Last week we spoke with Kiersten Mutchnick, former Director of Talent and now VP of People Operations at FarmLogs, an Ann Arbor based startup that develops unique software to help farmers manage their crops and improve crop yield. After emerging from the prestigious Y-Combinator startup accelerator in 2012, FarmLogs was able to expand rapidly and raise additional funding, most recently $10mm in a Series B round at the end of 2014. Kiersten joined just before this was completed, and led a massive expansion of the team throughout 2015, hiring over 40 people and tripling the headcount of the firm. With that much hiring to do in a short amount of time, Kiersten knows what works for them and what doesn’t. Here are some highlights from our conversation.
Understand your product and sell your unique opportunity
For Kiersten, hiring great employees starts with a deep understanding of the company and the product. Before hiring moved in house, FarmLogs was using an outside recruiting firm based in Chicago to source candidates. The distance was a problem: Chicago is four hours away from Ann Arbor, and without being nearby it was impossible for the recruiting firm to understand the company’s mission and culture at the depth needed to excite and attract candidates. Kiersten pointed out that the software FarmLogs provides is unique enough to take some explaining (lots of people know what CRM software is, or financial software, but farm management software?) and believes that hiring success at FarmLogs is tightly linked with selling people on the opportunity. If potential employees are excited enough about the opportunity, other barriers (like relocation) don’t look so insurmountable.
Start driving candidates into your pipeline
To drive candidates into their hiring pipeline, FarmLogs makes heavy use of employee referrals. They have had little success with general job boards like Indeed or SimplyHired which tend to attract a large number of low quality candidates. They’ve had better luck with more targeted job boards like agcareers.com for agricultural expertise, and LinkedIn for business roles. Of course a site like agcareers is only relevant if your startup is working in agriculture, but niche job boards exist today in almost every field.
FarmLogs has also had success at the local startup career fair. From these, Kiersten has learned to ignore candidates that come to the booth for a minute or two just to talk about themselves. She’d much rather spend 15 minutes getting to know someone with real interest in FarmLogs than one minute with 15 candidates that just want to shake hands, drop off a resume, and move onto the next booth.
Consider using an ATS
FarmLogs uses an ATS (applicant tracking system) called Greenhouse to manage their candidates. We’ve talked about Greenhouse on this blog before -- next to others like Jazz, Jobvite, Lever and more it’s one of the most popular ATS systems. If your company is not using one and making due with some combination of email and Google docs, it is worth considering. Kiersten has found the ATS helpful for pushing job postings out to different job boards, managing the resume screening process, and gathering feedback from interviewers. Instead of emailing back and forth with hiring managers, recruiters, and candidates, let the ATS keep everything in one place.
Once candidates start flowing into the pipeline, you’ll start to amass a stack of resumes -- either a literal one from a career fair, or in digital form in your ATS. The first step is sifting through to find the most promising candidates. Kiersten told us they try to interview as many people as possible, but some resumes just don’t fit. Some of her red flags:
- No personal touch. This might mean a cover letter, but at FarmLogs something that formal isn’t strictly necessary. Even a sentence or two that hints at your genuine interest in the company is valuable. Kiersten bemoaned the proliferation of ‘one click apply’ on sites like Indeed. As a candidate, this scattershot approach might let you occasionally slip through screening at Big Co., but to get a job on a small team working on a unique product like FarmLogs, you’ll need to convince the gatekeepers you’re interested in more than just a paycheck.
- Listing every technology on your resume. You might be an expert in two or three, but you’re probably not an expert in ten languages, and listing them all looks unprofessional. Stick to the highlights.
- Context matters. One or two spelling and grammar mistakes might be fine for a developer, but apply with those for a writing position? You’ll probably be getting a gentle rejection email.
Get everyone on the same page for interviews
At FarmLogs, this means literally the same page. When candidates are scheduled to come in, interviewers and interviewees receive a copy of the same document listing a schedule for the day. As a nice touch, candidates can see who they’ll be talking to and check out their LinkedIn profiles ahead of time. This kind of simple assistance can help set candidates at ease.
On the day of, interviewers record comments in a Google Doc and add ratings in the ATS. By making use of the ATS, feedback from all the interviewers can be gathered in one place and facilitate an end of day meeting.
Kiersten stressed the importance of giving feedback to candidates quickly after the interview. FarmLogs makes the hiring decision immediately after the interview is over, and tries to respond to all candidates within 24 hours. As a candidate, the worst feeling is the long period of waiting and not knowing if you still have a chance at the job, and a quick turnaround leaves a good impression even if job seekers don’t receive an offer.
Start thinking long term
Kiersten and her team have spent the last year and a half in a hiring frenzy, finding ways to attract quality candidates and scale the FarmLogs team with a small in house team. What challenges come next?
Kiersten told us that attracting high level candidates (think VP or C-Level) can be challenging in a smaller town like Ann Arbor. If an opportunity doesn’t work out in San Francisco or New York, there’s probably another high level position available nearby. In Ann Arbor, the selection is a lot smaller. Building the community’s reputation as a technology hub that can offer high level opportunities will take time and cooperation between different companies.
Attracting candidates from outside the city is more and more important as the company grows. In fact, before working at FarmLogs, Kiersten was living in Florida, “five minutes from the beach.” But before moving there she went to the University of Michigan for her undergraduate degree, and on a brief visit back to Michigan, met with Jesse, the FarmLogs CEO. She told us her expectations for the meeting were low, but his passion for what FarmLogs was doing was so visible that it inspired her to abandon the beach and move back to continue her career in Ann Arbor.
Any company trying to grow in a small town would be smart to target people with some past connection to the town that might consider returning. If you can find the right people to target and inspire them with the company’s mission, you’ll be well on your way to building a great team.
FarmLogs is ramping up hiring once again in a range of roles that include engineering, design, sales, and business. View all their open roles at https://farmlogs.com/jobs/.