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: How to Scale Hiring Practices at High-Growth Startups
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How to Scale Hiring Practices at High-Growth Startups

By Anthea Hartzenberg

Hiring managers are the engines of high-growth startups. At our Untold Stories in Tech Hiring event on 25 November 2021, we chatted to Willem Wijnans, Head of Recruitment at VanMoof, and Elisabeth Stevens, COO at Incision and ex-Booking.com, about their experiences in scaling and onboarding during periods of high growth.

Transcript of the conversation

Remote Hiring and Onboarding

Brendan: (07:31)
Let’s kick off with that. Elizabeth, how has the remote world impacted the way you engage employees?

Elizabeth Stevens: (07:51)
Wow. Well, we’re a small company at Incision. We’re 60 people, but I think over two thirds of the people working for Incision have only joined less than a year ago, so during the pandemic. And a couple of things, actually surprisingly, it was easier for us to hire for certain roles. We have some roles that are very medical specialists. And now we were able to hire people who live quite far from Amsterdam, who would normally not take a job in Amsterdam.

Elizabeth Stevens: (08:22)
But engaging a team where some people live in Eindhoven, if you want to get them to work in the office to get together, which we try at least once a week, you really have to organize something that’s worth it, right? Why else would you travel for two hours? So, it’s brought some practical challenges. And for the other things, it’s actually hard, especially if you’re a small company, you’re not super structured, we don’t have a big HR team, we don’t have a big office team, so it is hard to get creative. But we’re doing all we can, like everybody with online events, et cetera. But it’s not easy.

Brendan: (09:28)
Yeah. Willem, next to engaging, how is remote changing the tech hiring landscape?

Willem Wijnans: (09:37)
Well, it has been changing. I think tech was the first to adopt this, right? The level of remote has only been increasing. Obviously with the lockdowns it’s been, it’s been quite the impetus of tech companies, like Facebook, or other pretty well known companies that are adopting to remote. And two or three years ago, when I started out with just remote hiring, it was like the obscure starting startup.

Willem Wijnans: (10:09)
What you typically see is that, and this is also discussed in the communities, is that I think remote has increased the salaries of people quite a bit, also obviously inflation, but because people can work from anywhere, they get offers from anywhere. And we have San Francisco based companies that will just offer, for them, the salaries that we earn here are a joke to them, right? So it’s like a no brainer for them to up the salaries and people get greedy. I think it’s also the pandemic that’s maybe kicking in sometimes that make that happen.

Willem Wijnans: (10:45)
But for sure, on the receiving end, it’s been hard as a company to hire, in any domain I guess, it’s not just tech. But I think as a human or as a person who searches for work or just wants to do something meaningful, I think the upside of remote is tremendous, right? I can work from, at least I used to live in Spain where I worked for and consulted for the startups that I worked for. Now, I’m back in The Hague and I can make that work because of the hybrid situation that we have going on at VanMoof right now.

Willem Wijnans: (11:27)
But it’s also, sometimes, I think companies, it really depends where they are in their life cycle. When they go remote, I think companies who have an office-based mentality, and VanMoof is one of them. We still struggle a little bit with the asynchronous nature of what remote brings. People are really, you can really see who delivers what, and when. There are a lot of things that are changing in your culture, when you adopt to a remote hiring or remote culture that is often underestimated.

Willem Wijnans: (12:09)
And I think also what’s actually interesting about remote hiring is it’s easier, in my opinion, to hire senior people because they are more and more, I think, more adopted to being able to work remote. Our recruitment team is completely remote. So I allow them to basically work from wherever, whenever. Although, we need them to come to the office at least once or twice a week. And that’s how we find middle ground too. And I also don’t want them to come more often than those two days, because I don’t want to impede that stuff at the office is more important than remote. But it’s a constant juggle and there’s no silver bullet there to basically tell the participants here about how to solve this.

Competing for Talent

Brendan: (13:40)
Elizabeth, in your view, what is essential for a scaleup like Incision when competing for talent?

Elizabeth Stevens: (13:54)
Yeah, and I completely concur with what William says on the remote part of things, and especially trying to hire the best talent when you’re a relatively small and very unknown startup as we are, it’s hard. But I think we found a couple of golden nuggets that really work well for us. Incision is a very mission-driven company. So we really have a passion for improving surgical health, surgical care. And what we did, we found, I think, one of the best recruiters that we could find, not as part of our team, but remote. And she works for us for two days a week. And she’s equally passionate about the product and about the mission that we’re trying to achieve. And what she’s doing really well is she’s really matchmaking.

