“Sure, no problem.”
Quickly followed up by:
“I have no idea what I’m doing.”
I’d never hired anyone at HubSpot. I knew practically nothing about recruiting.
During my five-month journey of finding someone to join our team, I’ve learned hiring a smart marketer is extremely challenging. While I surely haven’t mastered hiring, I learned a few lessons along the way which I wish I knew when I started.
The #1 lesson I learned during the hiring process is recruiting is shockingly similar to customer acquisition.
My favorite customer acquisition framework is Ramit Sethi’s concept of “Go where the fish are.” You start by identifying what type of fish you want to catch, figure out where those fish are swimming, and then cast your net.
In this post, I’ll walk you through how I altered the “Go where the fish are” customer acquisition concept to apply to our hiring process. Here’s our a 3-step hiring framework that I now use for hiring at HubSpot.
- Identify the “fish” you want to catch → identify your ideal candidate.
- Go where the fish are → figure out where the most qualified candidates “hang out” online.
- Focus on lakes with fish, ignore the rest → Spend all your time recruiting where you get traction with highly-qualified candidates, and ignore recruiting channels that don’t yield the kinds of candidates you’re targeting.
Let’s get started with the first step.
Note: At the end of this article, you’ll find actionable templates we used in the interview process. This includes (1) the exact interview questions we asked, (2) the test assignment we sent candidates, and (3) our “sorry it didn’t work” email template we sent candidates who didn’t get the job.
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Step 1: Identify the fish you want to catch.
The first step in the framework is identifying exactly who we need on our team. I’m asking myself questions such as:
- What are the personality traits of our dream candidate?
- What impact have they had in previous roles?
- What technical skills does this person need to have today? What skills are not as urgent that they could learn in the future?
- What are the exact projects this person would focus on during their first three months on the job?
- Where do they learn about marketing? How do they think about personal and professional development?
If I couldn’t answer these questions, I would simply waste everyone’s time. If I didn’t know what we needed, we would end up with someone we didn’t need.
As a result, I used these questions to build a “growth marketer scorecard” for our perfect candidate. The scorecard was divided into three buckets - personality, core skills, and technical skills - where each skill was ranked 1-5 after the interview.
Here’s the exact scorecard I used:
The most important bucket is personality. It’s the toughest to change. Examples include if they enjoy autonomy, thrive in challenging environments, and obsess about self-improvement.
The second most important bucket is core skills. They transcend the entire funnel and take a while to teach. Examples include their quality of writing, how they empathize with the customer, and make decisions from a mixture of data and consumer psychology.
The least important bucket is technical skills. Examples include fluency in HTML or CSS, SEO keyword research, or running basic CRO experiments.
The next step was turning this scorecard into a job description:
We simply reverse engineered the skills we needed on our team, defined in the “growth marketers scorecard,” into job description requirements.
Defining our dream candidate (or “the fish we want to catch”) in the beginning was a MASSIVE time saver. We could qualify candidates faster, ignore the ones who didn’t fit our exact needs, and guide us during the next phase - finding out where these candidates hung out.
Step 2: “Go where the fish are.”
The second step is finding potential “lakes” where our “fish” were hanging out.
In other words, where do our candidates learn about marketing? Who do they admire? Who are their idols? If they have questions, where do they go? I identified the following “lakes” for our growth marketer:
- Marketing Courses: They have taken marketing courses from organizations like Reforge, Tradecraft, or General Assembly.
- Twitter: They follow smart marketers like Brian Balfour, Casey Winters, Andy Johns, Kieran Flanagan, Noah Kagan, etc.
- Blogs: They read and/or write on blogs like Brian Balfour, Andrew Chen, Conversion XL, Moz, or Sumo.
Then, I used three different tools to find candidates within each “lake” that I wanted to contact:
- LinkedIn Recruiter to find candidates who took marketing specific courses.
- Followerwonk to identify candidates who follow multiple growth marketing influencers.
