If You Can Sell, You Can Hire: Best Practices for People and Sales Leader Collaboration
Primary Partner Rebecca Price and Rhythm founder Tommy McNulty on how People and Sales leaders can come together to fairly, efficiently build high-functioning teams.
There’s so much more to good hiring than putting together a job description. The right hiring process not only brings in top talent, but it ensures a great experience for those on both sides of the interview table.
A data-driven hiring process can do just that, by implementing a set of repeatable standards for interviewing and debriefing. Less ambiguity means a more analytical approach to evaluating candidates, and a better chance of finding the right fit.
We spoke with Rebecca Price, Partner at Primary and a three-time former Chief People Officer, and Tommy McNulty, Cofounder and CEO of Rhythm and former Head of B2B Sales at NerdWallet, to learn more about best practices for hiring – collaborating with sales teams, calibrating your scorecards, and the common mistake that sets recruiters up to fail.
What’s the best way to go about building an ideal candidate profile and a scorecard? How can a recruiting team and the sales hiring manager work together on that?
Rebecca Price (RP): In the sales, product, and marketing teams, they're always talking about their ideal customer profile. And it's exactly the same when you're selling your company to a candidate as a place to work. Instead of selling a product to a customer, you're selling a job to a candidate, and you need to really understand your ideal candidate profile. I always like to think, “What is my ideal person doing today, and how will I find them? Where are they? What are they reading? Are they on the internet? Are they at events? What's going to be interesting to them? Why would they want this job?”
Unfortunately, usually hiring teams will just write a job description, post it on their job site, and hope that the people come. But you would never do that in sales. You build such a machine around outbound prospecting, and the exact same mechanics need to happen on people and talent.
Tommy McNulty (TM): I've had some trouble with this in the past because I jumped into making a job description as my first step. The first step should actually be: “What does this team look like? What do they do? What are the core actions that they're taking?” And then map those actions to a profile. So starting with that philosophy around what “good” looks like for the team, and then going into the tactics, is a great place to start.
When you're building a scorecard for a candidate, how do you ensure that the characteristics are evaluated the same way across all candidates?
RP: I love the book Who. I think that's a great book to start, because it talks about data-driven recruiting. Since I’ve learned the methodology, I've never gone back to building a job packet. The process should start with, “What outcomes do we expect for this person? How will we concretely know that this person was successful – in six months, a year, 18 months? What skills or competencies does someone need to deliver those outcomes? What questions am I going to ask through my interview to assess those skills or competencies?”
Then you create an interview plan. Determine who's going to ask what questions, and who's owning what competencies. Each competency is tested by a minimum of two people. You come to the panel discussion, where every candidate has gone through the same assessment, the questions and competencies have been the same, and interviewers objectively assess against those competencies. That's how you ensure consistency and repeatability, and have a data-driven recruiting process.
When interviewing, you are a journalist, you are a detective. You should be asking questions, taking notes, and you should be trying to peel back the onion to understand the person's story, understand their strengths, and gather as much data as possible.
A big mistake people make is they come up with conclusions too early in an interview, and then there’s reinforcement bias. If I've already made my decision early that you're a yes, then I'm going to go easy on you. Or if I've already signed you off at the beginning, I'm going to be extra hard on you, or not listen.
TM: One of the things that I regret not doing sooner was being really focused on the calibration session before we started hiring. In sales in particular, you might be looking at characteristics that are closer to personality traits than previous work that they've done. Things like coachability, for example. Everybody in the room might have a different view on what a strong “yes” on coachability looks like.
We put the hiring team in a room and we say, "Okay, we're going to talk about grit. When we say grit, this is exactly what we mean. These are some good examples of it. These are some medium examples of it." Getting everybody on the same page on the bar was super important.
Do you think that every candidate should have a deliberation, even if everyone is a strong yes or strong no?
TM: Yes, and the reason is, it’s about calibration. It builds the muscle on, “Why is everybody a strong yes?” or “Why is everybody a strong no?” It could be a five-minute thing, if everyone in the room thinks this person has the perfect experience, and had a wonderful experience with them. But I also think a good hiring manager or a good recruiter will suss out: Does everybody just like this person? Are they just really friendly, and we all want to go to happy hour with them, or are they actually good at the job? I tend to find that the strong yesses tend to skew more toward broad likability versus specific skills.
RP: There are two metrics as a people leader that I care about. One, the recruiter-screen-to-hiring-manager step. How many people did you meet that you presented to the hiring team and they said, "Yes, I want to meet them"? That shows that you really understand the profile.
The second metric I care about is, “How many people went through the whole process that we said ‘Yes’ to?” When I first started analyzing this in my last Chief People Officer role, it was eight to one, which is such an inefficient use of time. Look at how many people stepped away from selling to interview these people, and only one of nine got through. So if everyone is a “no,” then something broke down earlier in the process. We have to ask, “How did this person get this far?” so that it never happens again. I think 2:1, or even 1.5:1 is ideal, so that you're efficient in your funnel.
Where should the responsibility fall for sourcing and initial screens, the recruiting team or leadership?
TM: Initial screens I think should probably fall on the recruiting team, but I think sourcing should fall to both teams. If you're a team leader, part of the expectation has to be that you're an external ambassador for the company. It doesn't mean I think that you're doing 100 outreaches on LinkedIn every day, but I think whether it's through posting or attending events, that comes with the territory.
RP: It also depends on what stage your company is in. In the early stages, whether you're seed, or even Series A, no one really knows you. The first call isn't actually a screen, the first call is just earning the right to even get to the initial screen call with the candidate, because you're still so early in your company's lifecycle. So when I work with seed-stage or Series-A founders, I’ll say, "No one wants to hear from a recruiter, and no recruiter can source and sell your company as a great place to work better than you." So there are ways recruiting teams can help you figure out who your persona is, how to write a good message, and how to use really good sourcing technology to get sourcing at scale.
That first call has to happen with leadership, because they need to believe that you're the right leader, that this is a company that needs to be built, and that they can trust you to build this company. Now, as you get to Series B and beyond, where you have more of a brand presence and a bigger team, that's where the talent acquisition team can start doing more outbound prospecting and taking those first calls. At that point you've earned your right with your brand and your scale. But nothing beats a candidate getting a personalized email directly from a Founder, CEO, or Sales leader, where they're hearing directly from them, because that's going to be their boss. That's going to be the person that they're connecting with, and the person that ultimately is going to shape the direction of their team.
The most successful hiring will happen when the hiring manager feels tremendous responsibility, and sees the people team as enablers, supporters, and experts. Your recruiters will fail if they are alone, not getting responses from you, not getting your time, or not getting your participation. Talent acquisition leaders can be great at the candidate experience and great at process, but these people are coming to work for you, so you have to take that responsibility and participate.