Elizabeth Stevens: (14:45)
So she’s not just looking for placements. She’s really trying to find, okay, is this a right fit for you? And is this person passionate about the mission we’re trying to achieve for Incision? And in that way… We had to scale up on quite some pillar roles, like for example, Head of Growth, but due to Elise’s great work, she found a real, real great Head of Growth, who happen to be very passionate about surgical care because his mom was an OR assistant. So I think personal approach works really well. And next to that, we also have built some partnerships with OfferZen, or other really good specialist recruiters who understand the landscape of scale-ups and startups really well. RocketPeople is a good example. So I think that’s really, the personal approach that works well. And making sure that you find the match to go with the mission.

Brendan: (15:53)
So mission, personal approach, great people, and good partners. How do you approach this, Willem?

Willem Wijnans: (15:59)
Completely inverted as what Incision is doing. So that’s interesting. So I don’t really believe in agency recruiters. So I think when you come to, and I think many, many recruiters or people that work in the talent industry can relate to, is that you, when you join a company, you get a certain tech stack, and you get a certain HR stack, and you get certain tooling, and you get certain hiring managers, and you get certain momentum in the business. It’s all kind of like one big concoction of variables that you need to juggle as a recruiter. And I think in the case of VanMoof, and also, I think maybe also if I were at Incision, I would do it maybe a bit different. But what I really believe is that you do hiring yourself often as possible

Managing your pipeline

Willem Wijnans: (17:38)
So what I, for instance, manage is way more the level of people that pass through the interview after the screening, because that interview, if there are a lot of people involved, or basically in the stage where the business is talking to these people and they don’t pass through to the skills interview, then my recruiters are not really doing a good job. And I’m not really looking at the hires because I think if that metric gets optimized, hires will follow automatically.

Willem Wijnans: (18:10)
And there are many of these kind of things that you can do in terms of scaling up. But in the case of VanMoof, we had huge momentum, investment, big brand. Basically a lot of good things to get in front of talent and get them in. So this is the first place that I actually worked at where I didn’t have to source, and reach out, and grind as much as what we were doing with…

Willem Wijnans: (18:59)
But on the other hand, we have, if I look at the stack that I, or basically the cards that got dealt when I joined, it was hugely, like a lot to optimize, right? So interview processes, making sure that everybody was doing the same kind of interview across the board, making sure that people were scored, making sure that people were timely caught up on. I think building the recruitment culture was one of the most important things. And we’re still doing that at VanMoof as we go, right?

Willem Wijnans: (19:30)
Because I think that’s the most important thing. And you do that with people who work for you. I think. So that’s why we’ve built quite a big recruitment team and who can really emphasize on getting those people in. And also that people can relate to the recruiters and they really become a strategic partner to the hiring manager. That’s basically the way that I always built a talent organization.

Brendan: (19:53)
Because you hired, I think, a whopping 350 people last year, is that correct?

Willem Wijnans: (19:59)
Yeah. So those are new hires and then we also obviously have backfills, but I focus on the new hires a bit because backfills are not necessarily a good thing. Some are by design, some are not. Yeah, but 350 new people. Obviously, there’s quite a bit of retail that we… so we opened, I think around 11 shops this year across the globe.

Willem Wijnans: (20:34)
And then we focus obviously mostly on tech. And I think the best way you do that is by building a really well-oiled recruitment machine. And that involves everybody. And what I sometimes see, unfortunately, is that recruitment, or HR, basically everything that has to deal with people are submissive to the business and they just try to follow whatever the hiring manager doing.

Willem Wijnans: (20:58)
But I think if you build recruitment as a really strategic, central point in the organization, you can go so many places. And we actually hired quite a bit of people. I’m quite adamant about my data and about building integrations with all the different HR tooling and that I can stitch the data together to actually make decisions. And until now, it looks quite good on the performance of the new hires. I measure how, which people make their first month probation, their seven months contract. I stitch it together to our tooling that we use for performance reviews.

Willem Wijnans: (21:41)
And then, it’s looking good, but I’m not going to lie, adding 350 people over a year is, in my opinion, sometimes even a bit… It starts to break. And we just deal with that as we go, but we also push back to the business. We don’t open up more than three or four jobs per recruiter. It’s just not possible. We don’t do it. And I think the that’s, if you’re a strategic recruiter and you can have that conversation with your hiring managers, and your leads, and what have you. I think that’s when you’ll go places and where you can actually make sure that you hire and retain those people.

Culture & Onboarding

Brendan: (22:21)
So, just to remind audience, you can please drop your questions. We’re getting to them as well. Here’s one. Elizabeth, it’s for you, from Daria. How do you keep company culture great when hiring at a fast pace?

Elizabeth Stevens: (22:49)
That’s a really important one. And I think if I think back on how we did it at Booking, I’ll have to go way back when, because it really starts at the top. And I think in the early days, I would say probably around 15 years ago, the then CEO, he recognized how important culture would be to scale in the future. And at that time, Booking had found some real gems that were key to building the success of the company. What he then did, he started to develop the training and a storyline around what is important for Booking? What are the core values of Booking.com?

