Kim Pope on Why Startups Leach Talent, How to Hire for Tech & More

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“She’s the best tech recruiter I’ve ever met, hands down.”

That’s how Chad described Kim Pope, the first time he mentioned her name.

He’d just come back from filming Season 3 of Top Recruiter in Miami. Kim was a fellow competitor making her second appearance on the hit web series that pits ace recruiters against each other in talent-finding challenges.

“I learned so much from her.”

Kim Pope, tech recruiter & "people architect"

It turns out Kim is not just a recruitment consultant, she’s a ‘People Architect’.

Based in West Hollywood, she designs and builds high-performance teams for fast-growing or changing companies – companies like OpenX, Fullscreen, Pandora, and Shopzilla, among other hot names on the California tech scene.

How does she do it? What’s the secret to – not just attracting super-in-demand talent – but setting them up to succeed in a challenging, often chaotic startup environment?

She generously agreed to a little Q&A …


Q: Why did you get into recruitment?

I liked people, and I didn’t want to sell products.

A person is not a product. Products are simple. People, though, people are very complex. You can’t truly know what a person is thinking. You’ll be in their psyche as much as you can, but you won’t know what’s actually going on in their head.

So that was my thinking at the outset of my career.

When I first got into the industry, I was hiring nurses. And while recruiting for the health industry is a cumbersome process – with HIPAA and all these regulations, and all the forms – it showed me that, like wow, I can actually help someone with their career, and these people I’m placing are doing something good.

Q: How has recruiting changed since you started?

Now, with social media, you especially need to understand your audience – to know who you are talking to, and cater your recruitment message to them.

Part of that personalization is about catering to the different generations of workers.

Baby Boomers and Gen X and Gen Y are all different. You have to understand that difference, and your approach and tone has to be different when communicating with each group.

And you have to understand how they relate.

When the financial crisis happened in 2008, Boomers were being thrown out of the workforce. Now those Boomers are coming back and there’s this total flip: some of their VPs are Gen Yers. So you have someone in their late fifties reporting to someone just turning 30.

The industry, the audiences, the technology – it’s always shifting, always changing. You’ve got to adapt and keep up.

You can’t just make a job posting and think people are going to come knocking on your door.

A social media presence is a must. If you’re not going to be on there, you won’t get the attention of the Millennials who make up 50% of the workforce right now.

They’re not just on LinkedIn. You’ve got to be going where the people you need go – with software engineers, thats on Stack Overflow, GitHub, Quora – all those places.

You need videos – you need that visual to show what you’re all about as an employer. They want to see, not just be told. Gen Y is more visual.

They’ve grown up with technology all their lives, and they expect you to get it.

“The industry, the audiences, the technology – it’s always shifting, always changing. You’ve got to adapt and keep up.”


Q: What’s the biggest challenge facing tech startups as they start to grow and hire?

It’s growing pains. With a new company, at first everybody’s excited. It’s a buddy club, you hire your school friends.

Then an investor comes along with funding.

All of a sudden you need high performance players, you need to turn up the volume. Now you can’t just fill desks with your best friends. You want to go public? You need to bring in high performance. Maybe you need to start looking at your competitor’s talent – they might have knowledge you want.

You’ve got to have a certain level people that are going to get things done, and that might mean you have to change out players.

Generation Y – a lot of these companies are being lead by first-time Gen Y CEOs and COOs – has a sense of entitlement. They want what they want right now. But you can’t just change strategy every day. You have to work it through. Otherwise, you will crash and burn.

Q: What mistakes do you see startups make, managing their talent?

With a lot of these new, fast-growing companies, staff are being parachuted in. You fill three roles and lose five. These guys are always bleeding, like it’s a war zone.

But hiring employees is not just about sitting a bum in a seat.

They go through this rigorous interview with the candidate, hire them, and … Then they just leave them at their desk. They don’t onboard, they don’t offer mentorship, they don’t check in, they just set them at their desk.

And so of course, six months later some other recruiter calls the employee and sells them on some new job, and they take off.

Talent, they want collaboration, a sense of community and to feel like they’re being shepherded along. Give them that, and they’ll stay.

So get the employee out of the building. Take them for a cup of coffee. See how they’re doing – ask them. Don’t just assume everything is status quo. If you don’t ask, they won’t tell you.

The best manager is like a plough that removes obstacles. You always have to have your hand on the pulse – on the temperature in the room – to know how your people are doing and feeling.

Startups have to grow so quickly so fast, they forget about those soft touches. But that burns them, and it costs so much more money to rehire that person than it costs to keep them.

“You can’t just make a job posting and think people are going to come knocking on your door.”


Q: What companies in the tech space are doing a good job at that, at supporting their employees and gaining their loyalty?

Amazon, Google, Facebook, Linkedin – now that they’re more mature, they’re seeing a shift.

Lots of the people, the kids who started with them in 2004 fresh out of school, they’re older now. They’re getting married, having first babies. It’s not just about stock options for them anymore – they want to make sure they have their comp., and their bonus, so they can settle down.

These employees – their goals have changed.

The key thing for companies to think about is, what motivates that person when we talk them, interview them, hire them? How do I keep that person motivated? Money? Recognition?

It’s different for every person, and you need to make sure you’re managing all those different people.

Q: Hiring managers – how do you get them engaged in the recruitment process?

Here’s what I like to do:

Right at the start, get your hiring managers in a room and set everything out on the table. “We need to have kick-off meetings, debrief meetings, weekly 15-minute status meetings with each of you guys to make sure we are still the same course…”

With my hiring managers, I commit to giving them daily updates: numbers of screens I’ve done, etc.

Set those expectations for each other at the beginning, so you and the hiring manager can hold each other accountable. If you don’t set that out at the start, you’ll be fighting an uphill battle.

Overt communication is the only way you’ll keep hiring managers in check. Talk face-to-face; too much gets lost in translation with email.

“Get the employee out of the building. Take them for a cup of coffee. See how they’re doing – ask them. If you don’t ask, they won’t tell you.”


Q: When you meet another recruiter, what’s the first thing you want to know about them?

When I size up other recruiters, I look to make sure they’re not just doing it for a job. I want to know their passion – why they chose to go into this profession.

There are a lot of well-meaning people in tech recruitment who saw this service we offer as a great commodity, and jumped on the bandwagon. They thought “Hey, I can make a lot of cash doing this.”

But those people are empty space. They were the first to drop out after the tech bubble burst in the early 2000s, and they’ll be the first to drop out at any sign of challenge in the future.

To succeed and persevere in this role, you have to really like people, and you have to love change. Recruitment is always changing. No two days on the job will ever be alike. You have to be a change agent to like doing this work. You’ve always got to be three steps ahead.

Q: What can recruiters do to set themselves apart?

Immerse yourself in your particular industry or area, so you can understand it. I go to the town-hall meetings to see what the engineers are presenting. I go to the hack-a-thons. You have to get in there and learn the specialty, the language, the technology.

I do technical screens for my hiring managers. I get them to give me the questions and answers, and I screen the candidates. If the candidates don’t have that basic understanding – that basic technical knowledge needed for the job – why am I going to waste my managers’ time by sending them someone who isn’t qualified?

You’ve got to ask “how can I bring even more value to the table? How can I help make this hiring process better? Easier?”

Think outside the box, and go that extra mile.

“You have to get in there and learn the specialty, the language, the technology.”


Connect with Kim

Linkedin / Twitter / Website

by Christian De Pape, Communications Consultant

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Oh! And make sure to check out our Q&A with Debbie Bortolussi on the first HR task startups must tackle & more >

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