We wanted to share some of the things we’re doing at Gem to close candidates in a virtual world of Zoom fatigue, in which culture is more difficult to observe (no matter how strong it is), and offers are no longer made in person.
For as long as outbound sourcing and passive candidate outreach has been a strategy in recruiting, creative closing has presented a delicate and exciting series of questions about how to convince someone who’s already employed—or who’s sitting with any number of competing offers—to join your team. At Gem, our remarkable team culture often made closing easy when we were in an office and candidates got “the full experience” of Gem: where they’d sit and near whom, the liveliness and vitality their team emanated when everyone was in a room together, what conversations with cross-functional team members felt like, how we arranged our physical office space for belonging and inclusion—even things like how much light our office got at certain hours of the day.
A lot was turned upside down last year; and for those of us concerned with talent acquisition at Gem (which is all of us!), we’ve gotten to think deeply about how to close candidates creatively in this current environment. Recruiters don’t tend to share tips and best practices around closing candidates—perhaps for obvious reasons. But our experience is that candidates will choose the company that’s right for them regardless; so we wanted to share some of the things we’re doing at Gem to close candidates in a virtual world of ongoing Zoom fatigue, in which culture is necessarily more difficult to observe (no matter how strong it is), and offers are no longer made in person. We’re more-than-doubling our headcount at Gem this year, so we’ve had a lot of time to experiment. Here’s what we’ve implemented so far—and huge thanks to our tech recruiter Nathalie Grandy for her behind-the-scenes stories here!
(If there’s a TL;DR for this post, it’s simply this: get to know your candidates as people, and put together an offer that takes their unique personhood into account. There’s no better way of making someone feel wanted in your organization than by letting them know that everything they’ve told you about themselves has been heard, and that your team celebrates who they are both in and outside of work by reflecting them back to themselves in the offer.)
We use our own product to send-on-behalf-of (SOBO) our CEO
In the vein of “always be closing,” SOBO has become a best practice for us early on in the hiring process. Of course, Steve Bartel, our Co-founder and CEO, will often make the congratulatory phone call as well. There’s little that’s more convincing than a personalized one-on-one call with a respected C-level. It underscores how important that candidate is to both the role and the future of our team; and it makes it easier for candidates to believe that, if they accept, they’ll have Steve’s—and therefore leadership’s—full support in their work.
But we like to bring Steve in earlier in the process now; so we use SOBO to send an email as Steve the day before a candidate is set to interview. Steve lets them know how excited he is about their upcoming onsite and wishes them luck and ease in those conversations. Our recruiting team drafts the email out of a template and sends it on to Steve, who takes the time to tweak it to personalize it for himself. And if the candidate responds, that response goes directly to Steve. Sometimes there’s an entire dialogue unfolds between them the day before the onsite. This has been a practice that’s been great for everyone: Steve is thrilled to have a touchpoint; it’s minimal effort on the recruiting side; and candidates are responding so positively to feeling valued not only by their respective functions, but by their prospective CEO.
We support them if they’re interviewing elsewhere
This falls under the “treating candidates like people” category. We’re over a year into COVID now, and talent is no less stressed—and they’re certainly no less stressed about making a career transition in the midst of a pandemic. All of it has taken an enormous toll on people’s mental health. It’s important to remember that our candidates are our allies, not our antagonists—even when they’re simultaneously interviewing with other organizations. We want to acknowledge that they’re in the midst of making a big decision, and we want to celebrate that with them. It takes a degree of vulnerability on our part, but it’s worth it.
We’ve had instances in which candidates are interviewing at other companies. And if we know when the interview is taking place, we’ll send them a good luck gift. Nathalie just had a candidate that had an interview elsewhere last week, and she sent them coffee and breakfast over Uber Eats—just to say “we’re thinking of you; good luck today.” “It sounds counterintuitive because I’m wishing them luck in an interview with a competitor,” she says; “but I want them to know that their desire for happy, fulfilling work is heard. A lot of food delivery companies now have a “send a gift” feature; so I’ll just notify the candidate that something is coming: ‘Hey, there’s a little something that the team wanted to send you this morning. Keep an eye on the front door.’ It’s $20 on our end, and it leaves candidates with a terrific impression of Gem as they jump online for their other interviews.”
We personalize the offer letter
“Personalizing the offer” has looked many different ways for us at Gem, depending on the candidate, the interests they’ve expressed, and the concerns they’ve voiced about the role while in process. For example, we recently had a junior candidate who loves Harry Potter. So their offer letter took the form of a “welcome letter to Hogwarts.”
