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Scaling a team: recruitment insights from Castor

Hiring at a startup is no simple task. You’re growing quickly, looking for candidates that can do a little bit of everything and can take the initiative to drive your projects to succeed.

You may be dealing with a volatile candidate market and uncertain funding prospects internally. You’re building a hiring strategy from scratch and figuring out what kind of people will build your future company culture. Among the challenges and uncertainties, solid startup recruitment with thought-out principles and strategy can guide your growing team.

Castor EDC is one such company, making waves in the medical research space. They’re growing quickly with no plans to let up soon. However, they’re taking critical steps in preparing to scale- all while maintaining an important focus on people.

In a conversation with Eric Stonehewer, the Talent Acquisition Partner and Employer Branding Specialist at Castor, we were let in on a few secrets behind their scaling team.

So, can you tell me about the Castor story? What’s the Castor recruitment process like?

Eric Stonehewer: Castor’s recruitment process is already very different from when Castor was first founded and is also currently changing as Castor is a scaling business. During those first few years, there was not really any structure or assessment process as there was not a high volume of applications. In fact, there were no applications! Derk (our CEO) did everything himself. It would have been a lot of networking, connections and him knowing what he needed to help his business take off.

About 12 months ago, when Castor received its Series A investment, we went through our first period of scale. Unfortunately, I was not part of Castor then so I don’t really know what recruitment looked like.

I can imagine it was very much high-level thinking about recruitment. For example, one thought was “we need to manage and track applications. We need an ATS.” This is where Recruitee came in.

The plans now are to structure and set in place a lot of processes and procedures. Because when we come to our Series B investment round, where we’ll probably see an investor offering triple of Series A – we will need to scale at a much higher rate! This will most likely see us go from what is now 45 to maybe 90/100 people.

So when we get to this volume of operational recruitment need, it will be imperative to have those processes and procedures in place. If not, it just won’t work effectively for the business and our candidates will have really poor experiences.

At present, our hiring journey is slowly becoming more structured.

For candidates, we try and communicate the process during our very first conversation, that first point of contact with either a recruiter or hiring manager, so they will know the plan from there, keeping them informed along the way.

For example, if I have a conversation with a candidate and their application looks great, we’re having a telephone interview. I’m not letting them leave the call without telling them “this is what your process will be.” So, they know there and then what to expect.

Not necessarily every one of them is going to be the same because, again, something that happens at a startup is that it can be a little bit chaotic and things can change very quickly, so an internal stakeholder might not be available anymore. So we have to chop and change out the hiring managers that will be involved in the interview process, but the journey should not differ from what’s been advised.

At castor it's trial and error

It seems like you are focusing quite a lot on the candidate journey. What does the typical candidate journey look like at Castor?

Eric Stonehewer: At the moment, things are still a little up in the air. However, we have plans to really improve the Castor Hiring Journey, which will hopefully look like the below:

It would begin with either a candidate directly applying for a vacancy at Castor, which is always the dream solution right! They may also have been referred to us, or we have decided to approach somebody. So, depending on how they come into the pool, there’s always that initial application.

After application, we’d have a first stage telephone interview or video assessment with a recruiter on the team. When I say team, we are very small!

If everything seems like it’s aligned on both sides, we will move forward to a first round interview, which will be with the hiring manager. It could be with the hiring manager and one of us from the talent team. It could be with the hiring manager and another member of that team. This interview allows us to dive into some more of the specifics of the technical and soft skills required for the role.

If everything is still aligned, we’ll move to a final stage interview day. This would involve a role-specific business case, a second interview, a personal profile interview for some roles, focusing more on purpose-driven mentality and cultural fit and, hopefully, a little bit of gamification might be in the cards for the future (watch this space!).

So that’s the ideal candidate journey, three very clear stages upon which we will then look to make an offer.

Something special that we have at Castor is called the Pecha Kucha, which is a very different type of presentation – basically 20 slides, 20 seconds per slide.

Everyone in the business gets an invite to attend and our new ‘Castorian’ presents their Pecha Kucha as part of their ‘welcome.’

The presentation can be on anything about themselves, who they are, what they’ve been doing, where they went to college, their family, their friends, their hobbies, their favorite holidays, their pets, etc. It allows people to introduce themselves to everyone in an informal, personal, dynamic way. And it really does reflect the culture of Castor – we’re an entrepreneurial, engaged, friendly, and social workspace.

Hiring with castor
One of Castor’s core values.

Adrie Smith: Yeah. Wow. I really like that. That’s a bit unusual [laughter].

Eric Stonehewer: Yes. And we do that at the moment. As Castor scales, it might not be possible for everyone in the company to meet the new team member, then it might be that we move Pecha Kucha to just their new team. But, at the moment, as we’re only about 50 people, it’s still manageable for everyone to be there if they want to be. It is a nice way for people to get introduced to Castor.

Adrie Smith: Yeah, definitely agree.

Where did the Pecha Kucha get its start? Do you know?

Eric Stonehewer: I think somebody at Castor just mentioned it to their manager or the CEO and said, “wouldn’t this be a cool idea?”

And that’s very much how things at Castor happen, “wouldn’t this be a cool idea? Let’s try this new thing.” It either works or it doesn’t. And again, that’s part of the team culture. You try things, you fail or you don’t, and that’s how everyone learns and the business grows.

