As part of a new series, we’re speaking with leaders of startups and medium-sized businesses to get a sense of their recruiting and hiring challenges, and the lessons they’ve learned along the way.
We recently met with Hamza Khan, CEO of Splash Effect, a Toronto-based digital marketing agency that works with educators to create progressive communications materials. Splash Effect offers everything from advertising services to digital and content marketing strategy, and has a client list that includes Hootsuite, Ryerson, University of Toronto, and Seneca.
Workopolis: As a smaller business, how do you approach hiring when you’re looking to support growth?
HK: When we first started to realize that the company was growing, we thought we could develop our experienced and talented people into who we needed to get the work done. We quickly realized, however, that it was important for us to hire externally.
That was when we realized the value of social media. It’s an underrated platform for content marketing, and the importance of digital presence and experience when you’re hiring for a business like ours is great. We put out feelers to gauge competency when it came to certain positions pertaining to content creation, and it was crazy because people I had known for years ended up engaging with us – people I didn’t even know had interest in this space.
What do you look for when you’re using social platforms to get to know people from a professional perspective? How are you gauging competency?
A person’s interests and the type of content they’re sharing says a lot about their competency for a given role. If you’re hiring for a social media or community manager position, it’s a no-brainer that you would look to their social accounts to see what they’re all about and whether their style is what you’re looking for. By tapping into their profiles, you can see if their values line up with your company culture and vision.
We also found that so many people who were reaching out to us on social were less interested in what we were paying. They were more invested in the working experience that comes with being part of a startup. They wanted to be part of something growing, to work in a field that changes from minute-to-minute.
Do you incorporate formal HR practices when you hire, or have you done away with that completely?
In the past we made decisions based on our gut and our comfort level when we interviewed someone, but as you become more experienced as a business owner, you learn that there’s only so many gut feelings you can go on; those feelings have to be backed up by solid information.
Data definitely trumps comfort, and it’s our responsibility as an employer to substantiate someone’s story to make an informed hiring decision. So what we’ve aimed for now is a balance between being a little unorthodox, but also making use of tried and tested hiring practices. Whenever we feel like hiring is difficult, we remind ourselves that processes exist to establish parameters and filter candidates who just aren’t the right fit.
How do you approach employer branding and has it been a priority for Splash Effect?
Employer branding for us has really come through our staff, who are passionate ambassadors for the company. This came about organically, but we’ve always set aside time to take a deep dive into the company culture and how to energize our team.
But I would say that to recruit well you need to provide a great web experience. When people come looking for work on your company site and have a bad experience, it turns away top talent.
When you don’t have a great website, you’re sending a message that you don’t take yourself or your company seriously. Design is how you treat your customers, and you’ve probably noticed that when you walk into many office spaces, their internal design is often a reflection of their brand. And that brand lives on your website. It embodies your mission, vision, values, and culture, and if top talent can’t make out those priorities when they come to your website, your hiring process becomes a lot more difficult.
What do you look for in people to propel your company forward?
There’s no point in hiring someone who makes you feel like you’re the best CEO, or like you’re a great manager. You have to hire people that you can see yourself learning from. If you’re better than me, that’s great. That’s what gets me excited about speaking to a potential new hire.
I also believe in hiring for soft skills. Professional experience is great, but we also look for well-rounded people with a great balance of ambition, empathy, responsibility, and leadership.
What are some of the hiring lessons you’ve learned over the years?
One of the greatest lessons we learned was that even though finding people through friends is great, it isn’t always the best option. It’s worth it to follow a formal application process; to distribute a job posting and receive resumes. You can get real insight on people and better gauge competencies.
It also took us some time to understand that hiring externally provides a fresh perspective on our business. Sometimes, for example, it’s the people that come from more corporate structures that have something to teach us, or they have ideas that were getting lost being part of a larger organization. From that we learned our most important hiring lesson: as a small business you always have to keep an open mind.