Of course, that was more of a formal surprise. But in our offer letters we also acknowledge the candidate’s situation, tailoring the details of the offer to where they are, uniquely. One of our returning interns lives in Sunnyvale. He loves Gem and was ready to sign, but he had a lingering concern about what his commute will be like when Gem returns to our (new) office. He had an offer on the table from a much larger company that was going to mean a much shorter commute; and he was understandably drawn to the offer that would give him work-life balance. So part of our offer was that he can use his commuting time on the train as part of his working hours: he can leave the office at 3:00 or 4:00 and work on the train on the way home—and he’ll have that work-life balance we all deserve.
We make congratulatory videos
Our team has a PowerPoint presentation we send to candidates that includes photos of our Gems and gives some insight into our culture. Candidates love this; but since it’s an “introduction to the team” that we send out to everyone, it doesn’t have that personal touch. So one thing we’ve begun doing is making personalized, congratulatory video montages for candidates when their offers go out. We use Tribute, which allows us to collaborate on the videos virtually: everyone on the team can upload their segment and the recruiting team edits it, adds music, and more. Again, we personalize these as much as we can. For example, we’ve had a couple of candidates who’ve said that they love that we had a dog-friendly office and they’re excited to be surrounded by pups when we return. For those candidates, we’ve made sure to include our Gem dogs in the congratulatory videos. We had another candidate who’s a songwriter—she mentioned during her interviews that that’s her passion—so the team created a song that they sang for her along with her offer. One of our engineering candidates mentioned something about poetry and rhyme during an interview, so our Head of Engineering and Engineering Manager wrote a poem about Gem that went into their offer video.
All of these things don’t only capture candidates’ attentions; they also let them know we’ve been paying very close attention to them as talent and as people. Because we’re hiring so much right now, we’ve created a Slack channel called “eng selling” that focuses on late-stage candidates and how we’re going to start to prep for that sell. As Nathalie describes it, “when our Gems pick up important pieces of personal information in conversation with candidates, those sound bytes go there, in one centralized place. And then we, collectively, have a better idea of what personalized offering we can extend when the offer goes out.”
We send out personalized gifts
Even in our virtual world we’re still sending out Gem swag. “If I know there’s an offer that’s about to be extended,” Nathalie says, “I’ll send the package out a couple days beforehand. Otherwise we risk it not getting there in time, which we especially don’t want if candidates have competing offers. But—just like the PowerPoint presentation—there’s something generic about swag, as nice as it is to have.”
So we include gifts particular to the candidate in the package as well. For example, we knew that one of last year’s eng candidates really wants to become a founder again one day. So we included books about how to be an engineering leader with his swag—along with a bunch of boba tea, because that’s his favorite drink. We’ve sent additional Gem shirts for candidates’ dogs, and treats and toys for candidates’ cats. We’ve sent orchids to candidates who’ve recently relocated. Anything and everything is deliverable now, and we take advantage of that fact. It lets candidates know that, if they accept the offer that’s just been delivered to them, they’re not just joining a team… they’re joining Gem’s family.
We have virtual celebration dinners with the team
Nathalie says that she’s found this one is especially fun for biz teams, who are particularly sociable. We’ll send successful candidates a $75 or $100 gift card so they can order in a dinner of their choice. Then the entire team jumps on Zoom for a virtual dinner so they can celebrate the offer together and interact in a less formal, more relaxed setting. It’s a time for the candidate to get to know future team members whom they didn’t have the opportunity to meet during virtual interviews; and it gives them the opportunity to experience, in real-time, how cohesive the team is. Are there lingering questions they want to ask? They can ask them here, and get authentic answers about the day-to-day and the inner workings of the team. Sometimes we’ll send a bottle of champagne (or a non-alcoholic option) so everyone can toast together. As always, this is completely candidate-dependent. Virtual celebration dinners let us keep wooing the candidate even after the offer letter has been sent out. If the deal hasn’t already been sealed, it’s often sealed here.
We keep experimenting
Of course, there’s still so much to discover about candidate experience and our own best practices for closing in this “post”-pandemic world. For example, we let go of our office last year and, because of the growth we anticipate in the coming years, we’re currently looking for a much bigger office space. As vaccinations are rolled out and some Gems will feel comfortable coming in to work as the year progresses, we’ve considered walk-through videos that give candidates a glimpse of what their work environment will eventually look like. Some candidates are craving being back in an office; they miss the camaraderie that comes with physical proximity, with physical presence. What a great and hopeful thing to offer them.
We also send out candidate experience surveys regularly throughout the hiring process and are constantly reiterating on the feedback we receive. We’re excited to see how our closing process shifts and changes as we learn more about both our candidates and what’s possible when it comes to creative closing in this new world.
If, from a prospective candidate perspective, this sounds like a process you’d like to experience—and Gem sounds like a team you want to join—we’ve got a lot of open headcount right now, and we’d love to have a conversation with you.