Intrro FM: Scaling Stories

Nicolas Bowles
Recruiter - Product & Design
Productboard

Scaling Product & Design Hiring at Productboard

Nicolas Bowles, is scaling Product & Design teams @ Productboard and is a mentor at Femme Palette ūüĆĪ

We talk about how recruiting is "project management" and how he's used that to help scale Productboard's headcount from 100 in 2020 to 300 today, how to provide a worldclass candidate experience, how to attract talent when the best are usually employed somewhere else, how leverage engineering + design communities and more!

Transcript

Nicolas

Yes, so when experimenting. Don't be afraid to make mistakes. We've all been there, we're gonna still make make mistakes sometimes some of our experiments they don't work, sometimes some people they don't like it.


Nasser  

Hello and welcome to our webinar series scaling stories our discussion with recruiters and talent leaders about their lessons building teams at some of the world's fastest growing companies. I'm excited to introduce Nicolas product and design recruiting at product board, Nicolas, a huge welcome and thank you for joining us. How are you doing this afternoon.


Nicolas 

Thank you. Happy to be here.


Nasser   

great. It's great to have you here. And I'd love to start with just a brief introduction about you and your company.


Nicolas   

Absolutely. So my name is Nicolas call me Nico, and I'm a recruiter, at product board in Product & Design, as you mentioned, so I've been here for almost two years. And first is talentscout then as recruiter at product board is the all in one product management platform that helps product companies get products to market faster. So we've been founded in 2014, and today we are. at around 300 people. So it's been quite, quite a journey so far.


Nasser  

Yes, it's incredible company and incredible scaling story so far. How did you join product board, is that you said around two years ago were you in talent before, or people focused roles, or indeed even startups.


Nicolas 

Yes, so the way I joined product board was actually pretty funny since I was not looking for my next opportunity at the time, but I was indeed in talent before I was working at an agency as a sourcer. This agency was more focused in shared service centers so this huge multinationals, with offices for example in Prague where I'm based, that, and I was looking most mostly for roles that were related to the shared service center, that means, accounting, HR, everything related to logistics support and so on. I really like the working with talent over there, but I think the main difference between agency work and in house was quite an impact was quite a difference actually, that's how I got in touch with an accountant, actually I was supposed to source her, and I got curious into our company as I look into her profile so kind of like the sourcer got sourced, I ended up joining productboard


Nasser  

Okay, that's, that's a, that's an amazing story. I'd love just to double click on your opinion on the major differences between agency and in house. What would you say, first of all is the lessons that you actually were taught, doing agency that you're using in house. Are there any.


Nicolas   

So yeah yeah definitely I'm actually pretty happy I started in an agency because I could see one side of the coin first in such an agency we have very structured processes towards how are we are looking for these people, for the talent, how are we interviewing them, how are we sending them to the clients. So it's a very methodical approach and maybe even at some points, sales related where we would do also business development with the clients and also try to approach the talent game from a numbers perspective is, if I do this many calls I will get this many interviews, which will end up in these many hires, as opposed to the company where we, the most important thing is to actually get the best talent for our company. The main thing that was a real game changer for me is that in an agency after you hire someone, you would see a fee after three months, and that will be a commission. But in product board, you would actually see a person being successful at Productboard, and continuing to be successful. A month after month, and that's just really something that I was lacking in an agency type environment.


Nasser  

Yeah, to actually see the genuine results rather than just a monetary incentive.


Nicolas   

Yes, to see them, because you know when when you offer a job to someone, you are really changing their lives. So actually seeing that happen, seeing them being happy and being successful, and having such an impact in the company. That's one of the main reasons I, I, I still am in this job.


Nasser  

Yeah, and it must also be really helpful that you're working for such an awesome company, so when people join, and grow and scale over time. It's, it's something which they can, they can really thank you for as well.


Nicolas   

Yes, yes, and also in the first call when I am trying to, well, when I'm interviewing people, and they are asking me about the company I can actually share some genuine excitement, coming, coming from, from me, and sharing my own experience in the company.


Nasser  

Yeah. And just to, to discuss you and your role within the capacity of talent acquisition recruiting. How do you think the recruiting team helps Productboard achieve its mission and vision.


Nicolas   

Yes, so the company's mission is to make work that matters to help companies across the globe, make excellent products. But how can we actually do that without people right so people are the fuel of the company, a without people there's nothing. So we actually made our own kind of mission. inside the people ops team or a production matter but people matter more. And so we want to empower everyone at the company to do their best work, and at the same time live their best lives. So, in the people team and more specifically in the Talent Team, we try to look for the best talent to keep doing the best that we do, and it's making a product that that matters.


Nasser  

Yes, that sounds like a catchy phrase, and something that is inherently true, what would you say the team's biggest achievements are and what your biggest achievements are and how did you do it.


