was originally featured on the Pristine Blog.

At Pristine, we don't believe in paying for job listings on sites such as LinkedIn, Monster, GitHub, and StackOverFlow. All of these sites, and many others, use the same model: pay a fee, usually $350-$450, to post a job for 30 days, and pray that good candidates apply. After posting the job, we can try to optimize the ad, but at the end of the day, it's still a matter of praying that good candidates find the listing, read it, and apply.

There are a few problems with this model:

1. There are no incentives for performance. The job sites run off with our money regardless of the success of the job listing.

2. Exceptional candidates have to find the job listing among dozens of job listing sites. The probability that a given exceptional candidate will find our job listing is slim.

3. It's hard to stand out. Yes, there are ways to make the title of the ad stand out, but at the end of the day, our job ad is just another blue link on a page with 24 others. We can't even include a picture of Google Glass to appear on the index of our listing to try to draw attention. We are bound by a monotonous wall of blue text.

4. The most important reason that job listings aren't great at finding exceptional candidates is that the best employees are usually already employed. By definition, exceptional talent is always employable, and thus almost always employed.

So here's how we recruit talent:

We dig through hundreds - perhaps thousands - of profiles on Linkedin, AngelList, and GitHub by hand. We skim through the profiles of every candidate, looking at previous work experience and types of projects they've worked on. We ignore education entirely. We generally don't spend more than 10 seconds on the first pass at a given profile. We employ slightly different strategies for each site. These are our favorite sites because they have large numbers of candidates that we can effectively target:

On LinkedIn, most developers don't list their technical skills in detail (so that we can search for them). Thus,  searching by language or technology stack leads to poor results. Instead, we filter against companies that we know use the technologies that we use and that are located in Austin. If we find a candidate that we think might be qualified, we message them. We never use LinkedIn InMail (LinkedIn's built-in mail service) unless we cannot find another form of contact information. Talented developers smartly ignore all recruiting related InMails on LinkedIn. Most talented individuals provide links from their LinkedIn to their Twitter, personal website, or some other online profile. We dig through these other profiles to get a better sense of who they are and what they're capable of, and to find an alternate channel to reach out. If all else fails, we even resort to guessing their email address for their current job by using the Peep tool and some basic intuition. We only resort to LinkedIn InMail when all else fails.

AngelList - AngelList is an excellent recruiting tool because of the self-selection effect. Unlike LinkedIn, which is filled with garbage, AngelList has a high proportion of talented individuals who're hungry and eager to work at startups. On AngelList, we use the talent filters, "looking for" filters, and geography filters to find qualified candidates. Once finding a potentially qualified candidate, we reach out through AngelList (which sends an email). Talented individuals tend to respond to AngelList messages because the nature of the site lends itself to more friendly responses. That may not hold true as AngelList continues to scale and the overall quality of the applicant pool decreases, but it does for now.

GitHub is our favorite recruiting website because it provides direct links to projects that developers have worked on. We can very quickly assess developers without calling them. GitHub provides utilities to filter by location and programming language, which while not ideal, are sufficient. Perhaps the best aspect of GitHub is that most developers tend to list their email address publicly, making it very easy to reach out.

So, once we've found a potential candidate, how do we go about engaging them? We've A/B tested our opening messages. We've tried emails that detail why we're magical and revolutionary, and we've tried emails as short as "You look like a rockstar. We make awesome stuff. Call now." As in most facets of life, a middle ground is best. Our opening message is concise, sincere, and provides just enough of a tease to intrigue candidates:

"Hi, my name is Kyle Samani. I'm Founder and CEO of Pristine, a well-funded Capital Factory startup in Austin that's developing apps for surgery for Google Glass.

I was just perusing your LinkedIn / blog / AngelList / GitHub. [write comment something relating to their blog/profile/linkedin/angellist]. You rock. You're exactly what we're looking for.

Do you want to spend the rest of your life [something related to their current job], or do you want to invert healthcare delivery models through Glass?

PS, feel free to learn more about methe company, and our recruiting practices."

Why is this message so effective?

1) I introduce myself as Founder and CEO. Most talent is sick of hearing from recruiters. They will take the request a lot more seriously coming from the CEO.

2) We let them know we're funded, and in a well-established institution in Austin (Capital Factory). This lets them know that we can pay them, and that we're legit. No one wants to work for a loser.

3) We tease them with "Google Glass for Surgery." If that doesn't intrigue them, nothing will.

4) After intriguing them, we make a sincere, informed comment about something they've published on the Internet (blog post, GitHub project, tweet, etc).  That shows that we took the time to read about them online and get to know them a bit before asking for their time.

5) Then we pull a classic Steve Jobs by asking them to dream about the future. It's a teasing ask. It lets them know we want them, but puts the ball in their court.

6) The "PS" clause establishes one of our company values up front: transparency. We make it easy for them to learn more about me, the company, and if they're so inclined, the very message they just finished reading.

Our hiring process is extremely time consuming. I don't enjoy it, but I do enjoy the results of it. It's perhaps the single most important tactic we employ. Our team is mind-blowingly awesome, and I wouldn't have it any other way. I can't do the scouting forever. When I no longer have time to do this, I will ensure that whoever does will scour the Internet just as fiercely as I do. As the company grows, we must scale our talent, and we'll do whatever it takes to achieve that goal.

PS, here's my inspiration for Pristine's recruiting practices. This is one of the best blog posts ever written on any subject.