Executive Feature

The One Characteristic Squarespace Looks for in Candidates Is…

When Lorraine Buhannic joined Squarespace as Director of Talent Acquisition & Development, in October 2017, the staff numbered about 550.  Four months later the company employs 775 people, and it shows no signs of slowing growth.

Squarespace is in a pivotal high-growth phase, which can be as terrifying as it is exciting: How does a company maintain its innovative spirit and strong culture even as it ramps up hiring to accommodate future growth? Here, Buhannic shares what she looks for Squarespace hires. It boils down to potential.

Buhannic is a “huge believer” in hiring for potential. “It probably has something to do with the fact that I grew up as a campus recruiter, but I feel so passionately about this,” she says. “I know it’s tempting to hire for skills only: ‘If they haven’t led a team, if they haven’t worked with X technology, I don’t even want to talk to them.’” In Buhannic’s experience, some of the best hires of her career didn’t have the background on paper and ended up having great success.

But hiring for intangibles can be difficult – by definition, they’re not expressly found on a resume. So Buhannic follows a four-part process:

Part 1: At the beginning of the search, “find the bullseye – define what that perfect candidate looks like on paper. That’s the easy part.”

Part 2: But next, you have to determine what’s truly a must-have, and which qualities or experiences are a nice-to-have. “Even if at first you think four aspects are must-haves, when you really drill down you might find it’s really only two that are truly required.”

Part 3: Scan resumes for signs of high engagement. “On my last team, at [advertising tech company] AppNexus, we hired a lot of people who had never done recruiting before,” Buhannic says. “So in that case, we looked for signs of leadership, giving back to the community, moving up in their positions, showing a dedication to something they care about —  above the average person’s level.”

Part 4: Look for passion during the interview. Hiring for potential requires more work, and that’s especially true when it comes time to conduct the interview, Buhannic says. “The extra effort is worth it: I’d prefer to hire the person who will be perfect for the job in six months and stick with it, rather than someone who’ll be ready to hit the ground running month one but will be bored a few months later.”

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The One Question She Asks Every Job Candidate

Buhannic seeks that passion in part by asking interviewees to walk through their schooling and career arc – paying close attention to how they made each decision. “Choosing what you do after high school is the first real decision you make as an adult,” Buhannic says. “So much in that experience that shows your point of view and what drives you.”

She asks the candidate to walk her through the rest of their career decisions, too, looking for strong motivation, a pattern of always striving for more, and an ability to reflect intelligently.

“Do this well, and clear themes emerge about people’s natural tendencies, which will show you who’s a good fit,” Buhannic says. “And the benefit is dual: I learn things about people who could potentially join my team that will help me be a better manager.”

5 Tips for Successful Leadership Through Change

1. Codify communication channels — both internal and external.

“It’s a huge challenge to maintain that strong connective tissue as you go from a handful of employees to hundreds,” Buhannic says. “At a certain size, you start to need concrete processes in place to communicate changes and retain culture – so both staffers and potential applicants in the marketplace understand the goals and the workplace.”

2. Don’t be afraid to make organizational changes where needed.

Many companies may need to start by “getting their story told” in the marketplace to draw in job candidates, Buhannic says. But Squarespace had the opposite conundrum: With three times as many applicants as the industry standard, it was challenging for Buhannic and team to parse all of the resumes they received. So she spearheaded a new recruiting structure, adding a layer of associate-level staffers who tag the best candidates so senior recruiters can focus on hiring thoughtfully.

nyc hq (3)3. Keep diversity and inclusion top of mind.

“When you’re hiring quickly, it’s easy to focus on volume,” Buhannic says. “Squarespace is rare in that it’s a culture that’s deeply thoughtful about diversity, but I find many companies don’t really implement this thinking until they’ve hit about 1,000 employees and then it’s kind of hard to retrofit. Inclusion needs to be a constant, not static: You need to always be aware of where the progress is, and which spots have room to grow.”

4. Create engaging learning and development tools.

Squarespace itself is in “a state of rapid expansion” in this area, Buhannic says, with plans to roll out a new high-impact onboarding program very soon. The company is also focused on creating more opportunities to empower managers by helping them develop long-term career plans – 

5. Recognize that “what got us here won’t get us there,” as Buhannic puts it. At the hypergrowth stage, it’s important to appreciate the core company values that led to success. But some processes may need to be thrown out or changed in favor of future growth. “Those changes will be different for every company, and at Squarespace, frankly, I think we’re still figuring it out,” Buhannic says. “That conversation needs to be ongoing.” Squarespace is taking steps including working to codify its value proposition as an employer, surveying both staffers and management to identify “those core tenets that make us work well – so we can communicate that to applicants and also ensure that the culture is being maintained throughout the organization,” Buhannic says.

 

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