Elizabeth Stevens: (23:31)
And he started training his extended leadership team through an academy type of training. What we then did as extended leadership team, we started training our managers around these core values. What does it mean, et cetera. Who then started training their teams around, okay, well what does it mean to be part of Booking? What does it mean when we say a company value is X, Y, or Z?

Elizabeth Stevens: (23:55)
So it’s really an exponential growth. You really have to do all the storytelling, role modeling, explaining what is important until the system becomes robust. So it really takes time. So, take time to do the storytelling, et cetera. It’s really about telling the story, and telling it over and over again to many people so that they can actually live it.

Brendan: (24:26)
And with storytelling, you mean both the story of the company, as well as how you live the values it has?

Elizabeth Stevens: (24:35)
Yeah. It’s explaining why, for example, why, for Booking.com, data was holy. Everything was built on, decisions were made on data. Why is that important? Why is it important for Booking.com? How do you do it? So, not just explaining the why, but what does that mean? And how do you make a data-driven decision even when you are in recruitment or when you are in office management, right?

Elizabeth Stevens: (24:59)
So there’s lots of explaining. At some point, we started asking team members to explain, okay, how do you do it? How do you incorporate this value in your day to day? And people start sharing, and sharing their stories. So this whole idea around, it’s not just having a set of values on the wall. I don’t believe that. Every startup has some values on the wall and it looks all great, but it’s living the values until the behavior really becomes part of the system.

Brendan: (41:54)
But how do you measure the success of onboarding when you’re onboarding hundreds of people across the world?

Elizabeth Stevens: (42:02)
So I think at Booking at some point, of course, we realized, just like Willem said, you have to put processes and tools in place. So as I just explained, onboarding people into the culture was extremely important. So what we started doing is what we actually called the onboarding process. We call it painting, we’re going to paint you blue, literally, because Booking is blue. And we did several sessions, which we called the Booking Blue Sessions in which we did all the storytelling, et cetera, but that’s a cultural part.

Elizabeth Stevens: (42:36)
And then there’s the functional part of onboarding. And at some point we developed lots of materials and lots of communities and assets that people could use to get onboard in their jobs. But what I also realized is that, and I don’t think it has changed till today, but it’s the role of the manager, the role of the person who is your supervisor that is still equally important.

Elizabeth Stevens: (43:06)
You can still have a lot of technical and digital assets, but the role of your supervisor who’s checking in with you, “Hey, how are you doing? Are you getting along? Can you find what you need? Can I help you with something? Is there something that I can take away for you?” So this personal approach, regardless if you’re a 10 people company or 10,000 people company, that still is important. What I sometimes see is that managers don’t realize how big their responsibility is in onboarding and getting somebody really well embedded into their team. So I cannot stress that enough, the personal factor.

What breaks when scaling?

Brendan: (25:28)
So living them and actively promoting them. What breaks when you are going at such a pace as you, I guess, Booking.com is probably, again, the best example here?

Elizabeth Stevens: (25:41)
Yeah. Well, I think Willem already hinted towards it, because if you go too fast, if you’re dependent on the human factor of this transfer of knowledge, it’s about transfer of knowledge, it’s about changing behaviors, et cetera. At some point Booking was hiring, I think about a hundred people a week, which was ridiculous, of course. So there is no way, and I wouldn’t know how, that you keep up with this storytelling, et cetera, because you just don’t have the time for it.

Elizabeth Stevens: (26:12)
And what we did see at Booking, unfortunately, is that culture started to erode. It was really difficult to keep this very strong. And we had a very strong community feel and core values that were spread across the board. But at some point it started breaking, and you could see that. And it was simply because it was too fast and the human factor couldn’t keep up with it.

Brendan: (26:36)
It dilutes because of the speed.

Elizabeth Stevens: (26:38)
Yes. Yeah, yeah.

Brendan: (26:43)
So, I guess not just the size, but also the fact that Booking was super international, it’s a global organization, but does that add extra complexity, or…?

Elizabeth Stevens: (26:56)
Totally. And I think that’s also a good point. Also, when you are relying on this human-to-human transmission almost, you also have to take into consideration the cultural differences, which I experienced myself when I was asked to build the business in Canada. And Canadians are really great people, very open, communicative, et cetera. So I thought, “Okay, well, they’re more or less similar as myself, as Dutch, because they’re super open.

Elizabeth Stevens: (27:26)
One of the core values of Booking was around being open and honest and giving each other feedback. So, I just didn’t recognize that Canadians had a lot more difficulty sharing this open and honest feedback, because that was not part of their culture. It’s way more indirect than what we are used to as Dutch blunt, direct people. But if that’s a core value, you’re going to have to spend time explaining why is it important? Help people, "Okay, hey, it’s fine just to speak up. This is how you do it.” And you cannot do that overnight. It takes time. It takes role modeling. It takes practice, et cetera.

