The Modern Guide to Hiring Millennials

Fun fact: the majority of workers in the US and Canada are now millennials. Everyone who works at Unito, other than our three co-founders, is a millennial. Our process for hiring millennials is super different from the traditional hiring process, and given the popularity of our article on how to lead millennials, we thought this would make an obvious follow-up.

Start with the need

A good practice is to never hire someone until the pain of not having them in that role is excruciating. If not having a new developer is blocking your ability to ship releases on time, or the lack of a designer is killing your ability to create assets for your sales team, you hire. If you’re filling a role because your team has a scheduled headcount increase for this quarter, it may be time to reconsider.

When you establish the need, think about what problems that new hire is going solve. Our first step for hiring millennials is going to our Areas of Responsibility (AORs) project in Asana and thinking about what AOR this role will own.

Unito's AORs listed out in Asana

Unito’s AORs listed out in Asana

As we evaluate a future role, we’ll tag the AORs we want to hand off with “Delegate.” This is super helpful for a few reasons.

  1. It forces you to evaluate the need for the role. Is there no area that the role will own? Perhaps you should reconsider that hiring need.
  2. When you’re talking to someone about the role, you can show them both what they will be doing and how it fits into the larger departmental needs. This lets you showcase the clarity of company vision and what the role needs to do. Aligning your teams around their goals and equipping them to solve them as they see fit is critical to company success and employee happiness.
  3. When you’re overloaded with work and desperately trying to find someone to lighten the load, tagging an AOR with a “Delegate” tag is like seeing a light at the end of the tunnel — it’s going to get better!

Above you can see the “delegate” tag on two different roles’ AORs — our  graphic designer and our growth hacking marketer.

Write the role

Note that this is not “Write the job description” and that’s not an accident. After defining the AORs that we want the role to own, our next step in hiring millennials is to map out what owning those AORs will look like. When someone is new at a company, they generally don’t know enough of what they’re doing to set their own goals. So once we’re equipped with AORs, we define the objectives and key results that the role should be measured on for the first episode. We use OKRs at Unito because we’ve found they’re a great way to align the whole team around common business-critical goals and also show team members how they’re part of our company successes.

Once we’ve created the AORs and the OKRs, we end up with an internal profile of what the role should do. It looks like this:

Unito AORs and OKRs

(We’ve previously written about how we run Unito on “Seasons” and “Episodes” instead of quarters, in case you were wondering about that.)

By doing all of this work up front when hiring millennials, you’re setting your new hire up for success: they’ll know before they even start working what kinds of problems they’re going to own and what kind of metrics and goals you’ll use to evaluate how successful they are at owning them.

This also makes it super easy to show your millennial job candidate the career path that he or she is on when taking the role, and get them excited about what it’s going to mean to work with you. Millennials are the learning generation: they’ve adapted to the pace of technological change and expect that they will always need to learn more to stay relevant in their fields. This means that when hiring millennials, you need to show them how they will be learning, challenging, and growing while working for you, and laying out job role and responsibilities early on in the talk with candidates is the best way to do so.

Write the job posting and publish

This is the easy part at this point, because you’ve already done all of the hard work of figuring out what the role will need to do. There are probably  millions of examples of almost any kind of job post out there; go look for one that seems like a good fit to you and tailor it to match. There are a few pieces that are unique to what we do when hiring millennials, though. Our format for job postings goes like this:

  • Company one-paragraph overview
  • Role one-paragraph overview
  • What you will do (detailed job description)
  • Who you are (Job requirements)
  • It would be nice if you can (Nice to haves for the role, but not required)
  • Who we are (detailed company overview)
    • Unito Benefits
    • Unito Culture
  • Call to action → Apply now!

We use Breezy HR for our hiring millennials process, although we’ve also made good use of Trello when working with recruitment agencies. Either tool provides you with a a system to manage the flow of applicants. Breezy (or Trello) let you set up a series of vertical lists where each stage of your hiring flow is a different vertical slice. Here’s an example from Breezy’s website:

Breezy HR hiring flow

Our funnel is one of the keys to our hiring millennials process. As people move through the hiring process, they are all emailed promptly and kept up to date about the status of their application. As soon as we know that we’re not moving forward with an applicant, we let them know. We also found that sending a generic thank you note to applicants who weren’t selected for the phone screen encourages them to re-apply to other positions in the future.

