Since its start in 2012, California startup Whisper – maker of an app that lets users send and receive messages anonymously – has grown from two employees to over 80.
And, considering that many of its new hires are concentrated in the highly competitive field of data science, Whisper had to learn quickly how to woo potential employees in order to get the top talent it needed.
“We really needed to establish ourselves as different,” says Michelle Hart, Whisper’s head of people operations. “One of those differentiators is providing an exemplary candidate experience, and showcasing the culture of the organization throughout the entire recruiting process.”
But Whisper didn’t become a well-oiled recruitment and hiring machine overnight. Here’s a look at the four biggest problems the startup had to address – and how Hart fixed them.
Problem #1: Low conversion rates
By casting a wide net, Whisper developed a big pipeline of potential candidates. But when it came to actually making hires, the company’s conversion rate was lower than industry standard.
The solution: Faster response times
Meeting with the recruitment and hiring team, Hart concluded that conversion was low because they were taking too long to respond to candidates. To address this, she established a new set of benchmarks for the team to follow:
- Acknowledge receiving every resume within 24 hours
- Follow up every on-site interview with a same-day phone call thanking the candidate for their time, giving them a clear timeline for a decision, and offering to answer any questions
- Provide candidates with a final decision within 48 hours of their interview
And, says Hart, results were immediate. “That very quick, easy fix – just over-communication from myself, the hiring manager, and the talent acquisition manager – that has made a huge improvement.”
Problem #2: An inefficient and inconsistent interview process
Different departments at Whisper had different hiring processes, which offered flexibility, but came at the cost of efficiency. Some involved people from across the organization, while others lasted several hours. “It made it a bit challenging to ensure there’s full alignment on our end, and that there’s continuity for the candidate,” says Hart.
The solution: Interview protocols
Hart and her team developed new interviewing procedures to be used across all departments. For example, in short meetings before each interview, everyone involved is assigned a specific area of focus, taking redundancy out of the process, and helping the team to reach a decision – and respond – more quickly.
“It takes a lot of us to ensure that we have a seamless process, with everybody knowing their role coming in,” says Hart, “but the candidate doesn’t face the redundancy of having to answer the same question three different times.”
Another meeting immediately after each interview session helps the team reach a decision while the interview is still fresh in mind, and also gives everyone a chance to offer feedback on the process itself, which means the company is continuously identifying ways it can be improved.
Problem #3: No info about office culture in the hiring process
Interviews and tests were great for gauging each candidate’s abilities, but they weren’t conveying the highlights of Whisper’s office culture. This was impacting conversion rates, as top applicants were being enticed away by other companies with more clearly defined culture.
The Solution: Embedding culture throughout the entire hiring process
Today, Whisper’s culture is a crucial part of the whole hiring process – especially when candidates are in-house. “An on-site interview is really about candidates getting a feel of what’s it like to work at Whisper,” says Hart.
For example, during the standard coding challenge – which, at other companies, typically means leaving a candidate alone in a room for an hour – Whisper places candidates in the area where they’d be working (if they got the job), paired with an employee. This not only gives Whisper a chance to see how well the candidate works with others on the team, it also gives the candidate a look at what their daily life at the company would be like.
And giving candidates a glimpse of Whisper’s culture has had positive effects across the board. “We’ve been seeing better conversion rates,” says Hart, “and more meaningful conversations, including feedback from candidates – things like, ‘I really enjoyed meeting your team there; the culture there was really awesome.’ Things like that are great validation that we’re doing something right.”
Problem #4: Lackluster onboarding
Instead of starting the onboarding program the minute they make a job offer, Whisper’s process was really only about getting the employee oriented on day one. It completely overlooked the steps before that, including encouraging candidates to accept the offer, and getting them excited about the role.
The solution: A multi-stage onboarding program
To bring new hires into the Whisper fold as smoothly as possible, Hart developed a multi-stage program that builds enthusiasm while also helping them to transition into their new role.
It starts when the recruiter calls the candidate with a job offer. Then, they send the candidate an email with an official offer of employment, along with – get this – a custom-made video with clips of everyone who participated in the interview process offering a few words of welcome.
Once the candidate signs the offer of employment, he or she receives a package at home, including the usual swag (pens and notepads, snacks, canteens) as well as a hand-written note from a direct manager.
“People think, ‘Oh, gee, the person signed the offer, we’re good to go. Let’s move on to the next thing,’” says Hart. “And I think that it’s such a mistake, because after you put all of this effort into making sure you found the right person, you should really let them know how excited you are that they’re gonna be joining, and also make sure that they’re prepared.”
Just before they start, the new hire receives an additional personalized email with information about when to arrive and where to go on their first day, as well as a request for the new employee’s headshot and shirt size.
On their first day, they get a tour of the Whisper office, ending at their desk, which is set up with a backpack, a t-shirt, and hoodie. Then, everyone heads to the kitchen for a little welcome breakfast.
“It all goes back to candidate experience,” says Hart, “and the fact that you always remember: they’re interviewing you just as much as you’re interviewing them. It has to be mutually beneficial.”