Hiring manager and recruiter dynamics

Brendan: (28:02)
Willem, you just touched upon this a little bit already. So the relationship between the recruiter and hiring manager needs to shift at a certain point when you scale, can you give a concrete example of what that looks like?

Willem Wijnans: (28:27)
I think we see a lot of first time hiring managers running around in businesses right now, which is fine, but this also implies that there are sometimes hiring managers who just give the recruiter or the person in charge of talent the job description, and wave them off and say like, “Have fun, do your thing.” And I think that’s, like what I briefly touched upon, is one of the most detrimental things which can happen in the recruitment process.

Willem Wijnans: (28:59)
We, at VanMoof, we really invest heavily on the intake, on the process, making sure the interviews are correct. Because I really have a problem when a hiring manager wants to introduce another interview just out of the blue and they need to talk to the CEO. All that stuff you need to eradicate. It takes so long, but it’s also, this is what I’ve written about quite a bit is that I think the hiring process is a glimpse in how the company’s doing internally. And if the hiring process is a mess and you get invited by random people, and you just feel that nothing’s working or that it’s edgy, the company is probably also edgy.

Willem Wijnans: (30:07)
But I think if you look at the hiring manager, the good thing is that a lot of hiring managers, at least when I introduced the process, they’re first like, “Ah, do we have to do this process now?” And, “Is this really needed?” And I think the shift now is that once they’ve got a momentum in their hiring, they are way more successful. And this is always with every change project that you embark on is, you will always have resistance. And then 80% gets it, 20% doesn’t get it. And I think those 20% really need to. If you’re in a startup and you don’t think that hiring is your responsibility as a hiring manager or as a manager, then there’s just a lot of problems that will arise in the working environment.

Willem Wijnans: (31:09)
And I think it’s up to the recruiter to really put that in front of the hiring manager. And where I think recruiters can be better is by taking away their submissive stance. It’s like, “Okay, I’ll please you with whatever I… I’ll just send you resumes, or I’ll plan in as many interviews as possible.” But I think, looking back, and that’s why I touched upon the pass through rates and the offer to hire ratio, and all the stuff that doesn’t really have to do with the hires, but really, how can I make sure that I set my hiring teams up for success? And that’s the relationship that you want to build, in my opinion. And you need to push back on people that don’t want to have that hiring relationship with you.

Willem Wijnans: (31:54)
And that’s often, obviously very hard. And I also have also tough conversations with the C levels sometimes at VanMoof, because they, especially at C level, people want to shortcut, people want to do things that are completely out of the process. And obviously, you need to sometimes, you don’t want to be like a process monkey, but you do want to, across the board, have a great hiring culture.

Willem Wijnans: (32:22)
And I think it comes with building that kind of awareness in the business. And it comes by… It’s not built over time at VanMoof. We’re still not there. Some departments are doing better than others. But I think the most successful hiring stories are all the hiring managers that picked it up quickly, or the people that have already experienced where talent, and culture, and hiring is centrally in the business. I think that’s always what I look for, at least, when I hire new people, especially in our higher levels is, have they seen excellence in hiring?

Elizabeth Stevens: (33:10)
Can, I just briefly comment on that, what Willem is saying, because I so totally agree with you what you just said about C level. And I think that’s something, especially if you work for startups. It’s just not part of the core thinking if you’re a startup. You’re busy building your product, bringing it to market, getting some traction, and working with clients. Most of the HR stuff, if I say it politely, is coming on the aftermath. So Willem, what you’re doing is advocating for a good recruitment process is super important, because the C level is not busy with that. They say, “Okay, well I just need to find some good people who can help.” But the realization, and to be honest, even as a COO, I only started realizing, “Okay, really, we have to invest in this process and bringing some process and scale to this whole thing.” Because it’s really at the forefront of your success, but it’s just not front and center of people who are starting their business. So, please keep doing what you’re doing, Willem. It’s really important.

Willem Wijnans: (34:19)
… Thanks.

Hiring Planning

Brendan: (34:21)
There is a question, I think that taps into this from Eric. He wants to know if you’ve seen strategic resource planning happening successfully in a fast growth environment. How does this play out? I.e., what department leads it, what tools/tech are used, what is your methodology to ensure the recruitment team can deliver at scale?

Willem Wijnans: (35:02)
I can talk about the headcount planning and how we, or I think that’s resource planning, right? And we’re at it right now. And I think I’ve never seen a company that does this extremely… It’s always, it’s hard. And last year we started in December. Don’t do December. This year, we started October-ish and we’re actually having involvement from finance. I’m not going to lie when I just logged in, I was doing my headcount planning, stitching all kinds of models together because I like to work in Airtable. Finance team likes to work in Google Sheets. Trying to stitch things, it’s a mess. But it’s also a good mess to have, because you really go through the iterations and you try to plan in advance. And what you see, typically everything gets requested in Q1. That’s already always a very fun discussion.