Unito's six-stage hiring process

Applicants go through six stages during our hiring process:

1. Applied: Everyone starts here. Before moving further through the hiring process, we look at their CVs, portfolios, etc.

  • About 40% of applicants make it past this step

2. Email asking why: We ask them a simple question: why do you want to work for Unito? The answer should be an actual human answer, not just a regurgitation of something from their cover letter. Provided that we get a clear answer, we move applicants along to a phone screen.

  • Only about half of people who we ask for a reply ever bother to answer, so only 20% of applicants make it past here.

3. Screened: The department head proceeds to phone screen applicants.  Phone screens are 15- to 20-minute phone calls. Every department head has their own style for these, but mine go:

  • Five minutes about as a company
  • Sell the applicant on how cool we are: winner of “Best Canadian Startup of 2017” from Founder’s Institute, one of the “Top 10 Montreal Startups to watch” from betakit and Tourisme Montreal, and so on.
  • Five minutes about the role: what the AORs would be, what kind of problems we need to solve, etc.
  • Five minutes about the applicant. Questions we like to ask include:
    • What makes a good team?
    • Tell me about your biggest success.
    • Tell me about your biggest failure — what did you learn from it?
  • Five minutes about the culture differences and the risks and rewards of a startup.
    • Startups are inherently risky companies and the kind of person who craves complete stability in their life will probably not be happy here. After spending a little while selling the company at the start of the call, I contrast that by taking a few minutes to talk about how startups are high energy places where you are held accountable to goals. We also stress how many opportunities the candidate will have to grow within the company as it scales up to 100 employees and beyond!
  • After the screen, we decide which applicants should proceed to the next step and become a potential candidate for the job.
    • About 10% of applicants become candidates.

4. Interview 1

  • In person, if possible, but can be done remotely if required.
  • Conducted by the department head.
  • The goal of the first interview is to give a realistic job preview and lay out the full scope of the role. I’m less interested, in the first interview, about exploring someone’s background in great depth; the phone screen and CV cover that for now, and there’s always time to ask CV-based questions later.
    • As an example, when hiring a graphic designer, i’ll start by up a browser window and conducting a tour of Unito’s various pages. The start of the interview is much more about “Here are our properties. Here are the problems with our design. Here is what I want to do to solve them.” Then begins the discussion around that topic.
    • Once the candidate understands the problems in detail, it’s a good time to ask them to provide examples of similar problems they may have solved in their past work experience.
  • About 8% of applicants make it to the second interview.

5. Interview 2

  • In person.
  • Scheduled by the department head, but other people participate in the interview.
    • We’re a small enough company where our CEO is still involved in almost all of our stage 2 interviews. At your org, other stakeholders in the role, such as a VP, a middle manager who will work with the new role, or someone from HR, can participate.
  • This interview explores the background, motivation, and expectations of the candidate in more detail. The goal here is to look for “fit”: do they want to do the kind of work that we need done?
  • We’ll explore some unusual ways to get candidates to show us a more honest side of themselves, using tactics like “negative ping pong,” where the interviewers mention something that they’re bad at and then invite the candidate to do the same. The goal here is to break candidates out of their mindset of “interviewing mode” to get a chance to see more of the person and less of his or her polished interviewing face.
  • Those who make it past the second interview (5% of applicants) are invited to do a pilot project.

6. Pilot

  • In person if possible, remote if not.
  • The pilot project is a (paid!) test run of the candidate and how they fit with the team. We like to have the candidate come and work in our office on a project that is scoped to 20 or 30 hours of work.
  • This is where the rubber meets the road: people who interview brilliantly can crash and burn when asked to perform work, and people whose interviewing skills were a bit sub-par can get a chance to show if they do a better job doing than talking. The goal here is to expose the candidate to as many different people in the company as possible and get all of them to consider what working with that person would be like.
  • Pilots work in both directions. Maybe we decide that someone who looked good in interviews is not a good fit for the company. Rarely, someone gets to his or her pilot and decides that he or she is not a good fit for Unito. These are both really useful lessons to learn before you’ve actually hired someone.
  • We try to run several pilots for the same role at once, but have them come in on different days because, you know, awkward…
  • We generally hire only one person for a given role. Historically, that’s around a 0.5% “applicant to hire rate” if we exclude referrals from existing employees or one of our investors.

