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How to build a People function: Hiring and Sourcing Talent

Updated: Aug 30, 2021

With Jessica Djeziri, Chief People Officer at Ornikar


As part of a new series that considers the People 👪 function in EdTech startups and scaleups (with relevance to all startups!), we sat down with Jessica Djeziri, Chief People Officer at Ornikar.

Jessica joined Ornikar in October 2020, so like many of us, started a new job during lockdown.

Jessica is charged with building Ornikar’s People approach, including hiring, retention, culture, learning and development and associated priorities. In this write-up, we focus on the hiring and sourcing aspects of Jessica’s role.

About Ornikar

Ornikar secured European EdTech’s second largest round to date in 2021, with a $120m series C round. The company is a one-stop shop for anyone learning to drive, offering solutions for training, testing and insurance with further offers on the horizon. Ornikar is a member of the Brighteye Ventures family. More information about Ornikar is available here.

So, Jessica, startups are nothing without their people, right?! What is your brief as Ornikar's Chief People Officer?

My brief was to build the team from scratch. The team didn’t exist before I joined - there was only one person managing payroll, reporting into the Chief Finance Officer!

So my missions for the first two months were to onboard myself and then work on starting my team. We are currently 7 people and my goal is to expand to around 15 people by this time next year.

At the organisation level, we are currently 160 people, having hired 70 since January and with 50 open positions- so we are growing the team at quite a rate!

Tip 1: Think through how you want to structure your People team and use the structure to shape how you recruit into the team. Consciously build approaches to talent acquisition, day-to-day talent management and offering coherent learning and development approaches.

If an organisation can’t find the right people, it can’t build teams capable of achieving its aims. How does Ornikar approach sourcing talent?

Before I joined, we were using recruiters a lot. I actually started my career as a recruiter! It’s a longstanding aim of mine to reduce and streamline our use of recruiters. It’s too easy to rely on them! And it’s a lot of work internally to manage different recruiters. It’s not necessarily the hassle-free option that you can be led to believe. It’s also arguably not a long-term solution: in my opinion, you need to build a great talent acquisition team in-house and supplement that where necessary with a short list of great recruiters for roles that are difficult to fill.

At Ornikar, around 50% of the people that we hire are inbound candidates, meaning that we manage to hire quite efficiently without advertising in many places (for example, to date, we haven’t used Linkedin jobs) and at limited cost. This is particularly helpful at our hyper-growth stage when we need to hire as quickly and smoothly as possible. This wasn’t the case in my previous role in the People team at a SAAS company- no one knew the business outside of our clients and so we needed to do a lot of work to reach candidates.

Tip 2: Focus on building an effective in-house People and Talent Sourcing operation, working with recruiters for specific roles, rather than building dependence on recruiters. Recruiters can be great but should be used for specialist, senior or particularly hard-to-fill roles.

Are there specific or unusual talent sourcing approaches you are using?

Well, we are currently experimenting with and upskilling our team in the application of techniques similar to growth marketing to find candidates. It’s proving to be particularly effective for tech candidates - that’s usually a major pain point and the early results are promising. The team is currently receiving training in these techniques. The reason we are doing this is because it’s difficult to find the most promising developers and engineers- they are no longer on Linkedin as they don’t want to be frequently contacted. But there are some ways of contacting them, incidentally via the more ‘outdated’ mediums of email / phone call. It has worked in the limited trials we have undertaken to date! This might involve a member of the team signing up to and joining relevant webinars at which relevant talent is attending and participating. We are fortunate that our reputation is strong (partially, perhaps, as we are a B2C business) so we have good response rates to our approaches.

Once our internal training is completed, someone in the team is going to be a specialist in these techniques. This person will be a Growth and Operations Talent and Acquisition Specialist, able to find and nurture candidates.

This is bringing a more ‘scientific’ approach to our sourcing. We remain open to other promising interventions!

Tip 3: Remain open to new techniques of sourcing and assessing candidates and seek training accordingly. Applying growth marketing techniques to recruitment might at first seem like a strange idea, but if it helps you reach the right candidates, then it’s worth doing!

Does a focus on these new techniques change the requirements of the people in the People (and Talent Acquisition) team?

Yes! Delivering these new techniques requires a different skillset to the more traditional ‘HR’ role. Not only are we focusing on new techniques, but we are also measuring everything. This is central to our operation but it’s not something that necessarily comes naturally to your typical HR professional.

With this in mind, my advice to people looking for talent acquisition people is to grill them on KPIs- this isn’t with a view to forming a steep commission model, but rather to find out what they’re interest in, what they think it’s important to measure and how they would go about measuring it, etc. This is fundamental to an effective HR team: you can only improve what you can measure and what you measure should shape the way you undertake your role.

