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Shifting Your Recruiting Strategy: A Talk by Gem’s Head of People, Caroline Stevenson

Shifting Your Recruiting Strategy

As part of last week’s TalentTalk DIGITAL, Gem’s Head of People Caroline Stevenson gave a talk about the ways our recruiting team has pivoted in light of COVID. The talk was offered in response to a lot of questions we’d received from participants in the previous TalentTalk: recruiters wanted to know how the day-to-day work has changed for the recruiting team at Gem; if our req load had slowed; and if so, how the team was staying motivated and what were they working on in the meantime. Caroline covered three things recruitment has turned its attention to at Gem: investing in foundational work, fostering team cohesion, and pipelining and nurturing top talent. In case you missed it, here’s a transcription of Caro’s talk.

If you attended our previous TalentTalk DIGITAL event, you may have heard our CEO & Co-founder, Steve Bartel, give a high-level overview about how Gem has pivoted its recruiting strategies during this time. In case you missed it: Gem is still hiring for foundational roles such as designers and engineers, and we have 2 open headcount on the business side (marketing and biz ops)… but we’ve pressed pause on hiring for everything else. What this means is that things are a bit slower than most of us on the recruiting side are used to at Gem. We realize that other companies might be in the same spot, so we wanted to share how we’re approaching this time. I’ll outline 3 things that my team is investing in right now that will set us up for even greater success for when hiring picks back up again.

Investing in Foundational Work

The first thing we’re investing in I’d classify as “foundational work.” Basically, we’re taking a closer look at some of our processes and metrics and seeing what kind of iteration or cleanup we might want to focus on. For example, we’ve been diving pretty deep into our data and making sure we have really good data integrity. We’ve already noticed a few areas where we can improve. One example is that we discovered there were inconsistencies in the way recruiters have been tagging candidate sources. The team had a conversation about this, and we ended up putting together a project that very clearly outlined each source and when to use it. We also decided to go back and deprecate some of the sources that auto-populated in Greenhouse that we almost never use, so recruiters now have fewer options they have to sort through when they’re selecting a candidate’s source.

We’ve also taken a closer look at candidate rejection reasons. We’ve decided to customize those lists in a way that makes sense to our team, in an effort to have more granularity in understanding when a candidate exits process and why. These rejection reasons become especially important when you’re ready to nurture candidates. For example, maybe Gem decides to open a new office next year, and we’re looking to start recruiting for it. I might want to go back and look at all of the candidates we’ve already engaged with and see if any of them dropped out of the process because of “location.” Maybe it now makes sense to re-engage with them. In doing this, we’re able to start the search with candidates we’ve already established a relationship with, rather than trying to engage cold prospects off-the-bat.

Another foundational project I’m excited to work on with the team is around pitches. As a recruiter, how you pitch the company and get a prospect or candidate excited about the org, the culture, and the role is essential. It also takes a lot of practice to perfect. I’m excited to carve out time with the team to specifically practice our pitches on the company, our long-term vision, and our goals. I’ll be encouraging the team to throw hard questions at each other, so we all feel confident answering queries about competitors, the general talent landscape, or anything else we might be asked that would require a bit of practice in answering. 

Fostering Team Cohesion

The second thing we’re really focusing on right now is team-building. Because we’re all remote, we’re working twice as hard to stay connected and preserve our team bond. This might seem like a lot, but between casual lunches, team stand-ups and our weekly team meeting, we have a team touchpoint almost every day. Even though we’re remote, the team has never been closer; and we’re starting to see the payoffs from that. So the team has really been leaning into this. We’ve started a series called “working styles” in which every week at our team meeting, one member of the team gets up and presents an in-depth overview of who they are and how they work best. They go over things like:

  • What work activities they find energizing and what activities they find draining 
  • How they prefer to give and receive feedback
  • How emotions tend to play out for for them at work, and what’s the best way for us to interact with them if they’re in an emotional mindset? How do we know and what does that even look like? 
  • What are their goals for or personal or professional development, and how can the team support them in achieving those? 

