A top-tier hire can take 90 days or more, and if they quit within the first months, an organization will actually lose more than double that time in productivity, not to mention the cultural damage attrition causes. So, retention is a big focus for us.
As a part of my HR Strategy Series, I’m talking to top experts in the field to teach prospects what hiring managers are actually looking for, while also supporting business leaders in their hiring and retention strategies. Today I had the pleasure of talking with Lee Lefkowitz.
Lee Lefkowitz is the head of talent and recruiting for Outlier, an AI-focused technology startup in Oakland California. Lee has a long history of building teams and hiring top talent for startups all the way to Fortune 100 companies. One of his areas of expertise is recruiting and retaining a diverse set of employees within the technology start-up space — a big challenge given the draw of established tech brands in Silicon Valley.
What brought you to your specific human resources career path?
I have been a recruiter my whole career, even while leading my own teams. It’s something I really enjoy — the ability to match up companies with individuals who can potentially change the course of their business.
My job history has given me a wide range of experiences to draw upon. For example, working with start-up brands like Wireless Generation and AltSchool taught me how to promote a brand and a mindset to attract the kind of employees the company needs in order to grow. On the other hand, my experience helping Fortune 100 companies like Amazon, Morgan Stanley, Citi Group and others has helped me understand the value of creating a unique culture, so employees don’t feel “lost” in a big company.
Are you working on any exciting new projects or initiatives at your company? How is this helping people?
Yes, absolutely. At Outlier, we believe that a diverse and inclusive workplace leads to a happier team, a better product, and a richer customer experience. With this idea in mind, we’ve started creating best practices to ensure that we have a diverse pipeline of candidates. This means we need to embrace change — both by moving out of our geography and by moving beyond traditional ways of looking for candidates.
For example, we recently opened an office in Virginia Beach, Virginia. While you might not think of it as a hotbed for technology careers, Virginia Beach is becoming the most well-connected city, digitally speaking, in the U.S. This is because Virginia Beach is the connection point for multiple undersea cable lines that enable high-speed data connectivity across our oceans. This, in turn, has created a more competitive environment for jobs.
As Virginia Beach continues to grow as a hub for connectivity, competition for skilled technology hires is heating up. Our approach has been to focus on hiring military veterans in the area. In fact, we’ve partnered with a few local organizations that specialize in helping veterans transition to the private sector.
Wonderful. Hiring can be time-consuming and difficult. Can you share any changes you’ve made to your processes to stay modern?
As I noted, diversity and inclusiveness are priorities for Outlier. We’ve instituted the Rooney Rule whereby we don’t extend an offer to a candidate for a position until we’ve interviewed at least one candidate from a diverse background. This, in turn, has pushed us to find new channels to attract diverse candidates as part of the recruiting process.
In addition, we do blind project submissions, when possible, that help us eliminate bias. We are also working on fully blind resume reviews and we’re working on modifying our applicant tracking software capabilities to allow for this change. To speed up the interview process, we ask the candidate for work samples at the beginning of the process. We also only have people in the interview process who could potentially veto the candidate.
With so much noise and competition, what are 3 strategies you use to attract and engage the best talent (assuming they haven’t already reached out to you)?
When I’m proactively looking to get a “yes” from a top candidate, I focus on three things that I believe help differentiate the Outlier brand.
1. I leverage our team’s talent — from our co-founders to recent hires — this helps candidates get to know the incredibly talented team they’ll get to work alongside.
2. I help them understand our product’s value proposition and how powerful it is so they can see the potential we have as a technology organization.
3. I share the successes we’ve had with clients and give them access to testimonials which gives our brand and our product even more credibility.
What are the 3 most effective strategies you use to retain your top employees?
A top-tier hire can take 90 days or more, and if they quit within the first months, an organization will actually lose more than double that time in productivity, not to mention the cultural damage attrition causes. So, retention is a big focus for us. The top three things I do include:
1. Establishing a solid onboarding plan at the position creation stage. Research suggests that new hires decide whether or not they will stay with a company within their first 90 days so giving them a good onboarding experience is critical.
2. Creating a thorough and role-based interview process that helps us understand if any new hire will be a good cultural fit, in addition to having the technical skills we require.
3. Treating our employees well. For us this means providing above-average benefits (we cover premiums on healthcare) and offering flexible work environments, including options for working from home.
In your experience, is it important for HR to keep up with the latest employment trends?
It is important, yes. Talent retention is more critical today than it’s ever been. Across the country, the job market is the most competitive we’ve seen, especially in technology sectors and markets. For start-ups especially, attrition can damage momentum and slow down the ability to accomplish their mission.
This means that all functions along the candidate’s journey need to be aligned — internal communications, talent sourcing, closing, managing a talent team, engagement and more. Creating an ideal candidate experience and retaining our hires over the long term is paramount.
Can you share a creative strategy that companies can use to increase the value provided to their employees without breaking the bank?
At Outlier, we established set work-from-home days (Tuesdays & Thursdays) and a more flexible overall schedule to accommodate people’s needs outside of the office. With this flexibility comes the understanding that we have goals that need to be met, set timelines and an agreement that we are all responsible for the company’s collective success. We are also engaging more full-time employees on a remote basis to allow us to pull in talent from a wider geographic range. We also honor every employee’s birthday as their own day off. Employees are welcome to take their own birthday off to celebrate with family, friends or just be.
Thank you for sharing so many valuable insights with us today!