Tip 4: Decide your KPIs as a People team and hire people into the People team that are KPI-driven. Focusing on new techniques and KPIs demands a specific set of skills held by members of the People team. Be sure to address these points when interviewing People team candidates.

Does this more ‘scientific’ approach translate to your applicant management approach?

When I joined Ornikar, we didn’t have a proper ATS (applicant tracking system). We had very basic software- we kept little more than a set of interested candidates’ email addresses which needed to be kept and managed manually. But we have quickly moved to software that both keeps accurate candidate records as they move through our pipeline and also tells us how we are doing against our KPIs in the People team. This way, we are better able to monitor the sources of our candidates, understand the efficacy of our referral programme and it also helps us guide our spending on advertising roles, as we know what works.

And let me say this: I didn’t automatically know how to do this, I had to learn this with experience and to better understand how powerful a good and well-managed ATS can be. It allows us to make decisions grounded in data rather than hunch. Approaches like this also help the People team build trust with other teams in the organisation as decisions are justified by evidence and data.

We use Teamtailor, a software built in Sweden that was recommended to us by other members of the sector when we were exploring our options. Teamtailor understands how we work and the kind of candidate experience we want to create (easy application process, great UX for hiring managers with integrated scorecards, structured interview feedback features, and candidate nurturing features so that the ATS can double as your candidate CRM!). And, of course, the price point is also attractive.

Tip 5: Choose an Applicant Tracking System that meets your needs to level-up your pipeline management. A sophisticated approach requires a central system that allows you to focus closely on the data you need to help you develop your approach to sourcing talent.

How do you think about diversity and inclusion in the People team?

As you know, we are a French company. Traditionally, the French believe in integration- that when you come to France, you will assimilate into French culture. Some people even change their names. NB: my Grandfather moved to France from Algeria and he didn’t change our surname.

Diversity and inclusion (D&I) is of course a massive deal. I’m part of a group of 12 Chief People Officers from the French ecosystem working on a shared diversity Pact for companies. D&I in France typically covers gender and disability, but we want the Pact to cover a broader set of priorities. This is a personal initiative, but I’m pleased that Ornikar has agreed to sign as a founding member and that our founders want to be a ’lab’ for new initiatives. We wanted to make the Pact as business-oriented and actionable as possible. It’s a company issue regardless of your scale. We need to maintain our hiring standards but bolster our inclusion practices and broaden our culture- we should have diverse pools of candidates for all our roles.

One observation we have made is that posting on Linkedin or Welcome to the jungle (in France) isn’t inclusive enough. We are always looking for other platforms to host our ads that might help us to reach more diverse candidates. We are also working with 50inTech – they’re advising us on where we should focus. It’s important not to just point out what people are doing wrong but helping them find solutions.

Tip 6: Prioritise D&I initiatives and use broader talent sourcing techniques to reach a diverse candidate pool. You could become part of an industry initiative so that you can learn and share best practice to help you reach talented candidates and build an inclusive business.

What recruitment KPIs do you track and use to inform your decisions?

The first examples that come to mind are ‘time to hire’ and ‘time to fill’ which are common metrics for success in recruitment- how you measure it and criteria may vary between organisations but the key metrics are the same. At Ornikar, time to hire is usually the time between the initial application and when candidates get an offer. Time to fill is the time between the application and when the candidate starts – this varies depending on your jurisdiction. It can be especially long in France/ UK, where notice periods can be 3 months. A change we are thinking about making is to measure the time between the initial application and the last interview- meaning that the time we take on the decision (including reflections time and the time we spend as a hiring committee) isn’t included in the time to hire. This would remove some of the ‘speed’ pressure that we fear would lead to worse decisions. We will see if it makes sense- if it doesn’t work, we won’t pursue it!

In addition to the length of the process, we want to measure the quality of the candidate experience. Time to hire is relevant here, but as mentioned, we are also conscious of not putting too much pressure on managers and on talent acquisition teams to focus on speed and potentially overlook possible red flags. It’s also interesting to consider and measure the source of candidates: breakdowns between inbound and outbound and whether from an agency, referral, internal recommendation, etc.

Our Head of Talent Acquisition wants to reach 15 days for time to hire and 60 days for time to fill, which is quite ambitious, particularly given the notice period requirements in France. But it’s good to be ambitious! Your goals will depend on the process and the role you’re hiring into.