Nicolas   

The team's biggest achievement. Yes, so I am really proud like to say that what since I joined in February 2020 We've seen massive growth, we basically doubled the whole team from 100 to 200, a back in 2020, and this year we are aiming at doing the same thing and finishing the year with over four hundred people, we are at about 300 and something. As of today, so we have massive plans for this Q4 that's coming. How do we do it actually. We have an interesting structure where we have coordinators, recruiters and sourcers all working together across different departments to try to better support the different departments and the hiring managers within every department.


Nasser   

Yeah, and I know that when we first started talking, you're involved in mainly top of funnel sourcing, and now you're responsible for more of the recruiting side, I'd love to learn a little bit more about that structure, with regards to coordinators sources and recruiters, how are the responsibilities split. And how are tasks identified etc.


Nicolas   

Absolutely. So, a recruiter is kind of like a project manager I like to call in this type of cooperation, where the recruiter is in both in the end to end, from sometimes from even sourcing, up until giving the offer. I think that some of the main jobs of recruiter at Productboard, would be to really partner and guide the hiring managers across the whole hiring process from designing the hiring process sometimes from scratch, building job descriptions, making hiring plans and hiring strategies as well, where the coordinator comes in, is with all the logistics. So we want to give candidates, a really great candidate experience, where even if they don't get hired, they end up receiving value from our, from, from our interview process. And if they get hired, of course, we, we hope that the whole hiring process influence into the decision. So the coordinator is taking care of the whole scheduling for the interviews, together with the hiring managers and the main communication via email or via LinkedIn, with the candidates as well. Then when the sorcerer comes in or as we call it talent scout is at the top of the funnel, some of the roles that we have are pretty difficult to find in such a competitive market that we're living today in at least a first like that here in Prague and in Europe. And so we want to bring the best talent and sometimes the best talent is being employed somewhere else at the moment. So, the talent scout is, essentially, reaching out to these passive talent and bringing them into the, into the hiring funnel so that we can actually get them to talk to us.


Nasser  

And from your experience doing that, what would you perhaps advise some of our listeners on the most effective tactics, strategies to, to actually do that.




Nicolas   

Yes, so we tried to do as much experimentation as possible over here. There are so many recruiters right now that you can very easily identify a template out there with zero personalization that's very common. I would say, we all have those in our inbox. So what we try to do is really think outside the box. For instance, one thing that we tried last year we got inspired by loom, actually, that we were shooting some personalized videos for our candidates. I was sharing my screen, on loom, talking about them and their LinkedIn profile and how they would be a great fit for our job so these got a very good reply rate of over 50%, and it actually got some good attention from them even if they would not be interested. They were really happy with the messaging and also with keeping in touch for the future which is also really important.


Nasser  

Yeah. And yeah, that's appreciated that you're taking the time that you've learned a little bit more about them and why you think that they are potentially suitable for a role and I think that leaves a warm feeling with people even if you're not interested now. It's about taking the time to actually go and do it and that's often the balance between being in recruiting and not having the time versus the understanding that it is worthwhile to, in some instances, take the time to, to actually go and try and bring someone to the process.


Nicolas 

Absolutely.


Nasser  

What would you say the biggest lessons were in terms of your experience in the top of funnel talent scout, sourcing.


Nicolas   

Yes, so when experimenting. Don't be afraid to make mistakes. We've all been there, we're gonna still make make mistakes sometimes some of our experiments they don't work, sometimes some people they don't like it. For example, when I was sending those videos. One person was kind of creeped out that I was shooting a video to their LinkedIn and, and this person didn't like it at all but there's always going to be someone that's perhaps not gonna like what you're doing. So don't be afraid to experiment a once you try something new. A test that do some A B testing and test if this worked or not and if it didn't work, try something else. Really it's that test and error thing. And so, it's there's no such thing as mistake, that would give there forever.


Nasser  

Yeah, understood in terms of your time just transition now into recruiting and you've, you've actually coined, Project Manager, which I find fascinating, why do you why do you describe it as a project manager and what are the responsibilities that explain the reason for that definition.


Nicolas  

Yes, so how I kind of came into this definition for recruiter is that so many things that this person is doing kind of staying on top. Each new candidate is kind of like a new project we have to make sure this person makes it through the stages that this person, also, is taking care of that we are getting back to a candidate after one or two days after their interview we want to stay in touch with them, be transparent and how the process is going to work, and so that they know what is happening, and they can expect, what is happening. So for example, during the beginning of every hiring process, we send a detailed instruction of how, what to expect from our hiring process. And so that's where the record comes in and makes this comes through with the help of a coordinator of course between other things usually our recruiter is also working in different things, as for example hiring strategy, trying some new experimentation and some other kinds of projects on this side.


Nasser  

Okay. And are there any perhaps BS advice that you've heard in your journey from talent scouts saucer to recruiter that perhaps you'd like to share that you think you do not feel and do not adhere to.


