As a purpose-driven, people-centered management consulting firm based in the heart of Silicon Valley, Future State’s success relies on attracting and retaining the best and brightest talent in the Bay Area. Today more than ever, that means creating a culture where people are driven by purpose and passionate about the work they do every day. Building teams like that isn’t necessarily easy, but with the right structure—one that considers the candidate before the process—the recruiting process can become an extension of a company’s brand and identity. In this Q&A, Future State Chief Solutions Officer Leila Lance and Recruiting and Talent Manager Will French share their philosophies and techniques for building rock star teams in one of the most competitive job markets on the planet.
Why is recruiting more important today than ever?
Leila Lance: Right now, every company in the Bay Area says it’s experiencing a talent problem, yet there is so much talent here. The real problem is that everybody is just plugging in a generic recruiting process and not truly engaging. People are doing the same thing over and over and hoping for a better result. We have some of the best business schools in the world here. The millennials all live here. And these people want their work to matter—it’s not just about a big paycheck. And what do most companies do with these motivated people? They say, “Hey, upload your resume into our antiquated HR recruiting system.” It’s a painful process, and they almost never hear back from anybody. That’s how you’re recruiting the most talented people in the world? We believe in selling our brand and our identity in an authentic way. The people we hope to recruit are smart and savvy. They can see through the nonsense easily, and they have choices.
Will French: It’s not a talent problem, it’s a hiring problem.
Why does Future State use a more streamlined recruiting process?
LL: As a professional services firm, one of our biggest marketing efforts is our recruiting process. Last year we saw 7,000 resumes, conducted 400 interviews and had 325K impressions on LinkedIn—and we’re not a giant company. The consultants we talk to have a huge network of clients and other consultants. People tend to work in industries and then go into consulting, back and forth, so in six months the person you talk to in an interview could be a client. Making the recruiting process an extension of our brand is incredibly important. We’re a people-centered consulting firm; that’s how we market ourselves and it’s how we work with our clients. So we can’t have a recruiting process that sends people to some complex automated system where they never hear back. Most recruiting processes are kind of the opposite of people-centered. They’re put in place to limit human contact. We like to go the opposite way.
We believe our recruits are just as important as our current employees or our most precious clients—and we treat them that way. Our goals are pretty simple: to be nice, to consider the other person’s perspective in the process, to treat them like adults. Yet somehow this feels radically different in the recruitment process. We’ve made the process simple and quick. We communicate back to every person who applies so they know where they stand. We give them full transparency. We share what’s great about working here, and what’s challenging. We talk about money first because we know what we can pay. We treat our recruits as business partners—because we are an ESOP, so they are our business partners when they join us. We don’t try to sell them, we give them all the information so they can make the best choice. Every interview gets time with a C-level person. We’re interviewing Stanford and Harvard graduates with 20 years of experience. They don’t want to interview with an assistant. They want to talk to the person who is out there doing the work.
How is your interview process different?
LL: We don’t look at the interview process as a pass-fail. We give feedback during interviews, right then and there. We often grow together. Future State was recruiting me for six years before I joined. We create community and we nurture recruits. Even recruits we haven’t hired become part of our community. We send them quarterly emails letting them know what we’re up to, and ask what they’ve been up to because we genuinely care. If we know of a training class or we have a discount, we pass that on. If we’re having events, we invite them so they can network with our team and other recruits. If another firm calls us, we refer on. We try to take care of that community. It’s not “now or never.”
WF: Even in our rejection messaging, it’s not a “no forever.” We say, “We think you’re great in what you do, but it’s not that perfect fit for what we do, or for what we have in flight right now. If you think we’ve missed the mark, please check out some of our case studies/materials and feel free to re-tailor your resume to highlight what you can bring to our world.” That’s what they hear, even at rejection. In fact, three consultants working for us right now received that exact messaging. They did come back, and they’ve each been with us for over a year now.
LL: We also welcome members of our community to leave and come back, and we think that’s great. We’ve created a safe place for a boomerang culture. Go try something new. Take a sabbatical. And then come back with those new skills or new passions.
How does your recruiting process enable better team-building?
LL: In so many organizations, the recruiting process has become so generic, so dehumanizing, that we have to kind of wake up recruits, as well. They’ve often gone through so many elaborate processes, they’re also just going through the motions. So the interviewer is never seeing the best in people because no one is taking recruiting seriously. We want that full person here, and sometimes we have to challenge them to show that. It often becomes self-selecting.
WF: That’s an interesting point, Leila. The people who are “our people” want to go that extra step. They’re interested in Future State as a whole, not just as another job. We have a pretty tight process and we’re in communication the whole time. Recruits get some high-level information via a live Info Session & Q+A, then a survey where they can provide more information about who they are and why they are a fit. Then they go straight to Leila. It’s pretty rare when your first interview is with a C-level employee. Some companies seem to take pride in making recruiting arduous. It’s like a badge of honor to make the recruiting process painful.
LL: We want them to have a high level of success. Why would we not? It’s not a trick.
What’s the benefit of investing so much time into recruiting?
LL: We know how valuable our people are. At Future State, recruiting reports to sales. It’s not an HR function. As a consulting firm, we generate revenue directly from having amazing people. Getting the right person is a competitive advantage—I consider each successful hire a $500K asset. I never look at people as if they’re lucky to work for us. It’s more like, wow, we’re lucky to work together. It’s almost an acquisition partnership decision: If I put you out in the world, will you represent my brand right? Will you bring me work and will I bring work to you?
WF: As Leila said, we maintain the focus on the person and building a partnership. It’s not what can you do for me, but what can we do for each other. You could be anywhere, but you chose Future State, so we’re in this together. And that’s always reflected in their work with clients.
How does a people-first recruiting process attract the world’s best talent?
LL: Sometimes I’ll say, “Do these things and resubmit your resume.” The people who are going to go that extra mile and invest in us and invest in themselves, they’re “our people”. And our process produces that. Women and people of color especially tend to undersell themselves. Many haven’t ever been invited to the table before, and they’re not used to being valued. Sometimes I have to tell recruits, “Tell me who you really are. You have more to offer than you’re letting the world know.” People aren’t used to being asked that. For so many recruiters, the only job is to hit a number. We want people to find their purpose and show up that way, because that’s how we show up to clients. We want them to bring their passion, be the best they can be, and see the possibility that they can be even better.
WF: What Leila just said defines an analogy she always uses, “I know you’ve got a Ferrari engine inside, but you’re showing up like a Corolla. Show us the Ferrari in you.” People always seem to appreciate hearing that.
LL: If we don’t show up being different and bringing those passionate people, then we’re just another consulting firm. If we can’t show up with people who have benefitted from the experience that we see the possibility in them, how do they show up and see the possibilities in their clients? You’ve got to experience that level of expectation on a team before you can do it with a client. We’ll say, “We don’t think you’re telling your story or living your brand. Say it louder and stronger. Tell me why you’re a badass. Wear it. Be out there.” We attract some of the most high-end talent in the world. We want the brilliant consultants from the boutique firms, we want the Stanford MBAs. And we’re not in the highest-paying bracket. They join us for other reasons. For us to be competitive we have to create a space where they can be their best, fulfill their own dreams. Most people sitting across from me could go work anywhere. They want someone to see them. They want work that matters. In one of the most competitive job markets in the world, they keep calling us and saying, “How can I get in?”
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