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How to hire for innovation and passion

Karen Henke
Editor of the Shortlist
April 21, 2022

When your company has a truly innovative product or service and a fresh approach to a traditional market, it can be tough to compete for talent. You’re asking people to take a leap of faith on an unproven brand and that’s just not for everyone. You want to find people who THRIVE in this environment. Here’s how to source talent from the big tech layoffs, and this article shows you how to make sure they match your company’s vision and mission.

So how do you source talent for innovation and passion? To celebrate Earth Day, we imagined “Waste Not,” a green tech startup in the composting/waste management area. Here’s how they might go about growing a team.

Steps to recruiting for innovation and passion

Like most disruptive companies, Waste Not crosses a lot of boundaries: waste management, sustainability, consumer products, and software as a service. They need to attract top people in their field but won’t have brand recognition for a few years. Fresh off a series B funding infusion, they are ready to grow. Let’s build a team!

Plan: Create a talent roadmap

Workforce planning is the process of forecasting an organization’s future workforce so you can hire the right people with the right skills at the right time. We start with a talent roadmap, a combination of your company’s needs, industry dynamics, and your company’s culture. 

In our example, Waste Not needs to fill a few key roles:

  • Product manager
  • Director of sales 
  • Director of marketing 

In terms of industry dynamics, we looked at related companies to see what types of roles they had at our stage and the skills people had. Findem lets us look at these companies in the past as well as the present. 

These first hires will establish the culture of the company and determine our ability to deliver on our mission and vision. We’re looking for a cross section of innovation/risk taker plus passion for the environment and making a difference.

It’s going to be tough to attract the right people to our job postings (no one knows our name!). We have to go out and find them.

Search: Sourcing for innovation and passion

We need people with experience in their roles so they build and lead teams, and who also have an innovation mindset. Let’s build a sample search for our product manager. 

1. Curated vs keyword search

We start by looking for “product manager” or “product director”. (Findem curated roles find related titles and excludes keyword matches that are irrelevant.) Next, we add a mix of past companies as nice to have, and a college degree (a hiring manager requirement). 

But will they share our vision? Let’s include terms like organic, recycle, earth, non gmo, environmentalist, and profitability to our skills wish list. 

Finally, we add a little “Findem Magic” to uncover people who have startup experience. They are more likely to be open to a startup role. 

2. Check for diversity in the talent pool

We want people with different lived experiences to help us solve problems creatively. That’s why we care about diversity at Waste Not. The best way to build a diverse workforce is to start with a diverse talent pool. With Findem, we can check diversity stats.

Findem uses a probabilistic approach to estimating diversity in the talent pool, by calculating the likelihood of diversity in the whole pool rather than counting individual profiles. That means recruiters are not reviewing individual profiles to guess if they tick a box or using machine learning to determine individual traits. Both techniques can introduce bias. 

3. Adjust criteria and build a shortlist

We add more Findem Magic to see if we can move the needle on diversity. We add “mission driven/volunteering experience” as a requirement, plus “community” to our skills. That increases the probability of having women in our candidate pool to 44.9% and both Hispanic and African American ethnicity to 2.3%. 

The optimize button brings the best matches to the top of the list and we can generate a shortlist of 200 best matches for engagement. 

Engage: Tell your brand story

What we won’t write: Hey there, I was looking at your LinkedIn profile and I think you’d be a great fit for Waste Not. Would you like to apply? Here’s a link to the role.

Instead, we craft an email sequence to introduce our mission, appeal to their sense of community and start-up mentality, and close with why they’re the best fit for the role. 

  1. An email from an investor or leader introducing why they’re passionate about Waste Not, name checking other companies they’ve led.
  2. An email from the hiring manager about how Waste Not will improve their community and why we think they might be interested in that mission.
  3. An email from the recruiter focusing on who they are and what they bring to the opportunity.
  4. A final email with a quick recap of mission, vision, fit, and a link to an inspiring video.
  5. Last, but not least: thanks for your time, do you know anyone who might be interested?

Interview process

Our multi-touch campaign was a success! We had 8 responses the first week and booked interviews. Half of our candidates are women, and 1 was a referral. 

We follow the Harvard Business Review recommendations for making sure that our candidates have an innovative mindset. The 5 discovery skills for innovative mindsets are: associating, questioning, observing, experimenting, and networking. 

We don’t just ask what they’ve done, we invite them to apply their skills to real-world solutions for our product. One candidate really stands out. She has a stellar product management background, but took a step back from full time work 5 years ago. While her children were in preschool, she led a community initiative to end the use of toxic weed killers in local parks and open land.

Why hire for innovation and passion

Going up against big-name companies in a competitive market can seem daunting. You probably can’t win on benefits package and brand recognition. But you can lead with your strengths and match your business needs to the talents and aspirations of your candidates. You’ll find people who will be inspired to come to work every day and help you change the world!