A/B Testing Talent, Hiring Hacks, and Other Insights from the War For Talent Conference

Mark ZuckerbergLast Monday was the first ever War For Talent Conference. Hosted by Justin Bedecarre, a startup-centric real estate agent, turned conference guru and entrepreneur, War For Talent was one of the most unique and valuable recruiting events I have attended this year, mainly because panelists represented a cross section of Silicon Valley hackers and founders who had some very outside the box strategies on how to improve hiring.

The goal of the event was to address one of the biggest questions in tech – if Facebook, Google and other leading tech companies succeed by only hiring the best engineers, how does your no-name startup compete in what is now one of the most crowded hiring environments ever? The conference was fun, inspiring and a bit daunting to see just how many companies were trying to figure out how to crack the nut on hiring engineers.

This post will focus on two of the biggest themes from the conference: building a better hiring process and testing potential hires — for other great articles on the conference check out the links below:
http://pandodaily.com/2012/05/07/how-to-win-the-war-for-talent-in-silicon-valley/  

http://blog.work4labs.com/2012/05/highlights-from-this-years-war-for.html

http://g33ktalk.com/how-to-arm-yourself-for-the-war-for-talent/

Introduction:

Ron Conway was the first speaker and set the stage for the event by talking about the extra mile companies like Facebook and Google went to hire the best talent. One cool story he shared was how in the early days of Facebook, Sean Parker would walk form Palo Alto to Stanford’s Campus and pin up job postings to build awareness on campus and find engineers for his fledgling startup.

Ron Conway was also the first of many speakers to note the power of interns as an untapped pool for tech talent.

Building a Better Hiring Machine:

One of the biggest themes of the event was that most companies don’t put nearly enough time, money or energy into building a quality hiring process.

A:B Testing Talent 2Brendan Browne from LinkedIn may have summed up the issue best – “Table stakes for being in contention to hire great developers is having a good product, smart team and be growing quickly.” You need to be blowing people’s minds if you want to hire exceptional developers.

Dave McClure had a more interesting way of proving this point – he challenged the crowd of 600+ attendees to stand up and state three reasons why their company would be interesting to developers. One entrepreneur took the bait and said his startup had just been featured in in TechCrunch, Mashable and was growing quickly. This did not pass muster.

So how does one go from table stakes to creating an exceptional hiring process?

The idea is to have hiring be a well-oiled machine that helps your company stand out. Have your best, most passionate, A-players run the interviews. Create an interview process that challenges developers and excites them with your culture. Don’t have two employees asking the same question… ever. Track how long it takes for you to follow-up with an interviewee and improve speed.  Do something fun or different. One panelist talked about how the have every marketing hire give a presentation on a subject they are passionate about to the team, which is fun, memorable and helps self-select candidates based on culture.

In summary, if you haven’t talked about, iterated, and improved your hiring process, it probably sucks and won’t work.

A/B Testing For Employees:

A:B Testing Talent 3Lean startup practices have become the standard for launching companies in Silicon Valley and as many of these ideas take root, they have begun to surface in other areas of tech and startup culture, including hiring. More and more companies are asking potential employees to consult for a few months before they make an offer and savvy entrepreneurs are looking for other ways to get potential employees to work with their team before hiring them.

One of the most novel ideas came from Kissmetrics’ Hiten Shah who found his current graphic designer after asking 5 potential candidates to build the exact same infographic and see which one got the best results. Not surprising that a company who is a leader in analytics and testing would A/B test their new hires, but it is incredibly cool to think about how much money and time this saved Kissmetrics in the long run.

The other much talked about mechanism for sampling talent was internships. Nearly every speaker from Dave McClure to Jason Freedman at 42Floors advocated for internships as a way that startups can reach talent early (and before they get 6 figure offers from the tech juggernauts) and get them excited about your culture and team.

We couldn’t agree more and the idea of hiring multiple interns for a similar role over the summer with the anticipation of selecting, one, two or all of them for full-time employment, is quickly becoming one of the most viable tools for growing a team from the ground up.

Other Conversations:

Aside from the points above, the conference was loaded with good feedback. Jason Freedman talked about how he took his office admin to a VC pitch with one of the most renowned investors in the country, because 42Floors has a culture of always learning and that applies to everyone in his office.

Jeff Lawson at Twilio recommended working with a recruiter (he specifically mentioned Dan Arkind at JobScore) who can take you from 0-60 on the hiring process.

Other founders talked about the need to be tactful but aggressive when pursuing candidates. If they are on the fence setup a meal with their wife or parents to help get them over the line.

Jason Freedman also mentioned that the best candidates aren’t sending out resumes but need to be courted.  This logic prompted him to make an open job offer to Dan Shipper a Sophomore at Upenn.

All in all, the conference had some great ideas, but most importantly, double check to make sure that your hiring process feels amazing, and try your hardest to test out employees before you hire them.

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Nathan Parcells

Nathan Parcells is VP of Marketing and co-founder of Looksharp. He has spent the past decade helping students launch their career, researching best practices for hiring millennials (including running Looksharp's annual "State of College Hiring") and sharing these insights with employers. Nathan's work has been featured in Forbes, TechCrunch, Business Insider and more. Outside of work, Nathan is an avid rock climber, back packer and Bob Dylan fan.