Hiring for startups and why asking for CVs is elitist
A case study
During my assignment in London, one of my essential tasks was to hire a team and train them in social media marketing. I knew that the only way to do this was by hiring someone who loves football, the passion of our target group, and who enjoys writing about it. We didn’t need a senior writer or someone with a background of academic achievements. The person we needed was someone with enthusiasm for the topic and a good grasp of grammar.
About a week before I came to London, I announced that we were looking for an intern on several job platforms, such as; Indeed.co.uk or WorkInStartups.com. When writing the job listing, I specified that we didn’t want any resumés, instead we wanted to see two short articles.
We received more than 50 applications in less than a week. The majority of applicants sent us a CV and, as you might expect, no samples of their copy. Sorting through them was easy: we dumped them all!
We then received some good applications, which enabled us to judge the applicants based on their tone of voice and whether their writing style was what we wanted our brand to be associated with. We were also looking for someone who could write several blog posts a week.
After sorting through all the resumes I selected two guys to interview over Skype. This interview enabled me to talk a little more about our aims and how the applicant would fit within the team and what I, and eventually the team, expected from the person joining. I also explained that we would train them whilst they were interning for us in return for their work. After the two Skype interviews I chose to invite one of the guys to come and meet everyone.
The Skype interviews proved extremely beneficial because the applicant was far more relaxed on the video call compared to his interview at the office, during which he spoke extremely fast and was very tense, perhaps a sign that he really wanted to work with us. During the interview we asked about the applicant’s background and discovered that not only had he dropped out of Uni but had also aborted other previous work commitments.
After the interview was over, a long discussion followed: Was he the right person to hire or should we look for someone else? We decided on a compromise and invited him to join us for a week’s trial, paid of course. We wanted to give him a chance without us having to commit immediately. Don't forget that his copy was what made us invite him in the first place.
After two days, we knew getting our new intern on board had been the right choice; he turned out to be extremely bright and had just been a little unlucky in the past; I found I was sitting at a desk with a hilariously funny guy with excellent general knowledge and whose work was detailed and original, he exceeded all of my expectations. This made me question industry standards and why we still hire based on CVs; this guy would not have been sitting at that desk if we had hired like most people in the industry.
The only way we can foster social mobility is by not judging people on where they come from and where they studied. At the end of the day all that matters is where people want to be today and if they’re big enough to reach it.
The founders had other full-time commitments, so the intern and I mostly worked on our own. We met every day at Campus London, an amazing space Google built to support London’s startup scene.
I don’t know much about football but I know a lot about the dynamic of social platforms; my goal was to explain all I knew to my new partner-in-crime and have him go from there. I never said: “This is not how you do it.” Instead I asked “Would you click that headline?” The only general rule I ever set was not to do any hard sell. Instead, I encouraged him to be entertaining, join conversations and have fun throughout the day talking to people and eventually building a community for the brand. Together we decided on certain measures and set goals that were to be reached within a reasonable time frame.
After about three weeks I showed our intern a brand report I had done for another company and then asked him to do something similar for the brand we were working on together; I asked him to develop brand guidelines and define the brand’s voice. He hit the spot exactly and analysed everything, even the stuff I wasn’t happy about. By encouraging him to spot his own weaknesses, he was changing from school dropout to a really good copywriter within less than a month.
I forgot to take down the job ad on WorkInStartUps.com and got a really nice email from an applicant. He sent two really good articles, so I asked him for a Skype interview and also had him download the app and give me feedback. I figured that even if we already had someone in role, it might be beneficial to keep a record of people the company could work with in the future and also get some product feedback all at the same time (sneaky I know).
During our Skype call I was honest about the fact that we already had someone who we were very happy with. I asked what his dream job would be and also asked him to give me feedback on the app and what he thought was missing. His dream job was in creative advertising, his product feedback was excellent and he sounded just like the person we needed to work with the team once I was gone. As we didn’t need a copywriter I set him another challenge to come up with a concept that would lead to 5,000 downloads in two weeks.
We invited him in for an interview and were blown away by the exceptional concepts he presented to us so we decided to welcome a second intern on board; to help us with the execution of the ideas and do the media work and to help him get a step closer to where he wanted to be; in creative advertising.
As for me, I believe that internships should be mutually beneficial. I’m in the habit of asking for feedback once a week to see what the intern would like to learn and grow into. I don’t make it easy for people to join a team but once they do, it’s my aim to make sure they see personal progress every single day.
What has been your most beneficial hiring and training technique? Let me know of some of your tips, tricks or comment on what I have written above. I’d love some feedback.