Tip 7: Ensure that ‘time to hire’ and ‘time to fill’ are included in your KPIs but tailor them to your requirements. Time to fill and time to hire are important indicators of the effectiveness and ’health’ of your pipeline. Your KPIs and measurement should take your processes and priorities into account.

How do you go about reviewing and improving candidates’ experiences during the hiring process?

The candidate experience is really important. Teamtailor, our ATS, helps us to understand candidate experiences. It allows you to automate sending surveys to candidates at your chosen stages of the application process. We prefer to share the survey at the end of the process, regardless of whether the candidate received an offer. Around half of candidates answer the survey, but we are pleased that almost everyone interested in joining the People team responds to the survey!

Before Teamtailor we used googleforms, but as we formalised our processes, we realised that we needed a purpose-built solution. TeamTailor gives us insights into what’s working and what could be improved. It also enables us to measure eNPS (Employee net promoter score).

Tip 8: Review candidates’ experiences of the hiring process, including those that do not receive an offer. Reviewing candidates’ experiences tells you more about your process than an internal review ever can- purpose-built software can help you to simplify the process.

What does the typical application process look like?

After we receive the application (or the window closes), we review the CVs and invite candidates with interesting profiles to our ‘screening’ round. This is typically 15-30 mins with a member of the recruitment team. If candidates pass this round, they will be invited shortly after to meet with the hiring manager (their would-be line manager). I believe there shouldn’t be many HR interviews in the process- the majority should be with relevant members of their would-be team. Candidates want to be speak with the people that know what they’re talking about! This is one of the reasons we have also brought in a Tech Talent Acquisition Specialist who is both passionate and knowledgeable about the tech roles we’re hiring into- I think this makes a big difference to the quality of candidate experience for tech role applicants. Otherwise, we put ourselves into the same bucket as ineffective recruitment agencies and others that don’t sell our business and the roles well. We are fighting the war on talent and we want to win!

So our focus is on having as few steps as possible, with as much technical contact as possible. There will typically be 3-5 rounds including the screening round. Towards the end of the process, candidates might be invited to ‘practical’ interview, which might involve case studies, mock work tasks and psychometric tests!

Tip 9: Consider using the following process: review CVs, screen, hiring manager, round (assessment), final round. Try to have distinct purposes for each round and try to make sure candidates spend as much time with the hiring team/ expert team as possible.

Could you tell us more about the assessment rounds?

We want case studies and / or tests to be as common as possible across our recruitment processes. On our side, it’s a great way of selecting candidates and on their side, it’s a great way for them to understand what they’d be doing in the role and make sure it’s the right level of difficulty! And there are tests and tests- there are psychometric tests that take 30 minutes and extensive mini-projects. For example, there’s a great startup called Algolia that has a 30-hour test for their tech candidates. It’s stressful but people complete it because they want to showcase their talent, the opportunity is prestigious and they know they will get feedback on their work. The test is one of the final rounds, so I believe candidates in that situation are pleased to have the opportunity! And that also means the internal team doesn’t have too many submissions to review.

In my opinion, the assessments should always be at the end of the process. It’s unfair to send through an assessment after the screening round as you don’t know about the candidate and vice-versa. This is the point at which we would typically share psychometric tests where relevant- the results shouldn’t be a filter, rather it should be confirmation of what you’d observed before (a ‘scientific stamp’!). These tests can prove helpful to managers, as they’ll have a better understanding of what to expect when the candidate begins in role and a better understanding of what makes them tick.

Tip 10: Use different types of assessments to help inform your hiring decisions, including case studies and psychometric tests. Make your hiring process more thorough by using different types of tests, including case studies, psychometric tests, project assessments and others.

When the time comes, what’s your offer process and do you negotiate?

My personal opinion is to leave little space for negotiation- it takes too long if your priority is speed! But I appreciate it’s a culture thing- in the US, you take time to negotiate but in France, this isn’t the norm. Good practice, in my opinion, is to pre-close as often as possible (indicating to a candidate that they will get an offer), making sure they are content with the job title and other parts of the role, which makes the negotiation process more straightforward.

We tend not to advertise job salaries. We are aware of the debate. Maybe I am old-school but especially when you are in hyper-growth, you don’t necessarily have a ‘typical candidate’ so you don’t necessarily have a ‘typical salary’. To me, it only makes sense to include the salary if you know exactly what you’re looking for. In others, you don’t want to hold a candidate back from applying that you’d be willing to pay more.

We are always upfront, though, and try to have discussions about salary and other remuneration during the screening interview (following the initial CV review). It should be discussed early on rather than in the final round! Some companies publish a compensation framework, covering remuneration at different levels so that it’s clear how someone can progress through the salary ranges. It also helps candidates identify their stage on the framework. Candidates want employers to be clear, transparent and honest.