Willem Wijnans: (36:05)
So, why do you want to have everything in Q1? And then in a grand view, the most interesting thing is that, when you see that the whole business wants to hire in Q1, you know you’ve still, as recruitment, or as operations, or as finance, you still have your work that out for you to create some awareness around that not everything is, “Hey, you can’t hire everybody in…” Even if you had the resources and the money, think about all the onboarding that you need to do. Think about all the interviews that you need to do. Think about all…

Willem Wijnans: (36:36)
So I ran a funny report is that I showed them how much it took the R&D team to hire all the people that they’ve hired this year in interviewing hours. And I presented to them how long it would take them to interview, to hire all these people. And it came around that they would have to spend half of their, I think half of the quarter just interviewing to hire all those people. So I think that’s the kind awareness that you can bring in resource planning. But yeah, Eric, if you know a place where they do this really well, I would love to know, because this is actually something that I am really juggling as well.

Brendan: (37:23)
Willem, for you, that ties into this planning a little bit. Paul wants to know how did you generate enough applicants to hire 300 people within a year? I think you touched upon it a little bit. You have the force of a great global brand behind you, of course.

Brendan: (37:43)
He also asks, what channels are the most effective for you?

Willem Wijnans: (37:46)
So the majority of the… So a really big batch was bike mechanic hiring and our retail fleet, which is actually an interesting story because we do it almost without recruiters, just one per made all those hires. And we do that because we automated everything. We’ve built an algorithm together with the guys over at Headstart and Yalmer Koppelmans. I’m not sure what his business name is? But they helped me with building a tool that always outbids our competitor on Facebook and Instagram when we run ads for bike mechanics, and that has upped our inflow tremendously.

Willem Wijnans: (38:32)
And then we have a tool’s called Fountain. It can actually help you push people through at scale. So you still do interviews and trial days, et cetera. So it’s still pretty personal, but all the steps are automated. And that’s the first 140 people that we’ve hired in that way. Maybe a little bit less relevant, because I don’t think many people are hiring in retail right now in this environment. So I’ll touch upon the tech stuff.

Willem Wijnans: (39:01)
For me, the biggest, I think, the biggest wind I got in my back was the brand, right? So we were on complete… Everything was bright, the investment, the pandemic, everybody lost their job. The way that we had the momentum, because we were also in the news. The French, I don’t know if anybody noticed, but we got banned France and our PR team, which is, we’re pretty good at that, they really made use of that. So we were quite well known.

Willem Wijnans: (39:45)
And I think that’s where we generated quite a bit of applicants. And also, we have obviously, our bread and butter is industrial design, mechanical engineer, and now also electrical engineering. And on development, we do nice things, but we don’t need the best of the best, right? We don’t need the algorithm builders and the people that get hired at Facebook, but we just need good, solid software engineers who like to do the thing that they’re doing. And I think that’s what brought us also quite a bit of software engineers, because Amsterdam is quite rich with this group of people. Bring in a little bit of sustainability, I think we can do better, but we are more green than any other FinTech company or whatever.

Willem Wijnans: (40:40)
I think it was the perfect storm to get that many applicants in. But then managing all those applicants and making sure that everybody got the love that they deserved was tough, because when I was on my own in the beginning, and we gradually hired the team that I have now, which is nine recruiters over the year. So also, a lot of chipping in from the hiring teams, hiring managers chipping in, making sure that they did interviews and boarding them on our new platform.

Brendan: (44:03)
Willem, Byron wants to know, do you think recruitment data for decision making has changed in the last few years? If yes, what parameters do you track?

Willem Wijnans: (44:23)
Cool. So to get back to firstly Shamila’s question, she probably knows how many recruiters we want to hire. So I’m not the biggest believer of building an empire recruitment team. I really want them to work as a… Really want to not have too many recruiters. And it’s, I kind of, how I do it? I have a calculator that, based on past data, how many hires we do per team, how many hires get requested, calculates, this is the amount of recruiters. So I guess, if everything that was requested, we need a lot of recruiters, but we’re probably not going to go there. So I think we’re hiring a few more, like three or four. So everybody that’s interested, give me a shout. And I’m really… I need somebody in Taiwan and it’s hard for me to hire somebody. So if anybody wants a reload to Taiwan, that’s also very much of a possibility. And also… on the data, I think data is super important. I think the majority of people who want to switch from Greenhouse to a tool that works, or the money that gets made by Tableau and by Looker, to make sense of the data is actually a really big one, because I think what happens, company is small. You build a talent function as good as it gets. And then you use a tool, obviously, it’s obviously most of the time recruiting, Lever, the usual suspects, Greenhouse, and then you grow.

