What I know about hiring: Claudia Gross

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This is the first of two articles on recruitment and HR. The first is on the theoretical side of getting people into your business and retaining them, and the second is a look at a startup putting these ideas into practice.

We’re fans of First Round Review here at Wamda, but sometimes we wonder how useful their tips are for MENA entrepreneurs - particularly the more unusual hiring ones.

So we asked Dr Claudia Gross to put into a local context the best practices for getting that person through the door (whether you’ve poached them or they’ve come to you).

Dr Claudi Gross, (Image via Smile Awy)

Gross, a German, has lived and worked in Cairo since 2005 as an organizational consultant and management trainer, helping NGOs and public and private companies across MENA sort through their administrative and HR issues.

Having a foot in both the Western and Eastern worlds, she’s been able to see some odd contrasts between the two. One concerns money: “In Germany I know people who are married where their partner does not know their salary, because they have separate bank accounts and one family account. But here, compensation… is not a private thing.”

While some of the more cutting edge Silicon Valley methods for approaching, winning over and hiring that perfect candidate may work for you, most of the time it’s just a case of being open, honest, and professional.


Sell the job by selling the company. It's an important kind of marketing when a startup announces who they are looking for in a job ad. It describes your company culture. The language, the pictures they use, the media they use, these are predictive of the person they will find.

Fish in the right ocean. It’s important to use the right channels, because if you use the cheaper or too casual channels you won't find the right people. Those best qualified people, in which part of that big wide ocean out there do they swim?

Practice the six degrees of separation game. In this region we are like three degrees of separation. It's very tight, it's very well connected, family wise and with social networks. I would rather use word of mouth and recommendations, which are a lot higher in their validity and reliability, than just shouting out the vacancy announcement.

Think outside the border box. Would it be possible to invite people from other countries to work with you? Or those who are further abroad? We could reverse the brain drain and bring people back, or you could think about remote workers.

Recruiting outside your network takes legwork. It's a mix of getting the right contacts, being present in that country or place and asking for recommendations, and being present at events and in coworking spaces or young entrepreneur networks. The people you speak to may not be interested, but they may know people who are.

Get social if you’re hoping to ‘poach’. It's important to awaken the interest of the person and it's best to meet over lunch, create a personal rapport and invite the person if s/he is interested to the company to get a feeling of the team, the place and the working atmosphere. Personal contact, sharing stories on the startup’s development so far, making clear why the person would be a create contribution to the team.

It takes trust. Startups must build trust with potential employees, because what do they have to [offer]? They have a product and an address no one has ever heard about, a beautiful logo of a company no one has ever heard of. You need to offer something that builds trust and attracts the adventurous minds who do not aim for multinationals, but who have a completely different personality.

Ask for a unique pitch. I fell in love with the method used by Malaysian company Mindvalley. They ask those who would love to work with them to answer three questions in a video message. People take the time to think about a really cool video message. It's the opposite of just sending your CV out for the millionth time and it shows so much more of your talents.

Get everyone involved. It is important to think about collective hiring. It should not be only the founders of the startups, it could also be that the whole team is thinking about who do we need, what is the job about, what are the requirements, how do we formulate the announcement. Everyone reviews the CVs and collectively decides if they can imagine working with them.

Be honest about the money. Startups need to have a really sound compensation system - one that if your books get hacked that you don't need to be ashamed for. Some companies make it really transparent so everyone can see it, adding some social accountability: you tell me why you are earning this salary and I'll tell you why I'm earning mine. When recruiting someone I would make sure that we are appreciating that I’m paying for your ‘lifetime’: your creativity, your contacts, your innovative potential. I would rather pay a little bit over the market or think about non-financial ways of attracting people.

The most important conversation while hiring is… My professor in organizational psychology would say a realistic job preview in the interview, where the organisation is saying exactly what they are expecting from the candidate. I think it is important to give the candidate a clear idea of the kind of company they are applying to. This makes it a selection decision on both sides, not just from the company’s. I've seen people reject super cool jobs for another offer where they felt all through the process that they were treated well. The most important thing is communication in general, verbal and non-verbal. It's not one conversation, it's the tone of all the communications.

This article has been edited to include new information on headhunting.

Feature image via The Balance.

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