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Friday, July 26, 2013

8 Recruiting Tips for the LA Tech Scene

from Ben Belser

I received one of the best tips in recruiting early on in my career. It was a simple line that still rings true today: "wait for great." At the time, I thought this was possibly the cheesiest thing I'd ever heard (okay, I still do), but it's absolutely correct. Recruiting isn't just finding people--it's building the DNA of a company, brick by brick, employee by employee. For startups especially, it's absolutely critical that recruiters--and the people who employ them--be patient. You may feel tempted to hire someone in a pinch, but if I've learned anything from recruiting it's that things done in a pinch rarely pay dividends.

In other words, take the time to do it right. For those of you in SoCal (and to a large extent elsewhere), here's how:

1) Geographically Desirable: You don't have to live in Silicon Valley to feel like you're a part of that vibe. LA has some sexy technology companies that are doing some amazing things (like going to space). Remind recruits that LA has everything from the best weather to the best tech.

2) Zeal: Sometimes LA gets a bad rap for being laid-back in the workplace. I know I like to surf and swim as much as the next guy, but I also have a tendency to be, shall we say, "intense." The company I work for is no exception, nor are a host of other hyper-professional, hyper-successful companies throughout the LA area. Be sure to share that in the recruiting and interview process, or you may get clobbered by recruiters up north.

3) Mobility: I'm not talking about offering telecommuting, I'm talking about expanding your labor market by looking at cities that have a high amount of people who are willing to move for work. Cities with booming technology industries like NYC, SF, and Austin have huge mobile populations of young people, many of whom are frothing at the mouth for a spot in technology. Show them what they can build, and it doesn't matter where they are: they will come.

4) (In Lieu of) Telecommuting: The promise of working for a tech company is getting to do things differently, and for many people this includes working from home. Unfortunately, most hot tech start-ups are small and scrappy, and they really want their employees to develop an in-person bond as opposed to merely a functional working relationship. In those cases, quit dwelling on what you can't do and focus on what you can do: flexible hours, side-work projects, etc. The key is to emphasize your strengths as opposed to your weaknesses, which should be a no-brainer.

5) Know Your Numbers: Salary research is everything, but how do you know fact from fiction? My general rule of thumb is to ask ten people for salary figures and you pretty much have your benchmark. I always ask recruits directly, find friends in similar positions, and spend copious hours on services like Glassdoor. Still, at the end of the day, it's tough to know whether an offer is competitive or not. In those cases, best to err on the side of spending more money on a candidate, not less. The return on investment in a strong employee--particularly over his or her lifetime at the company--is almost always worth the extra expense. (If you're reading this and you're a new recruit: you're welcome.)

6) Tapping Talent: The question I get asked the most often is, "Where do you find the best talent?" To be honest, the answer isn't always cut-and-dried, and I'm not ashamed to say that I've met some of my best recruits at Chili's Bar & Grill (trust me, it's a long story). For those of you who aren't sold on Molten Chocolate Cake, it pays to plumb your networks. I love LinkedIn for that purpose, and I scour key conferences that are core to my company's culture (like SXSW) or the technology we use (like Rails Girls). Hosting your own events is also a great way to surface talent. Nothing endears you more to recruits than hosting an awesome hackathon, especially if the winner gets something shiny and/or expensive.

7) It's Not Just Me: Recruiting talent isn't just my job, its the company's job too. Nothing is more frustrating than painting a pretty picture for your recruits only to have it dashed during the interview by an under-caffeinated, grouchy employee. It is essential that recruiters educate and train their coworkers--especially those conducting interviews--on best practices, or the whole operation is kaput. Likewise, when recruiters and their fellow employees are working together, there's very little they can't accomplish.

8) Be a Human: Surprisingly, what should be the easiest thing for most recruiters to accomplish--being a human--is also sometimes the hardest. Sure, the majority of recruiters have lungs, a heart, and a central nervous system, but do they talk to their candidates like children? Do they read off scripts, refer to recruits as "hires," and deliver canned speeches that sound like Rosie from The Jetsons? Unfortunately, the answer in all too many cases is "yes." Instead, recruiters should realize that they have a ton in common with the people they're trying to hire--and act accordingly. For starters, recruiters and candidates both breathe oxygen (shocker). They also watch the same movies, listen to the same bands, and love the same gadgets. It's even been said that recruiters and candidates rub elbows at Chili's Bar & Grill. Either way, recruiters everywhere would benefit from a little less perfunctoriness and lot more personality.

Ben Belser is the head of recruiting at Spokeo. Taking his expertise as an in-house recruiter at Zynga in the Bay Area and an agency-based recruiter in NYC, he's working on bringing top talent to the LA tech scene.

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