I recently sat down with technical recruiting leader, Blake Stockman, to get his perspectives on what makes a successful partnership between recruiting and engineering leadership. Blake reflected on his time leading technical recruiting at companies like Uber, Flexport and Y Combinator to share the hallmarks of a strong partnership, as well as what typically holds organizations back from scaling world-class teams. The conversation was full of actionable insights and helpful real-world examples, so I wanted to round up my key takeaways here.
Earning hiring managers’ trust is everything
Recruiting is fundamentally a partnership function, and there’s very little you can do without a healthy relationship with who you’re hiring for. If you have a good partnership with your hiring leader, most other things are solvable.
Blake stressed that a strong relationship with hiring leaders is fundamental to building a world-class hiring process. He explained that, “Trust is something you really have to build with these engineering leaders because they’ve almost certainly been burned by recruiters in the past.” The path to forging that trust is establishing data-driven, forward-thinking processes that can anticipate needs and give hiring leaders peace of mind that their goals will be met (more on that later). Trust is also borne out of tightly-aligned goals. Though a recruiter’s goal is ostensibly just to hit hiring numbers, the most successful recruiters don’t lose sight of how those numbers tie to business outcomes. For example, they know that “if we don’t hire these people, that means X thing doesn’t get built, and the company misses out on millions of dollars of revenue.” This strong alignment is also evident when a recruiter is willing to give a no-hire recommendation or push back on a hiring team’s decision when they think a candidate is not the right fit, even though it goes against their goal of filling the role.
Blake shared that a tell-tale sign that this strong partnership exists is if you can get to a place of “default yes", meaning when you ask your hiring manager for something they know it’s coming from a place of need and well-reasoned thought, so they default to saying yes immediately. Hiring managers should view you as a subject matter expert in the field of recruiting and defer to you within the domain of your expertise.
Play to your strengths to win top talent
For startups that don’t have monumental brands like Google or Facebook, the key to success is urgency, scrappiness, and willingness to try new things.
Pulling from his experience working at well-established big tech brands like Google and Facebook as well as at smaller companies like Uber and Flexport in their earlier stages, Blake shared how startups and scaleups can find competitive advantages to win top talent. One key to this is speed. He says, “Speed is where startups really have that extra edge. You can move quickly and make a hire in a week or two whereas at Google, it’ll take you a week just to schedule a phone screen.”
Another advantage for earlier stage teams is having the opportunity to build interviewing into the organization’s DNA from the start. He shared an anecdote about how Uber fostered a bottoms-up ownership mentality for hiring that enabled them to build a hiring culture that prioritized moving fast to win top talent:
At Uber, there was a strong culture towards team building. All of the teams and leaders were responsible for growing their own organizations. It was built into their metrics and performance reviews, and so as a result it was built into the culture of their teams that ‘we will not achieve what we need to unless we’re all committed to scaling the team.’ Once you build it into the DNA and culture of the organization, you’re able to lean on people and know they’re willing to help.
Blake advocates for this decentralized, team-led hiring model for smaller companies because it leads to higher velocity experimentation and decision-making, which can ultimately be a major competitive advantage. He explains, “At startups, where so much of what you’re selling is who you’re working with, it’s really important to embed recruiters really tightly with their hiring leaders so that you can have more rapid iterations and less stakeholders standing in the way of making decisions and trying things.That’s why for startups, I recommend a non-centralised model 100% of the time.”
Leverage data to transform recruiting from a reactive to proactive function
All of the best companies I’ve worked with place a really high importance on data and build everything based on what they’re seeing.
Blake’s approach to scaling hiring machines can be boiled down to one key ingredient: data. Throughout our conversation, it was clear that Blake believes a data-driven recruiting strategy is the foundation to building a strong partnership with hiring managers. When teams are referring to shared, trusted data sources, that unlocks highly principled, interesting discussions that go beyond the typical feelings-based debriefs. Blake also shared that the best organizations build their teams based on data, not just a “drag and drop” of what might’ve worked elsewhere. They experiment, track, and look at the data to figure out what will work for them rather than taking a one-size fits all approach.
Some of the key metrics Blake recommends keeping an eye on are time to hire and pass-through rates. As a first-step, he says it’s helpful to reflect on what these numbers have looked like in the past 90 days versus historical averages. For example, if you see pass-through rates are down, that can be a jumping off point to diagnose problems and make fixes: Is it a sign that the team is interviewing more harshly? Or that recruiting is passing through worse candidates? However, when things really start to get interesting is when recruiting uses that data to create forward-looking processes. For example, you could use that same data on pass-through rates to project how many hires you’re going to make over the next 90 days and get a good sense of how much sourcing and pipeline generation you’ll need to do to make sure that your operation is charging towards its goals. Blake notes that “Even if you can get the basic elements of a proactive function in place, that will make everyone’s lives a lot better.”
In discussing the importance of reporting with Blake, it struck me that the human element of recruiting makes real-time data all the more critical in this case. For example, when building products, a point-in-time report might suffice, but the same doesn’t apply to reporting on the state of a hiring machine, which is always affected by the unique people who are going through the process at any given time. Blake suggests sharing these reports asynchronously on a weekly basis and reserving bi-weekly meeting time with hiring leaders to delve into higher-level questions.
Recruiting is oftentimes the biggest expense for any company, so it’s a huge area of responsibility that recruiters have. If we can become more data driven, I think that’s a win for everybody.
I really enjoyed digging into Blake’s approach to leveraging data to build trust between recruiting and the business. He shared a lot of practical advice that I hope helps other forward-thinking recruiters take their partnership with hiring managers to the next level. To quote his parting words of advice, “Start using data, operationalise how you’ll use your systems, then send that data back to your hiring teams.” If you want to hear more, be sure to watch the recording of my full conversation with Blake below.