Are there any key points for onboarding that follow directly on from the recruitment process?

Eric Stonehewer: Sure. We’ve just started with a new HR system called Bamboo; this allows us to set tasks for new team members. When we know someone is starting, we can make sure we set this with a reminder to say:  “Make sure you plan onboarding.”

Normally, the first Monday of every month we run an insight day, for everyone who joined the team in the last 4 weeks. They’ll have a meeting with the CEO to find out all about why he started Castor, the way we work at Castor, how to use our tools, startup culture, our mission, and values (where they came from) and an hour with our very own internal ‘fun-squad’!

This is especially helpful for people who have not come from a startup background. It’s really great to know how we work at Castor.

Personally, I didn’t ever work in startups before, I worked for very large organizations and for me it was a massive shock to the system because it’s a completely different way of working. So having someone in a welcome day that says “this is how we work at Castor, these are some of the tools we use. This is the best way to communicate.” Like, who knew that email wasn’t the way to reach people actually? You need to use Slack! So if you don’t know that, you’re going to find things quite difficult.

So, you’ve mentioned that it’s a bit of an adjustment for some people to join. Who is Castor’s ideal candidate?

Eric Stonehewer: We use Officevibe – a tool that allows us to constantly check in with all of our employees to find out how they’re feeling about different workplace topics.

From all of that continuous feedback, especially where it has remained consistent, we try and incorporate it into assessing our ideal candidate.

For example, we find a very high percentage of our employees are really purpose driven. They’ve joined Castor because they actually really believe in the product and are naturally intrinsically motivated.

It’s really important for us to make sure that someone is aligned with what we do and fits our culture. Something that our new recruitment process and candidate journey will have when we sort of align all of this (it’s currently a work in process!) is for culture to be a big part of the hiring journey.

So then what’s your favorite culture fit question?

Eric Stonehewer: So, it’s a bit silly because it’s not really about the answer, it’s more about how they think and how they take the question on board. But one question I really love is: “Your friend’s just been given an elephant, they can’t sell it and they can’t get rid of it. What would you advise they do with the elephant?”

I like this question because it can be really telling of how someone will fit your culture.

For example, at Castor one of our values is ‘To amaze with user-friendly and creative solutions.’

To set some context with this value, for example, our customers are really important to us. They’re the medical researchers making important breakthroughs. We want to amaze them when we’re developing our product to make sure that they can do the best possible.

Also, at Castor, our people are very solutions-focused and very entrepreneurial.

Relating to those points, this question is really telling in the way someone thinks. Because, if someone just takes that question the wrong way and really can’t answer it, it suggests that they might not be as dynamic as they need to be to work at Castor.

[Disclaimer – we don’t always use this question if you’re reading this and have an upcoming interview with us ;)!]

Adrie Smith: Yeah, I really like that one. [chuckle]

What is the most interesting answer you’ve had so far?

Eric Stonehewer: A lot of people have actually answered ‘open an elephant sanctuary,’ which is really nice. I really like those who answered that they’ll open an elephant sanctuary, but then one person I asked said they should have paid entry to the elephant sanctuary. I was like, “No one has said that they’d have paid entry before.” Yeah. Clever.

I liked it because they thought outside the box in true Castorian fashion!

Adrie Smith: Well yeah, then you get both the creative and commercial in that response.

Eric Stonehewer: Yeah. Very much like that answer.

startup hiring insights from Castor

What are your recruitment goals for the coming year? I know you said you’re scaling up and that’s going to be a bit of a challenge. What’s the primary goal here?

Eric Stonehewer: This year is about setting the processes and procedures. So that we, as a people team and our managers are ready for it. We want to get things in place so we can be really agile rather than having to just do everything from scratch.

We also want to support our managers by training them to use our new methodology. It’s just about making sure that everything’s set and then educating and empowering our managers to use it this year and then next year when we scale, then hopefully it won’t be as challenging as it would be without all of that.

Adrie Smith: Yeah. Well, I think that’s a good way of going about it first. I’m interested to see how training your managers goes.

I always like to end interviews on favorite recruitment tools: do you have one?

Adrie Smith: It could be also a recruitment resource, tool, or hack. If you were with other recruiters, what would you say they need to be doing now?

Eric Stonehewer: Yeah. And that is a very good question. I’m going to give an answer solely because I was just looking at something this morning and I’ve booked a demo!

The company was called Odro and they provide a video tool for interviewing, assessments, etc. However, the functionality that I saw them advertising on their LinkedIn page was that you could use the tool to start a conversation.

Instead of just sending an individual an email or message you can use the tool to film a little video for like 30 seconds as an introduction or approach. Then, you pop it straight in an InMail and off it goes!

Adrie Smith: And automatically you stand out.

Eric Stonehewer: And I just was like “that looks great”. I saw it and the first thing that popped into my head was “that could really increase my response rates.”

Imagine getting an email and it’s a video of someone. You can physically see who they are, they’re an actual person and not just a robot – a lovely personal touch to show you’re approaching them because you’re genuinely interested in a conversation and not just spam messaging 100’s of people!

So, yes, on first looks I really liked the look of this tool.

Whether you’re scaling a startup’s team or hiring from within a corporate, establishing strong recruitment and selection processes is important to sustainable people growth. The Castor hiring team seems to be setting the scene for scaling up. We’ll be looking forward to watching their team skyrocket in 2019!

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