I’m currently interviewing startups across the UK about their quest for rockstar employees! The idea is to give an insight into startup recruitment to folk who are interested in working for startups so that they might learn how to put themselves into a position of strength! Entrepreneurs might also be interested to see how their approach and perspectives compare to others’.
(Also posted on www.workinstartups.com)
This week I interviewed the intensely-driven entrepreneur Charlie Delingpole from the internationally expanding financial-tech startup MarketInvoice to encourage him to share his recruitment experiences with us, and find out what he looks for in job-seeking candidates.
Charlie has been advertising vacancies for various roles for some time now, and after viewing truckloads of CVs and conducting many, many interviews, certain roles remain unfilled. I wanted to find out why.
Bela: How do you find jobseeking candidates?
Charlie: Mainly through word-of-mouth, referrals, personal networks etc. We don’t go to recruitment agencies. It can take three months to know whether a new hire will be any good, and if they are not then you’re left with having paid a hefty recruitment fee that you won’t get back, and an employee that you need to fire. I’m not confident about the effort recruitment agencies put into sourcing and vetting candidates, and not convinced that the fee is worth it.
We have a good personal network which we rely on. The best candidates tend to be referred but are usually already in jobs and quite successful. Unfortunately these candidates are also already receiving much higher salaries than we can afford to offer!
Bela: You’ve been interviewing people for quite a while yet positions remain unfilled. You get what you ask for but you don’t seem to want what you’re getting. Do you need to be clearer in describing what you’re looking for?
Charlie: Well it can be difficult to know what we need in a candidate. Take marketing roles as an example. At the moment we’re not sure which marketing channels will work best for us, and this makes it difficult to judge which traits we should be looking for in a marketing professional – different marketing roles require different characteristics and skillsets in a person. But I think you get a gut feeling when you come across the right person.
Also, rather than filter people out right now, I’d prefer to see as many CVs as possible.
Bela: Hmmm, you mention gut feeling…but this could be based on any number of things including the mood you’re in that day?
Charlie: Yes, it could.
Bela: So what should a jobseeker do to prove his/her worth?
Charlie: In an interview they’ll need to be able to defend their answers. If they can’t explain their choices, and if their decisions and rationale fall to pieces under my scrutiny then they will not make the cut. To vet candidates, I may interview them many times. I’ll keep questioning them, drilling down to the details, in order to see how they think.
Bela: What kind of questions do you ask?
Charlie: I’ll pose questions to simulate situations a candidate will encounter in the role they’ve applied for. Interviewees will be asked competency-based questions but again these will depend…e.g. if looking to fill a sales position the kinds of questions asked will depend on whether we’re looking for someone to do creative sales, consultative sales, telesales – there are lots of different types of sales.
Bela: The questions you ask, and what you are looking for, will vary from day to day if you don’t know what kind of vacancy you are trying to fill. Does this mean luck will play a factor on whether a candidate gets hired?
Charlie: Yep, but only to some extent. I’m looking for very smart people and evidence of their ability to think. Your thoughts affect your actions, which form your habits, which forge your character which determines your fate!
Cold, hard facts matter to me and so I look for things a candidate can’t fake. E.g you can’t fake getting a first class degree. Good grades matter – these demonstrate your ability to think. References don’t help much – very few employers want to negatively affect someone’s chances of gaining employment elsewhere so they may say wonderful things about a candidate who’s been fired. I need to look for things that can’t be faked or exaggerated.
Bela: What do you look for in terms of experience?
Charlie: Something tangible. Can a candidate quantify the contribution they’ve made in previous roles? E.g. if involved in marketing, how have the marketing efforts affected company revenues? Can they describe in specific detail what they’ve have learned, applied and affected? If not, then it’s useless.
For some roles we hire for potential rather than experience. Again, a candidate would need to demonstrate their potential by quantifying their past efforts, clearly articulating their strengths and confidently selling themselves.
Bela: Will you bother to look at a CV if a cover letter is poorly written?
Charlie: I don’t care much for cover letters – anyone can write anything in them. Do you know what I mean? So I look at CVs and scour them for excellence. I don’t care about a candidate’s listed hobbies – waste of my time. I look for things that are going to directly benefit my business. I look for things that are off-the-wall impressive.