Nicolas   

Well, perhaps, back in my agency days. I really was against these numbers game where, whereas if you approach 100 people, you would at least get two people getting talked to you. While this might be true but you might be also breaking 98 connections right. I remember we didn't have such a good database so sometimes from these 100 people maybe 50 would be completely irrelevant and we will be essentially spamming them with something completely irrelevant to them, and I think we all know how annoying and how this can actually break a relationship between a company, and a candidate.


Nasser

Yeah. And just going back into what you mentioned with regards to the company doubling in size since you joined. What would you say the biggest lessons, perhaps challenges during this experience, and such rapid growth that that comes top of mind.


Nicolas   

Yes, so with this type of growth. During a lot of our time we were actually churning fires like hitting priority one after another one. And for a while, we didn't have time to look at our processes, And so I think that what I would definitely recommend the team that's going through the same would be to focus on building strong fundamentals, a strong base, but not to really try to make it perfect, I would say build some strong base, where you can still have the flexibility to see what works and what doesn't and evolve as the company keeps evolving as well. We would have some processes that would work for us, when we were 100 people, and we were maybe a five people. Talent Team, and they probably wouldn't work today that we are a talent team of 20 people and a company of 300 people.


Nasser 

Yeah. How do you balance that with the identification and prioritization of tasks. What's your mental model or process to make sure that what you're doing is addressing the most important problems.


Nicolas   

So on the side. More on the leadership side, we have to make sure that we're actually aligned with the business goals. We cannot be prioritizing things that are not in line with the business goals because essentially what every person in this company wants you or every person's mission is to make the company successful right we that's what we all want over here. And so, once we make some goals we try to see if these are in line with the business goals. For example, if the business main goal is to scale, as fast as possible. We have to make hiring the priority number one on the other side if the company. The company's priority is more towards inclusion and diversity then we got to make sure that our team. Our team's goals are aligned with this vision, making sure that we have a hiring process that supports this diversity and inclusion projects as well.


Nasser  

Yeah, great. And are there any measures that you have taken that you mentioned candidate experience earlier, and I'd love to learn. What is it that you do perhaps to provide an enhancement, a great feeling about product board and speaking with the talent team there, are there any particular things that come to mind.


Nicolas   

Absolutely. So one of the main things. When you speak about friendly dissatisfaction is the timing so we try to make the process as fast and bring as much value as possible. So, how would you, we actually measured how much value we delivered to a candidate that's very subjective so we ask them, we send after every interview process finish. So, whether they are hired, or not, we do send our candidate satisfaction survey where they are able to rate a how prepared they thought the hiring process work, how relevant it was, according to them, what would they change or what would be, what was particularly good. And so we are checking this on a regular basis for example every quarter we're looking at the feedback that we received, and trying to see if there are some bottlenecks something that we can change to address this.


Nasser 

Okay. So, especially speed is such an important criteria for not just the good experience but I think overall efficiency and hiring, particularly in this market. Are there SLA’s that you have a service level agreements with other types of communication, and are they any internal perhaps just from you personally or from the company, an organization with regards to, I've received an email from a candidate, and responding back within 24 hours, let's say,


Nicolas 

okay, so we don't have something like this set up yet. At the moment, we try to get back to candidate, as soon as possible so our recruiters are actually a almost daily checking the new applications coming in and once a candidate is in the process, then there is already the coordinator who is really voicing the candidate, along the process and saying hey, we've been, it's been two days and we haven't given feedback to this person. And so, coordinators are kind of advocating as well for for the candidate experience.


Nasser  

Okay. And as we know, talent, and people are a function that strategically important for any business, it's sometimes not prioritized or invested enough. I'd be keen to understand. Have you found any effective ways to establish a strategic partnership with the business, particularly hiring managers, and making sure that you can both work in, in harmony to deliver the objectives of the company.


Nicolas   

Yes, absolutely. So, a hiring manager for for instance, a hiring manager in product over here, they don't have such an overview into how hiring hiring works. They don't have the overview of how the talent works over there the talent acquisition works overall. So, usually they will have a limited view and it's actually the recruiters job to make sure that they do have this overview to make sure they understand why something is working the way it works, and why probably, we're not getting enough applications, or how can we actually make it better. When it comes to successful or getting support and getting buy in from the hiring managers or even leadership in this case data is king. If you want to say something, or should suggest a change. There's nothing better. Like proving your point with data. We have, for example, different ATS different sourcing tools that allow us to actually gather this data, and we can place we play with it so we can proof of points. So for example, if we're trying to make a six step process into five, we can look at the feedback that we have from candidates, we can look at how the average hiring time would decrease, and how the candidate satisfaction would then get get better.


