I love Twitter and am fascinated by the ecosystem that Evan, Biz and the team at Twitter have created around the popular microblogging service. While many people on the sidelines are obsessed with when Twitter will make money, I see nothing but great opportunities ahead for the Twitter team. (Disclosure: I’m an investor in Identi.ca - an open source microblogging service.)
Twitter is also undeniably the hottest startup out there today. It’s got plenty of money, and more mainstream press than any startup has received in a very, very long time. The times I’ve met Evan I’ve been impressed with his ability to stay out of the echo chamber that surrounds the popular service (As an entrepreneur Evan’s got class).
My affection for Twitter is also the source of my concerns for the Twitter team as I saw the signs of fail whales to come on their recruiting page.
Let me explain. During the last Internet boom & crash I was the CEO of Zero-Knowledge Systems, a company that was also a media darling with tons of money and attention to go with it. Like Twitter we defied the trends in the industry when we raised $22 million at record valuations nine months after the dot com crash had begun to sweep through the tech industry. (This was after having just raised $25 million the year before. Unlike Twitter we did not have a successful product and it took us a number of years to turn the company into the success it is today.)
Throughout 1998-2002 we had employees from around the world desperately trying to join the company to be part of our dot.com dream. One of the many mistakes we made was hiring too quickly as our staff rolls grew to over 200 people.
The Problems with Twitter’s Recruiting Drive
Twitter no doubt needs to hire. Here’s Twitter’s career site: http://twitter.com/jobs
Twitter has almost 15 open positions listed which according to reported numbers would be a 35% increase in their current headcount.
Despite their ability to recruit people like high profile people from the Google campus Twitter falls far behind its Mountain View rival for talent in a critical aspect of HR: employment branding.
Google has a long history of strong employment branding. They’ve won awards for being a top employer, and received plenty of press – not just for the lavish perks, but also for the way they recruit. Google may have many problems inside the Googleplex (crazy cash flow hides many problems), but their attention to advertising what it takes to be hired by them has served them well as they grew.
Google’s attention to its employer brand started very early on, and has been pervasive throughout its growth. Even as the most popular darling of the Internet world, it remained focused on its brand – a rigorous recruiting process, lots of perks, unique value proposition and only hiring the absolute best.
So what about Twitter?
As one of the hottest startups in the Valley hiring while unemployment rates continue to rise Twitter needs to be vigilant about guarding their culture. To do this they need a concerted effort to ensure only the best candidates enter their hiring funnel.
Despite this attention in the middle of an economic downturn Twitter appears to have a lack of any focus on employment branding.
Some might argue that given Twitter’s popularity they don’t need to focus on their employment brand; they don’t need to promote their internal culture more effectively and focus on publicly attracting the best. I’m sure Twitter wants to hire the best (and has the dollars and buzz to help them do so), but it takes a more concerted, ongoing effort. Just look at Google…
Much of a company’s public-facing employer brand starts with its career site. (Disclaimer: I’m an investor and co-Founder of Standout Jobs - http://standoutjobs.com - which helps companies with their career sites and recruitment. But this post isn’t about vendor selection or products as much as it’s about the importance of strong employer branding and developing a rigorous culture of recruiting.)
Although Twitter’s made some effort to include cultural content on the site, it’s lacking. As much as I think I know what it’s like to work at Twitter, or I can imagine it, I don’t really get the picture I want from their site. They don’t even provide a roll up of recent tweets from their employees like Zappos & employee culture genius Tony Hsieh does.
Worst still, are the job descriptions they use. They’re about as generic as job descriptions come looking like they were haphazardly copied from some other boring job advertisement on some average job board.
If you look at the job posting for Product Manager or Software Engineer (arguably two of the most important roles in a software company) there is nothing there that discourages anyone with the minimum requirements from throwing their hat in the ring. The amount of investment that goes into a unique & specific job description tells candidates how important you take finding the best fit. When you copy a weak job description you send the signal that you are too busy to take hiring seriously.
As important as the cultural information and the job descriptions is the need for more information on the recruitment process and what Twitter wants to see from applicants. One of the goals with this kind of information is to help job seekers self-select. I’m sure Twitter doesn’t have a problem getting a large volume of applications, but quality is another story. Allowing applicants to self-select by making sure they understand more about the recruitment process and expectations can help weed people out before they even apply.
Compare the Twitter job descriptions with the job descriptions I recently posted for a UX Designer for my company Akoha. Another great exampleis the job description that my friend Alistair Croll listed for a Program Manager. In both cases candidates have a clear picture of what will be expected of them, hopefully a sense of the companies mission and most importantly a number of explicit requirements that allow candidates to self-select whether they believe they are qualified for the role.
Twitter has changed the way many of us communicate on a daily basis. You can pack so much into 140 characters. And yet, the Twitter application process is multiple steps and driven almost exclusively by a person’s resume. Boring. Twitter can’t be hiring based off resumes, I’m sure they’re looking for so much more, and yet that’s not reflected in the application process. There’s so much opportunity for creativity when it comes to recruiting, but too few companies – Twitter included – take advantage. And it’s not enough to rely on their own popularity to attract the best, they need to publicly cultivate and promote a strong employer brand that’s pervasive through everything they do.
Hiring your next fail whale.
I’m sure that Twitter can’t keep up with the volume of applicants attempting to get in on the ground floor of the company. With the only requirement to apply being a resume and basic qualifications there may be a few incredible candidates in their funnel, but I’m sure for the hiring team it is like finding a needle in a haystack.
Having set the bar so low publicly puts all the burden on Twitter to screen and find the best candidates. Many candidates will probably never get a call back or hear from the company (In my test attempt to apply I didn’t even get an automated thank you email, one of the most frustrating experiences for candidates applying into a black hole)
This overflow of candidates means that Twitter will,
- Spend too much time reviewing mountains of candidate applications using resumes as the way to screen candidates.
- Miss potentially great candidates who get lost in the noise and are not elevated to the top of the hiring pool by the hiring process.
- Invest too much of their teams time on 2nd tier candidates who can write fancy resumes and may have been in the vicinity of success instead of the creators of it.
- Stretch out hiring time frames which makes topgrading a difficult exercise since candidates cannot be ranked during a constrained timeframe allowing you to pick the best.
- Reduce the amount of time you can spend assessing cultural fit in your interview process.
- Start to make compromises on hiring candidates as the time to fill critical positions continues to increase.
- Increase the chance that a few bad apples will enter the company at a critical time.
While the momentum of Twitter may seem unstoppable, I know first hand how quick a few bad hires can contribute to a company losing its way. Many of the worst mistakes I’ve made in my career can be traced to making compromises in my hiring practices.
At a time when Twitter needs to be accelerating to fulfill their potential their public hiring practices seem to be indications of future fail whales to come.
A great example of hiring practices is how my friend Andy Nulman screens candidates read this interview or this great story of his hiring practices.