We interviewed Steve Benson, CEO and founder of Badger Maps, one of Vocate’s network employers. He explains how they approach their interview process and how they evaluate candidates. We also invite you to check out his article “How to Establish a Successful Internship Program” for more great insights on growing a startup.
Company: Badger Maps
CEO: Steven Benson
Industry: Tech, Startup
What is an interview question that you use a lot?
My favorite question to ask is ”What do you feel is your most significant accomplishment in your career?” Then I like to ask a few ‘Why questions’ following up on their answer. Questions like: “Why did you decide to do it that way?” or “Why was that the best strategy?” or ”Why was that the right timing for the business?” You can learn a ton about the way someone thinks from their answers to ‘Why questions’ because the answers give you insights into how the person thinks.
What is your favorite low cost recruiting strategy?
The best low cost recruiting strategy is to encourage all employees at a company to bring the recruiting team great leads. In practice, this means you need to have employees sit down for coffee etc. with friends of their friends who come highly recommended. Then get a warm intro for the hiring manager. This can really keep costs down and quality high and has been a key element of our hiring strategy.
I’ll always think back to something that I remember the HR execs saying when I was at Google – ‘we get our best employees thru referrals from current employees’. They paid employees big referral bonuses to make these types of introductions, and if you are really on a budget, and at a small company where people really care who they are going to be working with, you can get non-HR and non-recruiting parts of the organization to participate in recruiting in a meaningful way.
What’s the most important thing you can do when you are hiring people?
For me, the first rule of hiring is finding someone whose personality and skills are a good fit for the activities that will be performed in a role. Most people start out by thinking about experience in a role, or where someone went to school or what their grades were. But I think about how good a fit someone is for a role by thinking of a Venn diagram with 3 circles. The circles should overlap at one area, and should be labeled:
1) What activities an individual enjoys doing
2) What activities an individual is truly good at
3) What are the activities that will make up this job
This lens causes me to focus on the activities that a person will do on the job, and how good a fit they are for them, rather than the professional or educational background of the candidate. I think that when I recruit the best people for a role, they are right at the nexus of the 3 circles. I suspect that this is a unique lens to use when evaluating if a candidate will be a great fit for a role, but it has worked really well for me hiring hundreds of people over the years.
For example, imagine that you are hiring an attorney for your company. Many people go to law school because they ‘want to be lawyers’. However, they end up unhappy in their career because they don’t enjoy the activity of being a lawyer – quietly sitting alone in a room reading and writing very complex things. On the other hand, that same person might not like the idea of being a salesperson, but they would enjoy the act of speaking with people and teaching them about the benefits and details of a new product or service – which is the main activity of salespeople. When you are recruiting for your team, don’t focus on whether the attorney that you hire went to a top law school or worked at a prestigious firm for the last few years. Focus on if they would enjoy and be a great fit for activities associated with being an attorney. If you do this across your whole organization, the whole company ends up happy and productive.
What are key trends in hiring for 2017?
The key trend that I see playing out in 2017 is more companies opening up new geographically dispersed offices. There is a shortage of certain types of employees in many geographies where hiring firms are located. Look for companies to open up offices for professionals in other countries and in other areas of the country. There is a shortage of certain types of professionals in the US, particularly in certain regions where many companies are located like the Bay Area. The best example of this is software engineering talent, but it also applies to other areas like Sales. You’ll hear about a company with 10 people in the Bay area opening up a 20 person sales and customer service office in places like Atlanta, Pennsylvania, and Waterloo. These will be clustered in North and South America where time zones work well for servicing the US market. You’ll hear about new engineering offices that aren’t time zone limited in Estonia, Poland, and Nigeria.
The shortage is due to the sudden uptick in demand for people that do these roles, and that demand being geographically concentrated in certain regions of the country where the tech boom has been the biggest – like the Bay Area. This sudden demand has been driven by the rapid growth of many companies in the sector, and especially driven by the massive growth of a few companies (Google hires a lot of engineers). The supply of these roles has been outpaced by demand – the wages have gone sky high. It can be very difficult to hire for these roles, because there just aren’t enough people to do them regardless of wage. The solution for firms, is to open and offices elsewhere – and Recruiters will play a key role in this transition.
What are some of the best ways to attract and retain great employees at your company?
The trick to being successful at attracting great people in a competitive hiring market is to create a culture and business that people are really excited to work at. Then you don’t lose people, and word tends to spread about what a great place it is to work. So you can hire more people through referrals.
People are savvier today about figuring out if a place is a good one to work at – there are anonymous online tools like Glassdoor, and they can look at LinkedIn and see what people are saying about one another in things like recommendations. In a competitive job market, people will have more than one place they could work, and they evaluate resources like these.
You can try to gloss over a crappy work environment with higher pay and perks, but ultimately, people leave their jobs because their manager is bad or because the company has a crappy culture that sucks the life out of them. But it’s hard to fake, you have to have an authentic, genuinely awesome place to work, or your best employees will go somewhere else that does.