- Buzzsumo to discover candidates who authored or shared articles from popular marketing blogs.
Let me walk you through how I used each tool, along with some wins and losses I had along the way.
1. Using LinkedIn Recruiter to find candidates who took marketing specific courses
Everyone at HubSpot is hungry to learn. It’s a personality requirement for us. We want people on our team who obsess about becoming better human beings - both personally and professionally.
When a candidate has spent time or money on a marketing course, this helps us narrow the pool to find people with that exact personality trait.
As I was searching, I noticed some candidates had Tradecraft, a popular growth marketing career development course in San Francisco, as a “badge” on their LinkedIn profiles. This inspired the idea to use LinkedIn Recruiter to find people who had taken Tradecraft.
The above search resulted in 419 very qualified candidates. I tried this with other professional development courses like Reforge and General Assembly.
We had a ton of success with this strategy. We found a lot of qualified candidates who were proactively taking marketing courses. The only downside was lack of real-world marketing experience, which led us to try different prospecting tactics.
2. Using Followerwonk to identify candidates who are following multiple influencers on Twitter
A second tactic for finding quality candidates was using Followerwonk.
I searched for people that followed Brian Balfour, Casey Winters, Andy Johns, Rand Fishkin, Noah Kagan, and other growth marketing influencers on Twitter. Here’s an example of what that looks like within Followerwonk:
When I clicked the “followers of all three” link in Followerwonk it resulted in this table:
Then I downloaded the CSV file and removed other influencers (ex. Hiten Shah) and business accounts (ex. Shareaholic).
Afterwards, I highlighted the relevant accounts from my CSV file and sent them all canned Tweets:
I sent around 40 Tweets and only had a few responses (who were all inevitably not interested). I quickly called this one a #fail.
Perhaps people were happy at their current job? Perhaps they didn’t want their existing employers to see? Perhaps everyone saw I sent canned Tweets? :shrug:
My hypothesis is Twitter is great for finding qualified candidates, but not great for communicating with them. Email may have been a better option in hindsight.
However, it was minimal effort, so I didn’t waste much time trying this tactic.
3. Reaching out to people who wrote or shared articles from popular marketing blogs
I’ll summarize and say this strategy was a GOLD MINE of qualified candidates. We finally found the “lake” with all of the fish we wanted to catch!
In short, we split this strategy into two categories:
- We used BuzzSumo to find authors who wrote about growth and marketing.
- We used BuzzSumo to find people who shared content about growth and marketing.
In either case, I would then send them an email. Here’s the email template I sent to blog authors:
This worked surprisingly well. I’d hypothesize a few reasons why:
- Email is private. Candidates could have honest discussions about switching companies without fear their employer would see.
- We all love compliments. Writing is mentally exhausting. It's satisfying when someone compliments you on your hard work.
- Asking for permission grants buy-in. I asked, “I can send the job description if you’re interested?” instead of sending the job description without permission. It feels more conversational and less spammy. I learned this from Siege Media where they ran an experiment how “asking before sending” increased their reply rate by 63%.
One example of a great author was Alex Birkett (hint: who we hired for this role!) who consistently wrote stellar articles on the Conversion XL blog.
A core trait from our “growth marketer scorecard” was that they’re a quality writer. We knew this role would involve some writing, so finding authors of great blogs was a way to find qualified candidates quickly.
The second tactic was using BuzzSumo to find people who were sharing this content. If they are sharing, they are reading. If they are reading, they are learning. We want self-learners on our team, so this seemed obvious.
I downloaded the CSV file results, removed the irrelevant accounts, and reached out via email or Twitter to those who shared this content.
We found people who shared content to be a good fit, but not quite as qualified as people who were writing the content.
After all of that it was time for reflection. What worked? What didn’t?
Step 3: Focus on lakes with fish; ignore the rest
In summary, the most qualified candidates were authors of interesting growth marketing content.
We also found decent candidates from people who took marketing courses and shared popular growth marketing content. The least qualified were people who followed influencers on Twitter.