Selling the idea of working at your company

Unito is a winner of awards and recently funded, but still, just a startup. There’s a lot of insecurity in working for a VC-backed startup: they don’t make money, and that’s on purpose. They can go broke. They can also get bought. It’s important to clarify this during the interview, especially when hiring millennials

Every company has its tradeoffs: Big companies have complex matrixed stakeholder oversight on even small projects; Small companies move fast and break stuff. Whatever your company’s weaknesses are, you also have strengths. Clarify what those are as you recruit new people.

Every job pays you twice; once when you collect your paycheck and once when you learn new things. At Unito we don’t necessarily offer the biggest paycheck — small startup, tight budgets, you get the idea. But we do promise all of our employees that the second half of your job compensation — learning new things — will be bigger at Unito than at any other job they’ve ever worked.

When hiring millennials, think about what you can teach them. This has consistently been the strongest draw for our millennial candidates, and if it’s something that you can promise, it will work out excellently for you. There are limitless things someone can learn at any company, as long as the stakeholders are willing to accept that investing in employees is key to retaining and growing their teams

Hiring and onboarding

Once we make our hiring choice and they’ve accept our offer, we email every single candidate who applied and who made it to any stage of the funnel and let them know that we’ve closed the role. People will remember how you treat them, and this will encourage them to apply to future roles for which they may be a better fit. Breezy has easy automated email templates, so sending someone a “no thank you” email (or a “You’re hired!” email) takes all of 20 seconds.

A fun Unito quirk: the department head writes a custom welcoming poem for every single new hire that goes on the front page of their hiring packet before their contract.

Once our team member starts, we run them through our training and onboarding sessions.

Every new hire gets a week-long orientation into Unito as a company, how the tool works, and how our culture and teams work.

This ensures new hires perform at their best asap and feel like a part of the team.

We also give every new hire a “Unito buddy” from a different department, to whom they can go when they have questions about the company or the office. It gives them someone to sit next to at lunch on the first few weeks and fosters cross-team communication long after they’ve been hired.

As part of onboarding, new hires have a weekly 1:1 with department heads for the first 30 days and a 1:1 with the CEO at 30 days. These 1:1s are all focused on how they’ve oriented themselves at their job, what they would like us to do to help them perform better, what they like, don’t like, their goals, etc.

It’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it

We put a lot of work into hiring millennials, and getting them quickly and successfully integrated into their teams and Unito as a whole. This plays a big role in retention.

You can think of employees in a similar fashion as the standard SaaS subscription calculation: what’s the Cost of Acquiring an Employee (CAE)? That’s both the cost of the job search and the cost of their salary every year. What should the Life Time Value (LTV) of that employee at your company be? It better be a lot higher than your CAE. When you look at LTV / CAE, you can see where reducing churn — employees quitting or being let go — makes a huge difference to the LTV. If your average employee stays three years instead of two, how much better does that make your company run? It’s pretty easy to break this down.

Here’s a quick example of how you can estimate employee value and especially how it increases dramatically as you keep your employees happier for longer. The numbers here are sample data, but they illustrate the point:

Estimating employee value

The first listing for a role is a two-year hire. The second listing is a longer time frame. Even assuming that employees don’t generate more value per month over time — which is a pretty bad assumption — you can see that the longer someone works for you productively and happily, the more value you get out of all of the effort you put into hiring them.

So there’s our entire hiring millennials process from start to finish. The tool you use — Breezy in our case — is a key enabler to providing structure to your hiring. That’s just the structure, though. Convincing someone that you’re the best job they could take, setting them up for success, and keeping them engaged and productive over the long haul — that’s all up to you.

Good luck! Any questions or thoughts on hiring millennials? Let us know @unitoio on Twitter or in the comments. We’re happy to chat!