Willem Wijnans: (46:12)
And then all of a sudden you become a little bit more senior or a little bit more mature in your business. And then you need to make sense of the data because then it starts getting important, right? To hire some people who actually want to see the data. Maybe management wants to see like, “Hey, what is actually the time to hire? ” At least I would like to know, if I’m a hiring manager, I would like to see where we’re stuck, et cetera. And then you typically see is that it’s quite hard to actually present that data in a way without a BI tool or a data engineer. That’s why you also see the influx of tooling on top of Greenhouse, or things that take the API of Lever and that you can visualize your data a bit better, because it’s sometimes a bit of a mess to do that at scale.

Willem Wijnans: (47:04)
So, the good thing is, is that more and more leaders are looking at the recruitment data. I put it in front of the, on my peers. So all the people that run a division, I have regular hiring meetings with them and I just present them the data. The only thing is that we only just started using the tool that we’re using. So the data, what can you do with three months’ worth of data? So at six months it got a bit better. And then at… Now we’re in 11 months, the data actually makes sense, right? How much do you care about the data, right? I think it should be ingrained in your recruitment method to at least, the data that you can get out of the ATS, most of the time it’s the ATS and present that to the business. But also look at turnover, right? Ask HR, or look in Bamboo, or whatever tool you’re using how many people are actually being replaced? And what does that mean for me as a recruiter in the future? If turnover rates are above 20%, you know that you’re going to be hiring quite a bit more than what’s on the planning in terms of the headcount planning. I think those kind of things you can already look at. And then, deeper and deeper, you can build very sophisticated reports.

Willem Wijnans: (48:56)
And that’s what I like to do is, try to zoom in on why a person didn’t get hired and trying to see, making a case with HR for, if it’s salary based or if it’s stuck into processing, where? Or we can even zoom in on like a specific question that we ask all the time, what people answer, et cetera. But I think that’s maybe a few layers too deep. Start high, and basically start presenting the data that you can consume.

Elizabeth Stevens: (49:25)
I think it’s such an interesting way forward. If you make the parallel to the regular, to marketing processes where you sell products, the complete digitized funnel, people look at things like cost per acquisition. So a question for you, Willem, in recruitment, is your performance also based on a cost per recruit or cost per…

Willem Wijnans: (49:48)
Cost per hire, yeah. What I do, so it’s hard to do, but I take the median of the salary of the R&D team and the amount of time interviewed by that team, and I translate it into a figure of how much interviewing cost we have, which is hard because you miss out on other things, right? Then obviously you have cost per hire that you can measure because of the agency spend, maybe advertising spend.

Willem Wijnans: (50:23)
But to consolidate that all, you need finance, right? So I think that’s even harder, especially in my case with so many VPs. And for me, it’s quite hard to have that cost per hire. But for instance, retail is really easy for me. I just, I know how much time my recruiter spend on things. I know what the cost per hire is to advertise through Headstart. And I know how much time roughly gets spent by people on trial days.

Willem Wijnans: (50:52)
But I’ve yet to really start managing the team on it, because it’s pretty widely open for interpretation, right? So sometimes, the occasional times that we used an agency is, is when we missed out on an offer in the U.S. twice in a row. So then I think the cost per hire gets super high, but who’s to blame for that? It’s hard to really put hard figures on it. And also with, for instance, offer acceptance rate, which we measure very, very, very thoroughly, but it’s not, it could be an indication that something’s amiss, but sometimes it’s also by design…

Brendan: (51:45)
What is an acceptable offer acceptance?

Willem Wijnans: (51:49)
So currently, we are across the board on 87.5, which I think is reasonable, but we have teams where we have 100 and they never miss an offer. And we have teams where it’s 50% where we really need to investigate why this is happening. So one of my best recruiters, Leah, she’s acing it and she makes a lot of hires, but she also has some hires that don’t materialize because of the highly competitive market that we’re in. And VanMoof is, we don’t pay the what MAHLE pays, or what Message Bird pays, or the FinTech companies that have money to burn.

Brendan: (52:35)
Elizabeth, you’re in a very specific niche. So that doesn’t mean you don’t have brand, or can’t build brand. So how do you go about this?

Elizabeth Stevens: (52:59)
And it is a good point because it’s what I alluded to in the start, it’s really about this personal approach. It’s the work that Elise is doing, but I cannot scale Elise, right? Because it’s a personal approach. So what we’re now working on with, with the marketing team is, how do we build on our employer brand? So what’s our employee value proposition, and how can we tackle it? It’s a marketing game. So, what distribution channels? What channels will be effective? How can we make it much more personal? So what we’re also doing is, because we work with a lot of medical professionals and we recruit people who are surgeons or OR assistants in hospitals to come work for us.

Elizabeth Stevens: (53:40)
So we also use this community to do a Instagram post, and to make it really, really personal. We also see sometimes is that, especially in the hospital or branch, the offline channels do work well. And of course, you’d like to have everything digitized, but this community is not always looking on LinkedIn. You cannot imagine, but still there’s people not on LinkedIn. So you have to get creative. But building the brand, we realized it is important for us to do that. Even though it’s a niche, but still you have to work on your brand awareness.