Tip 11: Be upfront with candidates- pre-close where possible and be flexible for the right candidate. Candidates want you to be as clear, transparent and honest as possible. You can do this by addressing potentially challenging issues and expectations during early rounds.

What kind of onboarding process do you have in place?

This has been a hot topic since my team joined in February. We want to build programmes that are closely aligned with our culture and the way that we work. Pre-pandemic, we invited all new joiners to Paris, whether they were based in other parts of France or in Spain (our first international office). But this, of course, is no longer practical given the size of the team. It’s also quite expensive when we are in hyper-growth mode! This means that onboarding needs to be efficient! And needs to ‘tool up’ all the new team members to be able to undertake their job.

The purpose of the onboarding process is to help people feel engaged, committed and to work efficiently. With this in mind, we are developing offline content that new joiners can watch / work on in their own time. We are designing around 10 hours of content for each team, designed and led by the team leader- this will be multi-modal and supplement and make more valuable the usual presentations from senior members of the team. This needs to be at the team level, as otherwise there’s a lot of wasted time on peripheral content! We want to give everyone everything they need to really accelerate their progression with the company. We also enter all new staff into our rolling 3-month appraisal process, regardless of how long they have been with us, so there are plenty of opportunities to ask questions and improve performance.

Tip 12: Tailor onboarding processes to individual teams, partnering with the team leader. Generic joining information is important in some places but has varied relevance to individual roles- spending time designing onboarding content upfront will save you time down the road.

As a company that’s internationalising, how are you finding hiring a team in a new market?

Given the current environment, we have been making do with managing all hires into the Spain office from Paris, but this isn’t the plan for the long term. We are in the process of hiring someone into the People team to focus on the Spanish market. We have a General Manager based in Spain, though, so they are able to provide a lot of local assistance via connections and experience making hires in the region. They are also able to flag relevant legal and HR issues specific to the Spanish context.

We tailor our Ornikar process to the local needs, so that our approach is centralised where it needs to be and de-centralised where it’s beneficial. For example, our onboarding process is intentionally similar regardless of where you are based but the style of contract and negotiation may vary according to the local circumstances.

Tip 13: Work closely with the country General Manager and hire someone in the People team focused on the market. It’s important to consider the importance of local knowledge and to invest time into making sure the sourcing and hiring process is tailored to your new environment.

Do you have an employee referral scheme in place?

Although referral programmes are very common in the industry, I've worked with more than one founder who wasn't too keen on forming a scheme. However, I do think referrals are very useful to help our sourcing and bring excellent candidates into the mix.

At Ornikar, we realised that our programme was not working: we ran a survey and learned that team members found referring people too much hassle despite very generous prizes (between €3000 - €5000 per hire!).

Referrals should be easy and straightforward: people need to know what roles we are hiring for, and share them effortlessly with their network. We're working with Trusty, a software that is integrated into our ATS, so that everyone can share a "magic link" via whatsapp,linkedin, instagram and others, and reach potential candidates with little effort. We also changed our prize system so that it would be more personalised (each quarter people can pick their favourite reward).

Time will tell, but we hope the referral system will be a success.

Tip 14: Form a simple, democratic referrals process, but only pursue it if it works. Simplicity is paramount- employees should easily be able to access, share and monitor progress in vacancies if they are to be incentivised.

What three things would you tell someone that had just been made Chief People Officer?

1. Structure your team

When you start, you can expect to be snowed under with questions from other teams, such as ”can you help me find a CMO?!”. But you have to make time to focus on your own team otherwise you won’t be able to develop a replicable, coherent framework and won’t meet your longer-term objectives of delivering excellent talent to each business team.

2. Become a reference point

Make sure you are worthy of trust and that you trust yourself. You should become a People guru! Make sure your advice is sound and researched. I’ve now built People teams at 3 companies. The way I have done it is by becoming an expert in the business, understanding the different requirements across teams and working collaboratively with the teams.

3. Invest in training

We don’t do this enough in scaleups. Learning and personal development needs to be prioritised so that team members feel valued and like their progression is a serious consideration for your business, from day 1.

What are your favourite things about being Chief People Officer?

1. Feeling incredible energy when you have bought into the founders’ aspirations. 🚀

2. Having a significant impact on the business, without directly being a businessperson or having a business background! 💥

3. Touching so many peoples’ lives and hopefully helping them achieve their life goals via enjoyable, challenging work. 🧑‍🤝‍🧑

The tips in one place:


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