Hakon here, Chief Commercial Officer at Capdesk. In this article I’m going to lay out exactly how we hire at Capdesk, from the very first time we discuss a role to the moment we make an offer.
I know our recruitment process is second to none – we hear it all the time from candidates who are tired of being left in the dark by other companies. We also consistently attract top-tier talent to the business, individuals who strengthen our mission and go on to build fantastic teams of their own.
Oh, and we’ve just been named one of the best London startups to work for by Tempo. So we’re getting something right!
Why write this article? I have two answers:
Before we get into it, a quick note on the ethos behind how we hire at Capdesk. The whole process is designed around the candidate experience, so we give as much feedback as possible (way more than your average employer) and do whatever we feel is necessary to leave people with a positive impression of our company. We want candidates to see this as their decision as much as it is ours.
Our five core values also play a huge role in how we hire, both in the way we structure recruitment and make decisions and what we look for in applicants. Our values are:
Look out for them throughout this article!
Our recruitment process has many steps, but can be grouped into three phases. The first phase is preparation and sourcing, the second phase is screening and setting a challenge, and the third and final stage is interviewing and making an offer. We aim for the whole process to take no longer than four weeks.
Careful planning goes into each role. Establishing the purpose of the hire allows us to be really clear on expectations from the start.
Even if a hire is a replacing an existing employee, or expanding a team where the role already exists, we consider what else they could bring to the table: how can they build on the legacy of the previous employee, how can they strengthen the team dynamic? For brand new roles, where the position will inevitably be shaped by the person hired, we outline the timing of the role within the context of our company’s journey.
We always look for people who can create new opportunities, for themselves and for the company, not just solve existing problems.
A hiring panel is assembled for each role, consisting of at least three employees, and briefed on what we are looking for. The hiring panel will work together to assess candidates and make influential decisions. This has a dual benefit – it gives us buy-in from the wider team and it gives the candidate a chance to interview us.
Because we set ourselves challenging timelines, we need to do a lot of proactive sourcing. It forms a large part of the hiring process. A fixed end date allows us to remain completely focused on recruiting and also stops hiring becoming an always-on activity that takes time away from other projects.
Sourcing is more of an art than a science. It’s not dissimilar to sales, but instead of selling a product we’re selling our vision. I adapt my messaging depending on who I’m approaching.
It depends on the role, but for many positions we receive upwards of 150 applications. The majority of these applicants will be rejected without speaking directly to someone at Capdesk. Whether it’s a yes or a no, everybody hears back in 24-48 hours.
However, instead of sending a boilerplate two-sentence email, we send them a short video. We use Loom, a fantastic video messaging tool, to pre-record a message for candidates rejected at this stage.
We always try to give practical feedback that candidates can take away and apply in future, such as explaining what expertise or experience the successful applicants had.
Videos like this are quick to create and they have a human touch. It’s our chance to give the candidate a positive experience, no matter how far through the process they got.
After making an initial application, up to 25 people are invited to book in for a screening call – once they've watched a short video in preparation. This video tells them more about the role and Capdesk, and is where our planning stage comes in handy. We also outline the application process and the steps involved.
Candidates should have a clear sense of the role’s purpose from this video and feel able to self-screen and drop out of the process if appropriate. Those who are still curious and excited about the role book in for a screening call.
In the screening call, the hiring manager has a 15-30 minute conversation with the candidate, talking generally about their background, their interests and any initial questions they have. We’ll talk a bit about the compensation, including the salary range and equity. True to our company’s purpose, everyone who joins Capdesk receives share options (the number of options typically corresponds with their seniority level). An equity stake empowers our people to grow the business and further our mission, because every employee shares in the wealth they create for Capdesk.
If it’s a good fit, we brief the candidate then and there on the next task – the challenge. If it’s not a good fit, we also make that call immediately and let them know.
The numbers vary between roles (we tend to have much larger candidate pools for more junior roles), but we typically send the challenge to a maximum of 15 people.
We design a custom challenge for every single role, and make it complex enough that candidates have an opportunity to really impress us with their response. It’s a big task, so we give candidates at least a week to complete it. We appreciate people have other commitments and want them to have the space to produce something that blows us away.
In a recent recruitment iteration, we began anonymising the challenges at the review stage, so that the name, gender and background of candidates don’t play into our decisions. Each member of the hiring panel is asked to score each challenge against a range of factors. If candidates score similarly, their applications are discussed by the panel as a group.
Every candidate rejected at this stage is sent a custom feedback video explaining why their application isn’t being progressed. We share a prepared model answer to the challenge, unpacking why it scores so highly.
We’re extremely grateful to candidates for the effort they put into applying for a role at Capdesk, and try to convey this.
Culling as many candidates as we do at the challenge stage is a high-risk, high-reward strategy, but we want to judge people on their ability to produce quality work under pressure.
We now have a maximum of four candidates in the pipeline. The bulk of the assessment took place in the first three weeks, so we’re confident that everybody progressing to interviews could technically perform in the role.
There are three interviews in total, although we normally run the final two back to back:
1. Group (c.60 mins)
Candidates should come to this interview ready to discuss their challenge in detail with the three members of the Capdesk hiring panel. We want to understand how they approached it, and see how they might work with us as colleagues.
We’re also looking for evidence of our five values in the way candidates work, as these will dictate their professional dynamic with the wider team.
2. Founder (c.30 mins)
This is more of a chat than anything else and is run by our CEO Christian. It’s a chance for the candidate to verify what other employees have said and get the company vision directly from one of our co-founders.
3. Hiring manager (c.60 mins)
The last interview is about building the most attractive package for the candidate. Yes, salary comes into this but it’s more than that. We want candidates to be empowered to tell us how they like to work, the career path they want to be on, the level of autonomy they need – and more.
Finally, we’ve reached the end of the process. We offer the role to one person, laying out a custom package that considers everything we’ve discussed in the previous stages. Compensation always includes share options, which hold particular value because of the way our product works.
Capdesk facilitates secondary transactions (the buying and selling of shares in privately held companies) and encourages its employees to liquidate their shares as and when suits them. Our employees’ life plans, whether they require a new car or a mortgage, shouldn’t be tied to Capdesk’s business plans – and nor should their equity stake. They can transact their shares gradually, partially or not at all. We would never want to hold our employees to ransom as they wait for their options to vest.
I’m pleased to say that Capdesk has never lost a candidate at the offer stage. I think this is because we’ve invested so much energy in understanding exactly what they need, and being completely transparent about what Capdesk can offer them. The intensity of the process also naturally deters people who aren’t serious about the position. That’s fine too.
It would be tempting to say that we’ve found the ultimate answer to recruiting exceptional employees, but we know it won’t last forever. As we scale, we’ll need to adapt our process to make room for rapid growth and new organisational structures.
So long as we build on what’s taken us this far, and learn from this phase of Capdesk recruitment, we’ll be staying true to our value of iteration.