Measuring Tools & Metrics

Brendan: (54:18)
What metrics do you drive and do they change as you grow with Incision?

Elizabeth Stevens: (54:32)
To be honest, I wish. I love data, and I think what Willem is describing is also describing the level of maturity that the art of recruitment is getting into. I’m pretty sure that 10 years ago, this was absolutely not the case, that you would look at things like cost per hire. And I can imagine that you have something like an employee lifetime value if you say so? But for us at Incision, it’s just not part of the core of what we do. I wish I had time to do all of that, but I’m happy if we can bring onboard people that can get onboarded and get the job done. So we’re not there yet.

Elizabeth Stevens: (55:16)
I think it really depends on which stage the company is, right? If you’re a startup and you’re scrambling, and measuring cost per hire is not going to make you succeed.

Willem Wijnans: (55:26)
I think at the stage where we’re at, we’re adding all the hires, and we have a recruitment team, and we say that we have a talent first culture. I think it makes sense to back it up with data because I don’t believe stuff when it’s not data backed up, so to say.

Brendan: (55:45)
In the past, you’ve written quite a bit about open source tools. It’s been a while since I have seen those articles, but they do help get the metrics out there. So, what is the 2021, or maybe even the 2022 version of a good recruiting and maybe HR tech toolbelt?

Willem Wijnans: (56:06)
I don’t write anymore, because the kids keep me busy, right? Becoming a father, and writing is just not a good match I think. I am putting out a blog post, because Shamila and myself we’re using Airtable quite extensively to basically… What I think you need to be able to do is to make all the tools that you have talk to one another. So when I wrote those earlier blog posts, and I obviously matured along the way, I started out also as a recruiter like, “Oh no, sourcing, that’s only the thing that you need to do. Source, source, source, source. Everybody who runs a process is bad.” And then I matured and I started thinking, “Oh, a process is actually quite well.” And now I’m more process and sourcing is still very important. Also, with my tools it’s, “Ah, no, this tool for email finding is the best, the best, the best, best.”

Willem Wijnans: (57:01)
And now I’m looking at more like, “It’s shitty work.” But holistically, to stitch all that data together and actually make a case out of it. Because that was always my downfall. I’m quite passionate about things, but then I could never back it up with actual data. So, but Airtable is a tool that I would hugely recommend for people to get into, because it allows you to sync, especially on HR levels, with all the APIs that all the tooling has available, to sync it together and to make the data work together. And I think that’s one of the unique, or at least, the things that I bring now to businesses is that I can take data from, for instance, finance, but also from HR, and I can stitch it together. And I think that’s… If you have some time to investigate it, how to build a database in Airtable, that’s good. And also, it doesn’t really require coding. So it’s quite, it’s UI-friendly.

Brendan: (58:07)
What are essential tools for you, Elizabeth?

Elizabeth Stevens: (58:09)
For us, at Incision, we work with Recruitee, which works really well for us, for the stage that we’re in. We’re not doing massive numbers of hires. It’s affordable for the stage that we’re in. Hiring managers can work well with us. So for us, it’s a really good tool. And I’m pretty sure that for each stage of your startup, there’s a different tool. And we used to do it in Excel type of thing. So typically, you graduate to your first tool, and then the second, and then you come to the level of Airtable and doing your own stuff.

Willem Wijnans: (58:47)
I think Recruitee, great to start out with, it starts breaking at some point, like any tool, right? I had the luxury that we didn’t really have anything at VanMoof. So I implemented and I vetted on a really obscure tool that had nothing, but I believed their vision. And now it’s helping me because of the data side is actually really good. It’s called Ashby. And I urge you to, everybody who is on the call might contemplate switching ATS as it’s basically the contender for Lever, Greenhouse. Really good. A really good tool and allows us to… We don’t have to have scheduling tools, and we don’t have to have sourcing tools, et cetera, because we can do it from there. And I think having a bit less tools and getting offline a little bit, I think that’s minimizing the noise that you have from all the tooling. I’m getting old, Brandon.

Brendan: (01:00:25)
There’s a question from Alex, how would you define a great hire? And this is a bit of an open one, but it could spark some debate. What is a great hire?

Elizabeth Stevens: (01:00:39)
Wow. There’s so many ways to look at it, right? You can look at it from the cost perspective, from the data perspective, from time to hire. If I look at it just from a soft side of things, a great hire is somebody who’s doing a really awesome, awesome job and somebody who can grow with the company. And I always try to find people, not for the job that we’re recruiting today, but can they grow with where, and we don’t know where we’re going to be in the future, but we know things are changing. So can this person grow with the company. So for me, a good hire is somebody who, after a year or so has made some step and has really grown professionally and personally.

