Always Be Closing: tactics for recruiting in-demand candidates

5 min readJul 25, 2017

Did you know it takes an average of 20 hours to take a job candidate from initial screen to offer? That’s 20 hours of phone calls, onsite interviews…and 20 hours spent diverted from the core function of your own role. With the typical close rate at 1 out of every 4 candidates, we’re talking 80 hours, or two full weeks of your time, spent on hiring a single individual.

Gusto, the breakout HR software company valued at more than $1 billion, has devised a way to optimize the entire recruitment process by focusing on the last step — the close. Co-founder and CTO Edward Kim laid out the company’s strategy at the FirstMark CTO Summit, which brings together engineering leaders in the startup industry for a day of learning and networking. Here’s how they increased their close rate by 50 percent.

1. Provide a great candidate experience from the start

The closing process actually starts at the opening, with the first phone call. Visualize the process as a crescendo from there — each step should get the candidate more and more excited about the job, culminating in the actual offer. To make sure you start strong:

Set compensation expectations upfront. There’s nothing worse than investing hours in recruiting, only to have everything fall through during the offer call because the candidate’s compensation expectations exceed what you can offer. Discuss salary as early as possible.

Greet the candidate and give them the interview agenda. In addition to providing a schedule, Gusto tells job candidates who each interviewer is, what their background is, and what they’re going to be focused on evaluating during the interview. Volunteering this information makes the candidate feel like your company is on their side, and that they’re being interviewed based on their strengths, rather than just so your team can suss out their weaknesses.

It’s the little things: Gusto promotes humanity and transparency by whiteboarding a personalized greeting and schedule for each onsite interview.

Be punctual for your interviews. This may seem obvious, but being the one company who calls exactly at 2pm sets you apart from the many companies who show up at 2:05.

Don’t check Slack or use your phone while interviewing. In particular, Edward’s noticed engineers tend to check Slack or email on their phones while candidates are whiteboarding problems during technical interviews. What may not seem seem rude to you could be very rude from interviewer’s perspective. Put the technology away and focus on the conversation at hand.

2. Pair program in your production code base

In addition to whiteboarding technical problems, Gusto asks engineering candidates to work on actual company problems at a pair programming station. This is a great way to assess their technical abilities, and offers a sense of what it’s like to work in the codebase and at the company. If they can visualize that, Edward says, it makes them more likely to say yes to the offer.

3. Quick turnaround and fast communication

“The number one lifehack to putting employee butts in seats is to respond to emails in a timely manner.” — Kelly Sutton, Gusto engineer

Another seemingly simple tactic that most companies don’t utilize: frequent and responsive interactions will help you close the offer. One engineer used visuals to summarize why he chose Gusto over other job offers — while Gusto handed an offer to him in 22 days, the competing company hadn’t even scheduled an offsite in 35 days.

Visualization of one engineer’s interview process with Gusto vs. another company. Notice that “Slow Co” went dark for a week — an all-too-common occurrence that reads poorly for job candidates.

4. Personalized demo account based on candidates’ hobbies and interests

Since Gusto’s online HR platform is typically only available to customers, they created a demo environment so interviewees can view their product in action. They also took this as an another opportunity to personalize the candidate’s experience, by writing a script that populates each demo with personal information. If a interviewee’s Linkedin shows they majored in philosophy, for example, Gusto will create a demo company account using famous philosophers as example employees.

5. Group offer calls

Go ahead, celebrate.

Instead of having the recruiter make the offer call, Gusto gathers everyone who interviewed the candidate in the room, to make the offer as a group.. They start the call as a celebration, with applause and cheering, then go around one by one, each person sharing a few sentences about why they personally are excited to work with that particular candidate. It may sound a bit awkward, but there’s value in this approach: by the time the group disbands so the recruiter can discuss details with the candidate, your team has made the candidate feel special, and therefore more excited about accepting an offer from your company.

6. Emails from the interview team (and leadership) post-offer

After the offer call, Gusto’s recruiter reaches out to every person who had an interaction with the candidate, asking them to send a thoughtful follow-up email. The goal is to shower the candidate with love letters from your company, reinforcing your enthusiasm. If the candidate is senior, Gusto will go one step further, asking the C-suite to email as well.

7. Thoughtful, personal gifts, and/or dinner at your home

Take the time to discover your candidate’s interests and send a tailored gift to let them know you really care about them. Edward has hand-delivered craft beer to an engineer’s house before, after finding out they brewed their own beer. Having trouble finding interests? Use the reference calls as a chance to ask people who know your candidate. If you still can’t find the right gift, dinner at your home is a great fallback.

8. Phone calls with investors when appropriate

If you’re in danger of losing an excellent candidate for a senior role, it may be time to try something else. As a startup backed by many well-respected investors, Gusto will occasionally tap an investor to help woo a candidate. Candidates are often flattered and surprised to receive a personal call or email from an investor, sharing why they chose to fund a company. It also might just be the final nudge you need to bring them onboard.

“Recruiting is one of the greatest impacts we can have as a VC firm; we spend a significant portion of our time helping our companies address that challenge. Anything we can do to nurture excellent candidates is well worth it.’’ — Amish Jani, Managing Director at FirstMark Capital.

Utilizing these steps, Gusto’s managed to increase their average closing success rate to 3 out of every 4 candidates. Want more closing tips from the experts at Gusto? Follow us on Twitter or sign up for our newsletter.