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5 Key Learnings from Growing a Startup from 50 to 100+ Employees

Patrick Passaro
Apr 9, 2020

I first learned about Cobalt.io when I received a LinkedIn message from Caroline Wong, our Chief Strategy Officer, who was looking for someone to lead Cobalt’s hiring engine (i.e. recruiting function). The timing wasn’t ideal. I was happy at my former company, and my wife and I were expecting our first child in just a couple of months. Still, I decided to take the call with Caroline to learn more about Cobalt and what they were looking for.

For the next couple of months, Caroline and I stayed in touch, and I began to meet with different Cobalt team members. I was pleased to discover that they were taking the advice I had recommended during our initial conversations, such as implementing an Applicant Tracking System (ATS). This let me know, loud and clear, that they genuinely valued my opinion! After my son was born, I received a thoughtful gift package from Cobalt with an assortment of snacks. That meant a lot to me! At that point, I wasn’t even a part of the company, and they still were caring enough to send a congratulatory gift. It honestly made me want to continue getting to know them.

I learned more about the company vision, where they wanted to go in terms of building a team, and what they would want me to lead. It was an exciting opportunity: The executive team had a clear mission, the product made sense, and all pieces of the company puzzle were in place. They knew what they needed to do next… grow and grow quickly! And that, I knew I could help them accomplish.

We know not everyone is in a position to hire right now, but it’s important to think about your recruiting strategy long-term. I’ve been recruiting for fast-growing tech startups for six years now. Here are the five most important things that I’ve learned about growing from 50 to 100 employees.

1. Evaluate and refine your current recruiting processes

First, you need to reevaluate your recruiting needs at different levels. As you accumulate more candidates in the recruiting pipeline and partner with several different hiring managers, it’s critically important to detail a hiring process. When I joined Cobalt, I began examining our current recruiting process and speaking with all hiring managers. Some things you should think about are:

  • What ATS are they using? How is it configured?
  • How does an applicant apply? Where do they post about their openings?
  • What do a typical interview process and candidate experience look like?
  • Where are they struggling? What are they doing well?
  • How is an offer made? What happens next?

At this stage in the process, you’ll want to format and update your ATS. While you do that, update your interview stages, keeping the same interview process across roles whenever possible. This creates continuity and allows you to have a streamlined process to help you scale.

An ideal interview game plan might be:

  • Phone screen with recruitment team member
  • Video interview with hiring manager
  • In-person or video interviews with team (optional two interview rounds here)
  • Final with CEO or executive team member (if needed)
  • Reference checks
  • Offer

You should also review your job descriptions and job board. I recommend creating a consistent job description template that you can use across all of your openings. This will make it easier for hiring managers to craft job descriptions, and it will create a more professional looking job board as well. Here’s what you should include in your job description template:

  • Short company bio
  • Brief summary of the position
  • Three bulleted sections covering responsibilities, must haves, and nice to have qualifications
  • Why you should join the company

2. Move quickly without compromising quality

What you’re going for here is quality at speed (one of Cobalt’s values): the best results in the shortest amount of time. Candidates appreciate a quick and efficient process, particularly in today’s job market. When you move with speed, you’ll get to great candidates first. When you have fewer than 50 employees, you might have the chance to take your time finding key hires for your company because you’re usually searching for your team leaders, which takes time to find the right people. But that isn’t the case anymore when you surpass 100 employees. With your key hires in place, it’s time to move quickly to hire the best talent you can. Build a process that allows you to move quickly. Identify the hiring decision makers, and get them in front of candidates fast.

Once you’ve got a good candidate, keep the momentum: get your offer out fast. A formal offer creation should take minutes to craft up off a template, and can be emailed directly to your candidate. Keep deadlines close: a 48-hour timeline is ideal for e-signatures.

3. Engage your entire workforce in the hiring process

Bringing in new employees is not the exclusive territory of just your people team. Get your entire company into hiring! If you don’t have a company wide referral policy, roll one out. If you’ve got one, update and relaunch your current policy to create freshness and draw attention to it. One big, often-untapped resource is social media: encourage everyone in your company to share new roles via their personal networks to generate referrals and job awareness. More than 70 percent of people land jobs through networking.

For Cobalt, I developed an employee referral program from the ground up. As an example, I based our referral bonus on the priority of the opening. Top priority openings have the highest incentives. We even rolled out a speciality referral program for our Business Development Representative team where the hiring is higher volume than other teams in the company.

4. Invest in recruiting tools to help source at scale

The organic connections you make as your current employees get in on the referral game will give you a good start on expansion, but you’ll want to invest in one or more sourcing platforms as well. Platforms such as Entelo and Linkedin Recruiter can help you reach out to quality candidates that aren’t actively looking for a new position. As you reach out, you’ll also be building your company brand and raising visibility.

5. Be strict about documentation and tracking progress

There’s another component in any good strategy for growing a company from 50 to 100 employees that many startups miss: Keep good notes. In fact, don’t just write notes, but also track your hiring progress with a well-organized spreadsheet. For instance, you’ll want to include priority of hire, hiring manager, responsibilities, and estimated fill dates. Keep your spreadsheets up to date and refer to them often.

Good documentation will also help you partner with your finance department to align on expected compensation spend and targets for all open positions. Early and constant communication is key as you scale. Don’t assume everyone knows where you are in the hiring process unless they’ve been told.

Growing a company from 50 to 100 employees is not easy, but if you’re consistent, organized, and make speed a priority, it won’t be long before you see your employee headcount where you want it to be. If you have any questions about the process, feel free to reach out. I’m always happy to do what I can to help. You can connect with me here.