At an early-stage company, a founder has to get used to doing way too many things. One of the most important—if not the most important—is recruiting; your company is only as good as the people who work there.
It can be hard for a founder to give everything as much attention as it deserves, but my experience is that it’s worth considering an in-house recruiter sooner than you might feel necessary. The strategic value and impact of a recruiter are far greater than you might think. If you haven’t traveled this path before, you might find that the time and effort investments needed for recruiting are a lot greater than you expect, too. If I were to travel back to 2013 and give myself advice, one of the key things I’d tell past-me would be, “This is going to be a lot more work than you think, and the cost and risks are very high. Get ahead of the curve on this one: get an in-house, dedicated recruiter.”
A good recruiter helps in many ways, but in this post, I want to focus specifically on how he or she can impact your efforts to hire a diverse, representative workforce in an inclusive manner. If that’s something you’d like to prioritize, read on.
First of all, an in-house recruiter can help by bringing a breadth of perspective to the search process. If your team consists of just a technical founder and a few engineers (which is not atypical in my experience), you’re a monoculture almost by definition—you’ll overlook important things. I have seen this personally both in myself and in others, and I’ve made serious mistakes because of it.
But how, exactly, can a good recruiter with a different perspective from the founding team help? One example is that they can look at job postings and see things in prospective employees that you’d never considered. One of our company values is empathy, the effort to understand and honor different perspectives; but despite trying, I’ve often been surprised at how little I really am able to understand how a job posting looks to someone from a different walk of life. There are many ways to address this (including hiring a diversity consultant, for example), but simply having a recruiter whose full-time job includes this skill is a good start.
The second benefit is that someone who’s focusing on the recruiting process has bandwidth to conduct a more inclusive search process. As a founder, you’re so busy that I guarantee you have insufficient capacity to do this thoroughly, so you can only achieve it by hiring someone to focus on it.
Why does this matter? The single most impactful way to build a more diverse, representative pipeline of candidates is to make sure the search is inclusive. Someone who’s focused on sourcing candidates from diverse pools promises to bring in a much broader, more diverse, higher-quality pipeline.
This might be easiest to understand from the opposite viewpoint: if you don’t intentionally look in diverse pools, you’ll get non-diverse candidates, and then you’ll have to choose from them. Here’s a recent quote I saw that poignantly summed up the outcome of this process:
This [bias] shows up in recruiting organizations targeting specific schools, employee referrals, and promotions of like minded individuals. Yahoo > Google > LinkedIn > FaceBook > Twitter. After Yahoo each of these companies’ diversity numbers have been worse than the company that followed them. I believe this is because Google recruited from Yahoo, LinkedIn from Google, and so on. Each subsequent company becomes less diverse due to the sub-conscious amplification of educational, cultural and work history biases.
A recruiter whose charter includes “intentional outreach to diverse candidate pools” is an active counterweight to this tendency. If you’re just trying part-time to juggle recruiting with a handful of other duties and priorities, it won’t work well, in my experience.
I’m sometimes surprised at how people overlook even this basic step. I recently worked with some outside recruiters on a very high-level search, and I told them explicitly to go look outside their “candidate database.” There was a pause on the line, and they said that this was the first time anyone had asked them to do that. Hiring from in-network to reduce risk and effort is understandable, but you’ve got to have the courage to at least try to reach outside that zone, because hiring in-network is 100% proven not to result in a diverse workforce.
You’re Not as Good at It as You Think
Finally, a full-time recruiter is likely to be more skilled at recruiting than you are. As a founder, especially, this is not an excuse to avoid improving your recruiting skills. You must make this a priority (and it’s a lot harder than it seems). But still, recruiting isn’t your full-time job. You will make mistakes that a good recruiter has seen many times before and learned to avoid. You—who are probably not naturally drawn to recruiting—will get tired and demotivated long before someone whose innate strengths make them well suited for the job.
I used to work for a cabinetmaker, many years before I started working with computers. We built almost everything painstakingly and lovingly by hand, but we actually “outsourced” building the doors to some local people who had specialized equipment. We’d prepare all the materials, pick and match the wood for each door, lay it all out, mark everything, stack it up just as we wanted it built—frames, panels—and take it all to their shop. A few days later we’d get back perfectly glued, joined, and planed rough doors. (The next week of my life would then consist of meticulously hand-sanding them.) Every time we dropped off a truckload, my boss, an expert by any definition, would say, “You can’t beat them at what they do.” That catchphrase has stayed with me for decades.
Do you have thoughts on how an in-house recruiter can help you build a top-quality team that’s as diverse as possible? Please share them in the comments below.