My business is everything to me and I work hard to make sure things get done. I’ll do things myself and work through the night rather than hire the wrong person. You’ve heard the expression it’s better to have a hole than an a-hole, right?
Bela: Can you give a specific example of what you look for in CVs?
Charlie: As mentioned, I look for cold, hard facts. So aside from grades, I look at where a candidate has studied or worked. So if they’ve studied at Oxford or Cambridge, or worked at places like Google, Proctor & Gamble, a big bank etc then they’ll catch my attention.
I went to Cambridge and I worked at JP Morgan, so I know firsthand how tough the selection process is; these places have tough recruitment processes and so it tells me a lot about a candidate if they’ve been accepted.
That said, you still need your basic skills to be up to scratch. I interviewed someone from a big bank who was earning £45K but demonstrated poor spelling and grammar – he didn’t get hired.
Bela: Okay, so you want the best…and are you offering the best?
Charlie: (Smiles) Nope..if you were to draw a Venn diagram of the candidates that we’re looking for and what they are currently on or want, and what we can offer – there’s no overlap!
But I’m not going to make concessions; it’s an employers’ market at the moment and I can afford to be aggressive – I’d rather hold out for the right person and do the job myself in the meantime.
Bela: Out of the interviewees who were nearly ideal but didn’t make the cut, what was the reason for not hiring? What was missing?
Charlie: An ability to sell themselves. If you can’t sell yourself then you won’t be able to sell the product. I recently hired someone to do PR and marketing, and this candidate was able to push himself forward and sell himself. If you don’t believe in yourself then why should anyone else?
Also, a candidate has got to really WANT to work with us; they’ve got to want to work with our team and they’ve got to believe in and want to work with our product.
Bela: What puts you off during interviews?
Charlie: I don’t like it when people say things and they don’t know what they’re talking about – e.g. when they interchange words and ideas as though they mean the same thing when actually they mean different things.
One candidate told me we needed to get our marketing synergy right. When I asked him what he meant by synergy he said we needed to get our marketing strategy right. He talked about the two things as though they meant the same thing, even when I quizzed him on it, and they don’t!
Bela: When can candidates ask you about equity in your startup?
Charlie: You can’t just come in and demand equity. Firstly you need to prove yourself and make yourself indispensable. Then you can ask about equity. Same with salary. If you come in at a low salary and prove yourself during your probationary period, then you can ask for your salary to go up – that’s fine. But if you come in demanding a high salary and fail to prove yourself then you can expect no mercy! You’ll be fired if you can’t deliver.
Bela: That’s plenty of insight for now – thanks Charlie
Charlie: No problem, you’re welcome!
(End of interview)
So there we have it. Charlie acknowledges that while he needs to hire more people he can’t be sure about what he needs, can’t pay enough, can’t vet candidates, and won’t use recruitment agencies.
The setting of selection criteria such as good degrees from prestigious universities is a risk management exercise. Employers want to avoid the risk of entering into a relationship with an employee that will be a waste of time and money. There is an expectation that the better your grades, or the higher the quality of the institution in which you have gained your education or work experience, the greater the likelihood that you are a quality candidate and able to perform well.
This is not to say that people who don’t have these credentials are incapable of being effective and awesome…but it does mean that such candidates will need to work harder to prove an ability to deliver and that they don’t present a risky relationship.
In a nutshell, job seekers must get better at articulating what they can do and quantifying their experiences to give employers a solid picture of what kind of performance to expect and to present themselves as a sound investment.
More about the company
MarketInvoice is an online marketplace where businesses can selectively auction their invoices to a network of high-net worth and institutional buyers raising flexible working capital.
The way it works is that an invoice seller auctions an invoice at a minimum value and maximum fee. Invoice buyers then make offers of how much they’ll advance and the fee that they’d like to take. The invoice seller picks a buyer and the auction closes. The seller receives the advance in their account that very day.
When the client pays the invoice, the invoice buyer gets their advance returned as well as their fee. The invoice seller gets back the difference between their advance and the invoice total – minus the fee paid to the invoice buyer.
Market invoice then takes a fee from either side. Simple. Check their website for more information…www.marketinvoice.com