With the recent economic downturn, many startups have slowed — if not altogether frozen — their hiring plans. And understandably so: as funding rounds stretch longer and inflation impacts people’s spending, leaders are keeping a more watchful eye on budgets. However, even if your hiring has slowed, your recruiting function should never stop.
Fortunately, unlike traditional inbound and outbound recruiting, network recruiting is flexible enough to keep your recruiting engine running even if your hiring plans are in flux. Below, founders and recruiting experts weigh in on how to best leverage network recruiting during a downturn.
- Melanie Tantingco, Former VP of Talent Acquisition at Vise
- Nolan Church, Founder & CEO at Continuum, former CPO at Carta, and first people ops hire at DoorDash
- David Connors, Co-Founder & CEO at The Swarm, formerly Director of Recruiting Ops at Sequoia Capital
But first: What is network recruiting?
Network recruiting leverages the power of human connections to power recruiting, an approach that’s been proven to be more efficient, affordable, and effective than job board postings. Many companies already do this to a certain extent (formally or informally) through the use of an employee referral program.
Here at The Swarm, we’re building the first tool that lets you bring together the individual connections of your teams, advisors, and investors into a combined company network, allowing you to quickly surface, vet, and contact potential talent from this shared pool.
“Network recruiting really uncovers the hidden gems [in your combined network], whether through software or through a diligent process that allows you to uncover people you probably weren’t thinking about,” explains Melanie.
Leveraging network recruiting during a downturn
So, how can you use network recruiting to further your hiring goals, even during a downturn?
Always be recruiting — even with no open roles on the horizon
“Something I learned from Tony Xu, the CEO of DoorDash, was … always be recruiting,” says Nolan. “That was true when we were hiring hundreds or thousands of people, and also true when weren’t hiring anyone at all.”
Even if you’re not hiring today, chances are you will be tomorrow — and doing so will be a lot easier if you’ve spent the last few months developing warm relationships with potential candidates.
“The way I think about it is similar to raising capital from investors,” says David. “You want to build a relationship over time, so that they invest on a line, not just on a point. So if you can be doing that 12 to 18 months ahead with the best talent — showing them the story of how you're building, how the team's growing, showing them that momentum and getting them excited — they're way more likely to then be able to convert into a hire versus if you start 18 months from now.”
To help keep your executives, recruiters, and hiring managers accountable, you can create a key performance indicator (KPI) for these conversations. If key employees are having X amount of conversations with potential talent each week or month, you’ll be adding talent to your funnel continuously — long before you need it.
Ask for advice (not an application)
When it comes to networking with potential future candidates, Nolan suggests asking them for advice, rather than to simply connect and chat.
“In the reach-out, my goal is like, ‘Hey, I would love to learn from you about this thing.’ And I think that's a great way to just open up a conversation,” says Nolan. “It's a great way to make the other person feel like, ‘Wow, somebody wants to learn from me.'"
Not only do people have an innate desire to help others, but this allows you to get a sense of potential candidates’ expertise and personality. It also makes it easier for you to nurture a deeper relationship with the candidate over time.
Consider bringing potential candidates on in a limited capacity
If you’re still several months away from hiring for a certain role, you can still bring a strong potential candidate on as either an advisor or contractor in the meantime.
“You identify someone, maybe get them on for a couple of hours a week or a few hours a week, and then slowly over time — as they kind of get more and more exposed to the company — they get more excited,” says David. “All of a sudden, your opportunity versus the 10 other ones they're considering, becomes stronger in their mind. And then when you do give them this opportunity to come on full-time, it's much more likely to happen. It's also a great way for you to get to know them and to understand if you actually do want to hire them.”
Keep your approach scalable
Over the last few (hectic) years, many recruiters have found themselves overwhelmed by work — leading to a more “transactional and robotic” approach to hiring than one might prefer, Nolan says. And yet, taking a more human approach to recruiting doesn’t have to mean it isn’t scalable.