These end up being pretty vulnerable sessions, and I think it’s really helping to build a strong culture of trust and understanding. I believe this investment will pay off when things pick back up again—we’re going to have a stronger foundation, more knowledge about how to work best with each other, and a better shared understanding of how we all operate individually. 

Pipelining and Nurturing Talent

Thirdly, we’re making a huge investment in pipelining and nurturing right now. For those of you who might be newer to recruiting: when I say pipelining, I really just mean building lists for candidates we want to reach out to in the future. When I say nurturing, I mean engaging with candidates and building relationships.

We’re carving out a lot of time to pipeline for roles that we know we’ll eventually start hiring for again. These tend to be evergreen roles (or roles that have a lot of headcount, like sales, customer success, and engineering). This is a valuable investment to make because it takes a lot of time to go out and build those lists of candidates you want to reach out to when you’re starting a search. Doing this ahead of time might help us cut 2 or 3 weeks out of pipelining time when we decide we want to pick these searches back up.

My team is also specifically pipelining for diversity. To give some context, diversity is always top-of-mind for us at Gem, and we typically start most searches going 100% outbound for diverse candidates. Doing this allows us to better control the top of the funnel and ensure that we have a really diverse set of talent entering our recruiting process.  It also helps offset any referrals or online applicants we might get, which are always nice to have but unfortunately don’t always have great representation in diversity. By proactively sourcing for diverse talent, we can help offset some of those referrals and inbound candidates and ensure that we’re building a really diverse top-of-funnel.

Taking the time to build diverse pipelines at the start of the search takes time. If things are slow for you, I’d highly encourage you to take advantage of this and be methodical around how you’re thinking about pipelining. I know that when things get busy it can be tempting to post roles everywhere, wait for the inbound applications to roll in, and kick off a search from there. But unfortunately, you really can’t control for the diversity in your pipeline in that situation. Take advantage of the time you have now to build diverse pipelines of folks you can reach out to when you start kicking off your searches again.

We’re also thinking about how we can best nurture the talent that we’re pipelining. Nurture is super top-of-mind right now at Gem, since we’re working on a bunch of new features to help our customers nurture better. We know it can take a long time to build a meaningful relationship with a candidate, and having frequent touchpoints is important. So we’re playing around with what our nurture touchpoints might look like, knowing that there will be different strategies for different kinds of candidates. For example, if we see that one of the candidates in our pipeline has a mutual connection with someone at the company, we might check in with that person and ask, “hey, can you reach out and see how this person is doing?” They can help us get in touch and start establishing that connection.

Alternatively, there might be candidates who have previously engaged with Gem. Maybe we run a report in Gem to see any candidate who has ever entered process with us, and then take that a step further by filtering down by one of those rejection reasons I talked about earlier. For example, maybe someone entered process a few months ago and we remember them being great; but they dropped out because of timing, or they got another offer, or Gem was too small at that time (but they don’t know we’ve grown a lot since then!), and now is good time for us to check in with them and see how they are doing. Then there’s the truly cold-sourced candidate, with whom we have no previous connection or touchpoint. The team has started playing around with some ideas here, including simply reaching out and saying something along the lines of: “we’re not hiring right now but we’d love to connect and learn more about your career aspirations in case there’s an opportunity that opens up down the road.” If candidates take us up on that, we’ll have some qualified warm leads when we go to kick off the search again.

Finally, we’ve also kicked around the idea of hosting a digital event. For example, if we’re targeting account executives, maybe there are some things our account executives can share about how the sales team is navigating through COVID. Maybe there are some best practices they can offer around how they’re building pipeline or engaging sales prospects. Hosting an event like this not only helps everyone share best practices; it also puts Gem on the radar of some potential great account executives, and allows those prospects to start making connections with folks on our own sales team!

The big takeaway is that, even if things are slow for you in recruiting right now, there are a bunch of things you can be working on that will ensure you’re off to a strong start when things start to heat back up again. Investing in some foundational work, spending more time fostering team cohesion, and pipelining and nurturing top talent are some of the things my team is focused on right now… and I’d love to hear from other recruiters what your team is investing in right now. 

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