However, I will also admit that 100000000% the WORST CANDIDATES came in from automated job boards such as Indeed or Monster.
The issue with “one-click job application!” websites is they’re great for candidates; horrible for the hiring manager. The application quantity is massive but the application quality is horrendous.
After sifting through hundreds of “one-click job application” resumes, and having dozens of calls, I realized they’re a waste of time, and I ended up ignoring them completely.
I learned to focus on the lakes with fish and ignore the rest.
Finally, after obsessing about finding the right candidates (which is 80% of the battle in my opinion), the final step was the interview process.
BONUS: Actionable templates from our interview process
In this final section, I’ll quickly share what we used to find our perfect candidate:
- The exact interview questions we asked candidates
- The test assignment we used to qualify candidate skills
- The “sorry it didn’t work” email template for candidates who didn’t get the job
a) The interview questions
You know those cringeworthy clickbait ads for “that one weird trick” that will change your life?
While interviewing, I was seeking “that one weird question” that would magically filter out unqualified candidates.
Unfortunately, I never found that question.
Our questions changed frequently and adapted over time. Some questions yielded great answers; others yielded crazy answers. It was just a matter of experimentation. Here are the questions that helped us further qualify candidates:
Remember the “growth marketers scorecard?” Our interview questions are taken directly from the scorecard. We did the work up front to “identify the fish we want to catch” which made coming up with interview questions much easier.
p.s. If you have feedback or suggestions about these questions PLEASE let send me a message on Twitter @sjtousley.
b) The test assignment
Test assignments obviously differ by role. There is no “catch all” way to find the perfect candidate. However, to prevent you from having to reinvent the wheel, here is the test assignment we used:
The main lesson I learned from our test assignment was to identify a “great” submission in advance. For example, we asked candidates to write an article that would get thousands of social shares.
I had a vision of ”Trust Me I’m Lying” style of content. I wanted controversy. I wanted bold content that was polarizing, emotional, and appealed to big media websites.
The problem was I didn’t communicate ANY of that.
As a result, we received only tactical “how to” articles. Were the articles great? YES. They were fantastic.
Here is the exact article Alex Birkett submitted for this role. It’s a great piece of content, it just wasn’t what I expected for the role. And it was 100% my fault. I didn’t clearly communicate my expectations, which made “scoring” the assignments tough.
c) The “sorry” email template for candidates who didn’t get the job
We’ve all gotten the rejection email template after an interview. It sucks.
The worst is when we don’t get feedback about why it didn’t work out. As a result, I tried to give actionable feedback to each candidate, customized to why it wasn’t a fit.
Nearly everyone was grateful for the feedback. It’s impossible to improve if we don’t know what’s wrong. I just tried to follow the Golden Rule — treat interviewees as you’d like to be treated as an interviewee.
Give actionable feedback and be empathetic. It sucks to be told no.
A few final lessons learned
This article is already REALLY FREAKIN’ LONG :) so I’ll stop now. Here are final lessons learned:
- Identify your dream candidate as the first step. This applies from writing the job description to analyzing the test assignment. It is the ultimate time saver.
- “If you’re hesitant, just say no.” This was the best lesson HubSpot’s VP of Growth, Kieran Flanagan, taught me. There were a few candidates I was hesitant on and this was a helpful heuristic to follow. You should be THRILLED to work with this person, not “on the fence” about them.
- Establish tight feedback loops with recruiting. If you’re fortunate enough to have an incredible in-house recruiting team like HubSpot, it’s essential to establish a tight feedback loop early on. Otherwise you’ll end up with a constant pipeline of unqualified people.
Finally, I learned the hiring process is fun. I thought it would be boring and tedious. The reality is it’s challenging and experimental.
Just don’t forget to smile while you’re attempting to catch your first fish.
Please send me a Tweet (@sjtousley) on how YOU think about hiring at your company. How do you define your perfect candidate? Where do you find them? What questions do you ask? Etc
I would love to chat. Thank you!
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