One common challenge many entrepreneurs face these days is finding qualified workers. In fact, 54 percent of businesses report that it’s been “increasingly difficult to find qualified job candidates” over the past five years, and 50 percent say it’s “hard to find job candidates with the appropriate skills” for open positions, according to a CareerBuilders survey conducted in early 2015.
Matt Rissell believes one way to overcome this challenge is “to always be recruiting.”
Rissell is a serial entrepreneur and CEO of TSheets, a company that creates and sells time-tracking software. TSheets started in 2006 with two employees—Rissell, who handled marketing and sales, and his cofounder and CTO, Brandon Zehm, who took care of product development and SEO.
Since then, TSheets has grown to more then 90 employees, no mean feat for any small business, but potentially harder when you’re headquartered in a smaller city like Boise, Idaho.
I recently talked to Rissell to find out how he’s been able to grow TSheets with a recruiting budget of $0.
I understand you’re currently hiring around five people a month. At any point in TSheets’ growth cycle, did you find it hard to find qualified employees?
Matt Rissell: With our first handful of employees, I was able to do my due diligence and handpick the very best team members. In the first few years, every single person we hired came from a referral from close and trusted friends. And a few had worked with Brandon or myself at previous jobs.
From there, I’ve relied heavily on word of mouth to find additional quality employees, and that has been the foundation for attracting and developing the best to this day. The challenge then, and even more so now, is holding out for the right team member—which means being patient. Because TSheets holds a strong reputation for company culture and a core group of talented individuals, we get a huge volume of interest and resumes. The trick is, we don’t just fill seats with warm bodies here—that’s not good for anyone. Our standards are high, which promotes a virtuous cycle of reputation and quality applications.
Your hiring philosophy is “Always Be Recruiting.” What does that mean?
Rissell: Always be recruiting means selling your company, and its mission, to potential employees just as hard and passionately as you sell your product to customers. It means conveying that sense of passion and commitment to every single employee, expanding your influence exponentially by rallying your whole team to recruit for you. It means creating a team that not only values but wants to proactively protect your culture of excellence by bringing like-minded people onboard. I’m a true believer in the adage “birds of a feather flock together.” And finally, it means that no matter where you go—restaurant, party, coffee shop, neighbor's house, church, etc.—always be looking for top talent to recruit.
I understand you have a zero recruiting budget? How can you attract qualified employees without spending any money?
Rissell: By creating an environment so compelling and a culture so strong that your staff becomes your walking billboard. We’ve consistently found that referrals from our rockstar team members turn out to be talented, quality additions to our team. Because our existing employees, of course, want the quality to stay top-notch as well.
You use social recruiting? Is that management or staff led?
Rissell: You should see our employees’ social channels explode when a new job posting goes live. Management keeps the full staff informed of new openings, and then our team takes it from there. I think it’s worth noting that none of this is required of staff. It’s definitely encouraged, but the buzz our employees create on their own with #coolerthanyourjob posts and talking earnestly online about how much they love their jobs and their coworkers is more effective than any mandatory recruiting ask made by management. People who see their enthusiasm want to be a part of the organization that inspires it.
How do you control the message that staff is sending out? Do you give them the details of the new job?
Rissell: We provide the basic details and make sure our staff is armed with knowledge about what roles we’re hiring for and how those new employees will contribute to the overall success of TSheets. We also make sure employees know what they can and can’t disclose about our company externally. I’m a true believer in the idea that if employees are told what to say and how to say it, their social posts and the way they communicate will show it. Everyone has a gauge of what’s authentic and what’s not. And when it’s not authentic, people know it. We want each team member to add their own flavor and personality to their messaging instead of sharing canned messages.
Do you incentivize your employees to recruit their friends?
Rissell: We don’t incentivize—we celebrate. At the end of the day it comes back to the true benefit of recruiting like-minded—not to mention brilliant, fun, creative and wildly talented—people together to do something great. We work hard together and we celebrate the wins together.
With a zero recruiting budget, I assume you don’t advertise.
Rissell: That’s right. We have never used headhunters. Roles that require a very specialized talent have been more challenging to fill, such as Data Scientist or Email Marketing Manager. For these jobs, we continue to reach out to our network of friends and work the referral route, but we have also started posting on some more specific job offering sites or look to do targeted social outreach. We do very minimal paid postings on social or career sites.
You say you often attract groups of people from other companies. Does this create conflict among Boise business owners?
Rissell: Our team makes every effort to work side by side with other area businesses, and we are always interested in collaborating in efforts to attract quality applicants to the Boise area. A rising tide raises all ships, after all. At times, when several people come to TSheets from one company, they get so excited about our culture that they unintentionally do some indirect recruiting with their friends. But it’s never our intention to hurt another company. I know how hard it is to be a business owner and how important it is to have good employees. To be completely transparent, some difficult conversations have transpired when it comes to hiring employees who come from some local companies, but my goal is always to maintain good partnerships with other area CEOs so we take the high road and figure out ways we can work together in attracting qualified talent to the area.
Do you offer competitive salaries? Are there unusual perks/benefits?
Rissell: The total package we offer is what draws people here. The factors you can’t attach to a dollar sign make the real difference. People who are drawn to our culture become passionate about what we’re doing in the world and turn into valued members of our team. We’re not here just to make a buck; we’re here to help others and make a difference in their lives—that sense of commitment helps everyone succeed. The perks end up being just that—perks. That’s not to say that we shirk our responsibilities to our employees. We offer full medical, dental, 401(k), etc., and our total comp package is easily in the top 5 percent. But in the end, those factors tend to be secondary with the type of individuals working at TSheets.
Having met you and some of your team, my guess is you have a lot of fun at TSheets. Is that a deliberate part of the company culture? Do you think that helps you attract staff?
Rissell: I’m a firm believer that you can have fun while you work your face off. Not only do I genuinely embody that belief, but I communicate it to my team, often. I make it a point to talk about the importance of working hard and playing hard. It creates a culture of excellence, with people who stay motivated, healthy and happy. When we ask people to work here, we’re asking for the best work of their lives. That means brilliant ideas, strategic thinking and hard work—right alongside pingpong and kegs in the break room and afternoon patio barbeques. That said, we never confuse having a fun culture with delivering excellence to our customers.
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