Brendan: (01:01:30)
I think it’s an interesting way, because usually scale-ups and startups, when you hire people, people know some people only go that far because the environment changes that rapidly. And you said you went quite a stage at Booking in terms of, like it went from small to massive. So maybe you have an insight, how do you spot people that can go a long way within your organization?

Elizabeth Stevens: (01:01:53)
And it’s difficult, because it also really depends on the type of role, right? And for certain roles you need people who are just killing it in that type of role. And you don’t want a hundred percent of your team always wanting to go for that next level job, because there’s only so many steps you can take. So it really depends. But I think the flexibility and willingness to learn, regardless whether that’s in a specialist role learning more, because things are changing, or wanting to develop your own, for example, leadership skills. That’s something that I’m always looking for, whether that’s at Incision, or any other company that I would work for in the future, is this person able and willing to learn? Because that’s just the world that we live in. You need to keep learning.

Brendan: (01:02:46)
How do you check for that?

Elizabeth Stevens: (01:02:50)
Sometimes people just demonstrate that with what they’ve done. I think also the preparation of an interview. I get a lot from that. If I ask or if I say, “Hey, how did you prepare for this interview?” Some people will say, “Well, I read this, and I did this, and I spoke to some people. And I actually read the blog that your founders…” Then I’m, “Okay, well, this person is curious. This person is putting some effort in learning more.” Some people just say, “Yeah, well I had a look at your website,” and that’s it, right? So it gives me an indication of the eagerness and the curiosity of what a person is bringing.

Brendan: (01:03:26)
I think curiosity is a big driver. Willem, one of the things I touched on in the beginning is that recruiters are now one of the most sought after employees in the world. It’s crazy, right? But I mean, you’ve hired quite a bit, what helps you attract the best recruiters? And how do you hold onto them in this market?

Willem Wijnans: (01:03:52)
First, step back, what makes a great hire? Somebody who doesn’t sign up for the problems that they’re leaving from their previous company, that makes a great hire. In my opinion, a lot of people are switching jobs because they experienced something at a company, which is going to be the exact same as what they’re going to experience with you and you still hire them because they’re good. And then it’s a shit show. So I think a good hire is somebody who doesn’t take that baggage with them to the next job. And obviously, this is really hard to interview on, but I urge you to really investigate on, are people leaving for the right reasons?

Willem Wijnans: (01:04:24)
Then on the recruitment. So I think this is also interesting, right? Founders, they hire a recruiter because then they think like, “Ah, I’m done. The recruiter is here. I can start building my business again.” And this is not how it works. You can have as many recruiters as you want, but I don’t think it should scale linearly with the amount of hiring that you’re doing. That said, I think building a… I’m hugely dependent on the network that some of my recruiters have in the ecosystem here in Netherlands. Still, for me, hiring recruiters is actually the hardest role to fill, because it’s… The majority of us here have awesome jobs and they work at great companies. So why would you leave? That’s one. And two, the way that I, my vision of recruitment might, and I think it does, turn a lot of people off because it’s sometimes a little bit, it’s quite…

Willem Wijnans: (01:05:36)
If I were, fast forward or fast backwards, I don’t know how you say that? When I was 25 or something, and there would be Willem, who’s speaking right now, “Data, blah, blah.” Would be like, maybe not the best fit for me, right? So, I’m hugely self aware that my presence also blocks sometimes my recruiters joining in my team. But I think, freelance recruiters, right? That’s still, it’s a very big market. There is quite a bit rotation. So that’s nice. I think RPO opportunities, those companies are getting bigger and bigger, and they actually allow more junior folks to get employed and do startup experience. So I think that’s really, really beneficial to the ecosystem.

Willem Wijnans: (01:06:27)
And how do you attract them? I think by giving them a great experience, and by talking a little bit about the way that you envision hiring, and why you’re in this. And obviously, the growth because that’s sometimes… I think for most recruiters it’s actually nice to experience a high growth kind of situation. And when the recruiters are not busy anymore, what’s the company doing? That’s the culture right now in the system.

Brendan: (01:07:06)
We need to start wrapping up. Elizabeth, I have the final one for you, and it’s an open question. Do you have any good career advice for the audience?

Elizabeth Stevens: (01:07:23)
Yeah. Just… Life, life. Well, I think I just said it, curiosity, stay curious, because I think your curiosity is going to, it’s going to make you learn. It’s going to make you experience new things. Getting out of your comfort zone and really go for the next thing. And I think also planning a little bit ahead, which might sound a little bit stupid, but think about, “Okay, where do I want to be, I don’t know, next? And how is this next job or opportunity going to help me get there?” Right? So if you dream big, “Hey, I want to be the president of the U.S.,” or whatever. How is your next job at VanMoof going to help you get there, right? So you don’t have to think in a linear way, but stay curious and keep learning. And whatever learning path that is, it could be on the technical side, it could be in your personal side, but don’t stop.

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