Here's how we received 86+ quality applications for our Software Engineering position

Here's how we received 86+ quality applications for our Software Engineering position

Willem Wijnans
Willem Wijnans Oct 12, 2018
5 min read

Hiring at Slite is, like at any early stage company, mission critical. And like any startup, we have limited visibility. We work smart for great candidates to apply to our roles. We invest time and effort reaching out to people, getting Slite on their radar.

On top of that, Slite is a product company. Anyone we engage with to join our team is also a potential Slite user. This goes from people we find ourselves, to people who apply to us. All our hiring efforts could result in a potential new company using Slite. It's fair to say that the better we play the hiring game, the more it can function as a secondary marketing channel.

We want to start sharing our evolving hiring approach. This first post will focus on quick wins any startup can try today, on a limited budget. They helped us get 86 qualified candidates for a Software Engineer open position (one of which we hired!):

Our current hiring funnel


First things first

Slite is at an interesting phase: we're early stage, developing a remote-first culture, face interesting technical challenges and use some of the newest technology out there. In theory, attracting good candidates shouldn't be too complicated. In practice, it's a lot about getting the "first time right".


Getting the word out

We started by getting our name out there, focusing on platforms where startup-minded people are.


Who's hiring by Y Combinator

The best place to start is Y Combinator's monthly "Who's hiring" post. It's a monthly thread on HackerNews called Ask HN: Who's hiring where startups from all over the world post their open jobs to engage with (passive) talent.  This post yielded the best results: we got in touch with 13 top notch applications, including Julien, who we ended up hiring.

Fun fact: we'd been in touch with Julien two years ago but he wasn't looking for a job back then. He spotted us on Who's hiring and reached out: if we hadn't posted there, we would've probably missed out on him.

Our hiring post on HackerNews


Posting and praying for results does not work here. As with any HackerNews thread, posts with engagement (comments, upvotes) get ranked higher. Encouraging our team to start conversations and answer questions worked wonders. It kept us on the first page for maximum visibility, naturally increasing the number of applicants.  

Sliters pitching in!


AngelList

AngelList can also get you quality candidates in little time, with a small budget. It's a platform for startup-minded people, so you can't go wrong there. Simply creating a company page and posting open positions brought us 26 applicants, including 7 relevant matches:

Although we haven't hired anyone through AngelList yet, it's a quick win. It takes close to no time to qualify candidates who are interested in Slite.

Bonus: since Product Hunt was bought by AngelList, a small "Hiring" tag will appear on your Product Hunt profile, next to your name. For example, we recently launched Slite's mobile app, giving us extra free visibility to relevant people.

The "Hiring" tag on our Product Hunt profiles


Going out there ourselves

Now that we've ensured generating the right kind of interest by being vocal on relevant channels, we wanted to share a bit on how we go around sourcing candidates ourselves and reaching out to them.

In our experience, a successful hiring strategy should combine both. Get quality inbound applicants (volume) and support the hiring funnel by reaching out to interesting people (quality).

Remember that you're working for the long-run. The people you reach out to might not be on the lookout right now but will keep you in mind when they are.


What we are looking for

So how do we find who to reach out to?

We first decided to narrow down our talent pool as much as possible, so we could do pin-point searching. We set the following criteria to achieve maximum success:


* Remote first
— we focus on people who have worked remotely before
* Domain
— we look for people who have previously worked for a startup, specifically for a  productivity app
* Tech
—  we look for experts in Nodejs & Graphql, as our biggest challenge is around delivering Slite public api
* Profile
— we're drawn to candidates with side-projects/speakers at conferences/tech bloggers/leadership skills

Then, we drew out a list of all the companies that might have the kind of engineers we're looking for:

This is a living document in Slite, to which we regularly add companies to stay up to date on the domain. Now, where do we go look for people who fit this criteria?


LinkedIn

We built a Linkedin search filter for these companies that notifies us weekly on all of their employees' activity:


Relevant newsletters

We're also interested by active people in the open-source community, who write and/or speak about relevant technical topics. Scouting on weekly newsletters like Node Weekly & GraphQL Weekly brings us about two relevant people per week with whom to start conversations about what they built and why we like it.


Medium

Medium is also a wonderful place for us to write about how we solve our technical challenges and how we're building our tool. But it's an equally great place to find people interested in solving the same kinds of problems we're solving. A super simple medium search with GraphQL and NodeJS delivers passionate writers to our doorstep every day:

We try to send at least five highly relevant emails per week to people we believe would be a good fit for Slite. Did you notice those 13 people in the "Talent Pool" in one of the above images? Consider those 13 our passive, highly relevant candidates found using the methods I just described.


The actual reach out

In the early days, we were sending out emails out to candidates mainly explaining what Slite is instead of focusing on what makes them interesting to us. Read this one here.

We changed our tactics last November and switched to writing emails that focus entirely on the recipient, and less about us. Here are some examples:

Hiring passive candidates like this takes time, but it really pays off. Creating your own pipeline gives you full control over it and ensures it's always filled with the relevant, qualified people for the job. We're positive that every minute we spend on this important initiative is invaluable for us as a business.


Treat your candidates as potential customers

One other important thing we want to get across is how to treat all the people you interact with while hiring. We haven't been the best at this and are still learning how to do this effectively.

One thing we can share with you: rejecting candidates with a standard denial email is not wise when you're a product company (or any other company for what it's worth). The way we interact with candidates is a direct reflection of our business and brand.

However, as we were fumbling with our new hiring system, Homerun, it sent out a mass denial batch, which we immediately regretted! We totally forgot to take into account that all these people are potential customers. So we tried fixing our mistake:

‍Vincent really appreciated our honesty and even tweeted about it:

We now have a standard rule for denying applicants which reads: anyone who puts an effort in writing their application (in our case a clear motivation on why they want to work at Slite) can expect an effort from us in return. In this case, giving them insight on why we feel we're not a match right now.


Closing words

Hiring is hard and it will always be hard. Often delivering quality means delivering something that is hard to scale. That's why we focus on getting as many relevant candidates in through being alive on platforms like Y Combinator, Angel & Product Hunt while actively doing the work ourselves when it comes to passive talent.

If you keep investing time in hiring and are willing to do the things that are needed to scale, success will almost always follow.