Nasser   

Yeah. Yep. Makes sense. There's often a fear factor attributable to scale, specifically from leadership that culture can be lost. What do you think about that and if you agree, how do you keep culture. And what makes you special as a company, are there any particular areas initiatives or measures to look at.


Nicolas 

Yes. So from my perspective, there is no such thing as keeping the exact same culture in a company that has 20 people, and a company that has 300 people. I don't think it's the right approach to see how to keep the culture, but rather than not I would definitely recommend people to fear, how culture is evolving because it's, it's, this is the best way how a company can progress. It's the cultural world perhaps not be lost but it will evolve, and it is the company's leadership decision or how they can have the best impact is into how to steer, where this culture is actually evolving.


Nasser   

Yeah, very insightful. Thank you for that. What's the most effective way. And this is kind of a tactical question that you like to keep in touch with talent in the market, perhaps those that are very well skilled currently employed, they're not necessarily looking for a job, certainly not actively on the market applying for jobs. What is it that you do in terms of making sure that those relationships are maintained developed over time.


Nicolas  

Yes, I will say that something that would definitely make a difference over here is how we build the community around us. So for example, inside our talent team, we also have one colleague who's dedicated to the whole employer branding and marketing within the Talent Team. He's also a community manager and building communities around product boards and as well around each of our departments that we are hiring for. So for example, we have podcasts and we have a community and events that are related to engineering, we have the same for design and the same for product. So once we engage with someone. That would be a great fit, but perhaps it's just not the right time, we can always give them closed by inviting them to the events that were created by inviting them to actually talk to our own, perhaps, for example, designers, if they are designers, engineers, if they're engineers to share more about how we do things here and just keep ourselves in the top of the list, if they will consider a change.


Nasser 

Yeah. And coming up into. We are now in Q4 I mean I can't believe that we're already at the end of the year already. What is the road ahead look for, for, for product board.


Nicolas  

Yes. So as mentioned earlier we are, we want to close the year with actually a bit over 450 people, that's the goal for for the talent team at the moment we are a bit over 300 So, there is a lot to hide so we have some really aggressive targets. And I will say that we definitely have a lot to play with during this portrait in the Talent team, we've actually prepared for this by scaling the team we scaled the people team from January until now, I would say we double at least a European team. And so we were preparing already for this growth, and with the team that being also more a bigger team with more specialization among the departments and more talents, inside the team, we are ready to kind of look into the future and address or achieve these aggressive goals rfor the year.


Nasser  

Okay, great stuff. Moving on into closing questions. What would you say is one challenge when it comes to scaling teams that if you had a magic wand, you'd love to be able to fix or make disappear.


Nicolas  

Yes, so I think that more and more founders and smaller companies are understanding the power of people and operations in a company, early on, Before I remember it was still pretty recent. A companies would try to build already a company of 30-40-50 people, and then think about hiring operations. I would say something that I would fix there is for founders to understand the importance of it and including a person very early on that could, the earlier the better creates more a stronger foundation for how the company can scale, and how it can grow because people operations, it's not only hiring but they can also serve as some foundations for how to grow the people within the company, and so on.


Nasser  

Yeah, I couldn't agree more. We are team of 10 people now, and we've recently made a people operation tire.


Nicolas   

Oh, that's amazing. You see that that's a great size for for getting a people operations person.


Nasser  

Yeah, we want to make sure that internally, the team members are happy. And of course, productive, but also looking forward to build the right foundation for for processes. So, yeah, I completely aligned with the, with your thinking there. Is there anything that you listen to read or watch for inspiration that you'd like to share with our audience?


Nicolas   

Yes, so I tried to be as active as possible, and the community, particularly in the Czech Republic, there are many events like disruptHR community builders meetups, and etc etc that I try to attend regularly. I remember I was also wanted to attend some, some of these big events for recruiting, but then the pandemics came and those plans kind of got ruined. Then I enjoy also reading some content from companies like gem, I think they are releasing some really great content, there's also the company lattice, producing some great content for recruiters and people operations in general. And finally, I'm also part of some virtual communities like for example, there's one for people, people, and there's one for houseful dragon recruiter something like this. And finally, some mentorship platform called sample it.


Nasser  

Okay. Do you mean the DVR community,


Nicolas   

yes DVR.


Nasser  

Yeah. Hey, great. Are there any thoughts, perhaps or one thought or value or phrase that you live by?


Nicolas   

Yes. So, there is one thing that I actually heard pretty recently that really bounced in my head a bit. A couple of times, it was during a dinner that we were having with our design team, and one of our designers told one of the interns, they never underestimate the power of connections. And I think that was a really great advice. And it can be applied in so many ways, as a company, you can rely on connections for so many things, as an individual, as well. You should never underestimate the power of having strong connections with with the community.


Nasser  

Right. Well that's a great ending phrase for this webinar. And thank you for your time.


Nicolas   

Thank you Nasser every time, anytime.





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