Today, tools like LinkedIn, Gem, and The Swarm make it easy to manage your outreach, plan ahead, and proactively engage candidates. David also recommends using Guide, a candidate engagement portal that increases transparency around the hiring process.
Melanie stresses that candidate engagement doesn’t have to be intense.
“The courting process doesn't have to be a heavy lift,” she says. “It could be a text message out of the blue. It could be liking someone's LinkedIn posts. All it is, is engagement with someone, right? It's not a full-blown, two-and-a-half-hour coffee conversation all the time.”
Remembering someone’s birthday, making an introduction, or sending someone a pertinent article — all of it counts.
When it comes to diversity, network recruiting can act as a magnifier. If your team is diverse, your pool of candidates likely will be as well. However, if your team is more homogenous, you need to proactively take steps to correct your diversity debt.
“If you’ve already reached a point where your networks are pretty homogenous, what you should be thinking about is: who else in your ecosystem can you be tapping?” David says. “If you can diversify your [advisors and investors] and your cap table, then all of a sudden you have much more diverse networks to be sourcing candidates from.”
Melanie also suggests being specific when you ask for candidate referrals, in order to counter automatic bias.
“Instead of asking, ‘Who’s the best engineer you’ve ever worked with?’ — flip it and say, ‘Who’s the best female engineer you’ve worked with?’” Melanie says. “It will automatically eliminate a lot of the unconscious bias that people will have.”
And finally, be transparent with candidates about where you currently stand with diversity.
“It’s going to be obvious to the candidate,” says Nolan. “Proactively talk about it: why it matters to you, where you currently are, why you’re not happy with where you currently are. Because otherwise it feels like this thing to the candidate … but nobody is talking to them about it. And I think that would make it much harder for you to be able to close that person.”
Get your entire team on board
In an ideal situation, your People Ops team shouldn’t be the only employees recruiting people to your organization.
“It’s every employee’s responsibility,” says Melanie. “I’ve recruited people listening to their conversations at Starbucks, and it’s not because I’m a recruiter. It’s because I’m so excited about the company that I’m working for.”
For some employees, an incentive — like a referral bonus — can help seal the deal. For others, getting recognition from leadership for their referrals can be helpful. Explaining to employees exactly how referrals might be contacted can also help create an essential foundation of trust.
And yet, you might still find that other employees do not want to share their networks or refer connections to the company.
In that case, it’s time to get curious.
“Every person at the company, if they’ve bought into the mission and the vision of the company and they get along with their team, then they should be trying to bring their friends to come and work at the same company,” says David. “If that's not happening, then there's all of a sudden structural issues that need to be identified and need to be resolved immediately.”
Recruit laid-off employees delicately
In the tech world, layoffs are happening on a weekly basis — leaving tons of talented candidates looking for their next role. If you’re hoping to snap up these skilled workers, do so with tact.
“Because there are a lot of these lists that end up floating around, it ends up being very transactional when folks are reaching out,” says Nolan. “There’s a gap in the market for humanity.”
Instead of focusing on the layoff in your initial outreach, mention the candidate’s experience or impressive background. Then, during your initial call, you can briefly mention the layoff and empathize with them. However, your focus should remain on them and their skills, rather than the situation they’ve found themselves in.
This is also an opportunity to build trust with the candidate. “The argument of security, which used to be a big part of being an enterprise tech giant, that's been totally eroded,” says David. “So now you can actually make the argument: We're actually almost a safer bet as a smaller, well‑funded, well-operated company that has revenue that's being run in a very efficient manner.”
And don’t forget to bring receipts. Give candidates the data and information that will help cement your case.
“Be incredibly transparent about the runway, about the hiring plan, about revenue, about projections,” Nolan suggests. “I think actually the cagier that you are about those metrics, the less likely you are to recruit anyone in today's market.”
Start with network recruiting today
The best time to start searching for candidates is before you need them. Network recruiting lets you leverage the power of your company’s collective network and leverage referrals at scale. With them, you can find candidates who are 85x more likely to be hired and 55% faster to hire than non-referrals.
Harness the power of networks to make your recruiting more efficient. Start free at theswarm.com