Illustration by Signe Valentin Andersen

This post is part of a series where we’re taking you through what we believe to be the best tips on growing a team. It’s based on experiences from our combined 15 years working with recruitment but most importantly on how we grew the Valuebeat team from 2 people in February 2019 to 19 people 18 months later.

Check out the other posts in the series:

  1. Our basic principles for recruiting
  2. How to attract talent when you’re a startup with nothing to offer
  3. Why unplanned opportunities should be part of your recruitment plan
  4. The quickest way to build a fast-moving team
  5. Recruitment is personal – remember that when doing cold outreach 
We were barely out of the basement (and if you want to know more about how we succeeded in not scaring away talent while we were in the basement, look here), we had a make-shift website with graphics straight outta the ’90s and still only a very narrow idea about what the Valuebeat product could be. 

She was the very first person to reach out looking for a job. 

I think you can imagine our excitement about actually seeming attractive to any kind of talent! Someone was asking us to dance! 

(If it sounds like a rom-com it’s because it almost is. Recruitment frankly is quite a bit like dating and obviously very personal to the people on both sides of the table.)

Since then we’ve had quite a few people reaching out looking for jobs and as of now, we have hired 4 out of 20 based on them coming to us in-part creating their own role.

Responding to cold outreach from job seekers isn’t really in the recruiter’s playbook. Until we founded Valuebeat it was never anything I dealt with. 

From these past 18 months, I’ve learned about some of the true benefits that come from growing your team with proactive candidates – but also what it takes to go from sympathy to an actual match. 

# 1: An outside perspective you didn’t know you needed

You don’t know what you don’t know. And especially when you are in the early stages of a startup with a constant steep learning curve. 

I find the Dunning-Kruger effect to be pretty accurate for the startup experience: When you start off, taking the first baby steps you are full of confidence in all that you know. Then comes the learning. And the realisation that with every step complexity grows and you really don’t know that much. And then you need to make sure that you’re not the smartest person in the room. 

We were just about to reach that stage when Neva reached out to us as the very first cold job seeker. 

We were 8 months in and were building Valuebeat based very much on Dan’s and my experiences from recruitment and HR. It hadn’t really occurred to us that we could use someone with a research background to work on the methodology of the product. From where we were standing, we had the insights necessary to drive this product ourselves. It was a recruitment tool and we were pretty seasoned recruiters. What else could you need?

And what you don’t think you need, you don’t ask for. So we weren’t looking for anyone to challenge us in the direction, planning, and scope of the product. 

But that’s the beauty of getting an uninvited, outside perspective. The gift of being completely surprised and challenged by someone who doesn’t share your background or perspective. 

The last thing you want to do when building a team is creating an echo chamber. And sometimes the best remedy for this is the surprise element of someone you would have never looked for yourself. 

There are many methods in recruiting that can fail in challenging that echo chamber. Among them are the limitations of using your own or employees’ network or simply having too fixed an idea of what you need. (They do however have their own merits when done consciously)

The proactive candidate can be a great way to be challenged on whatever fixed ideas you have and push you in a direction that you wouldn’t have otherwise. Sometimes innovation isn’t something you can command or subscribe to. It will have to come from being open to something completely different. 

# 2: Ask them. What do you see as your role? 

What makes a great cold outreach from a job seeker? In my experience something along the lines of what makes cold outreach relevant when the tables are turned: It has to be personal

By that, I mean genuine, well-researched, and reflecting the fact that this outreach is the potential first step in a conversation that is ultimately about discovering or creating a role that wasn’t already in the books. 

(That being said, everything can be done right and the timing can be all wrong. Luck plays a major part in when outreach is relevant).

I’m always more interested in conversations that have a curiosity about the product and are genuine about why this person is reaching out and why they see us as interesting. As opposed to a “salesy” outreach that tries to guess what I might need or want to hear, this is actually the first step of digging out the potential that might lie hidden. (And yes, I love a good opportunity hire).

I deliberately go into these conversations with a very open mindset trying to get the ball back in the candidate’s court for two reasons: 

  1. At the stage we’re at we need adaptable people. And having an open-ended conversation where they get to brainstorm on how they could see themselves contributing is a great litmus test for what is our reality. No one is hired for a fixed role and whatever you’re doing this month will probably change over the next six months. 
  2. Give the candidate input and insights about what you do – but let them design their own role. This is a great chance to get that outside perspective and see – when given the opportunity – how they would approach any task. These conversations should be a work session where the purpose is to dig out or build a role that will be a valuable contribution to the organisation. 
For us, getting an outside perspective from a proactive candidate meant realising that we weren’t just building a recruitment tool, but that when done right, we were gathering data much more powerful and impactful for all sorts of HR operations. And that is not to blatantly advertise our (fantastic) product, but to give back to Caesar what belongs Caesar: Our scope changed because we were challenged. As it should be. 

Thanks for reading! We’ve been sharing more advice on recruiting and team building in this series of posts on recruitment. Check out the other posts in the series:

Our basic principles for recruiting

How to attract talent when you’re a startup with nothing to offer

Why unplanned opportunities should be part of your recruitment plan

The quickest way to build a fast-moving team

Recruitment is personal – remember that when doing cold outreach

Written by
Nico Blier-Silvestri
People and Culture Specialist

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