MBA Mondays: Guest Post From Donna White

Now we start the guest post part of this MBA Mondays series on People. First up is AVC regular Donna White. In this post, Donna explains that recruiting is fun if you approach it the right way. I know many founders who don't really enjoy recruiting so this post is for all of you.


Recruiting is Fun!

My husband convinced me to use this title for my post.  This is his observation of how I approach my work as an executive recruiter.

I can honestly say that I do find recruiting to be fun.  Perhaps this why it is still fresh and interesting to me after close to two decades.  Don’t get me wrong, recruiting is hard and strenuous work.  I probably don’t have to tell most of you this.  Yet, the more challenging it is, the more I seem to enjoy it.  

This is one of the many reasons I am attracted to recruiting for startups where you have to hold both the present and the future in your head at the same time and, simultaneously, be both visionary and pragmatic, among other challenges.  

Here is an excerpt from a Twitter exchange that I had with AVC regular, Aaron Klein, Founder/CEO of Riskalyze:

Aaron’s words represent what I enjoy most about recruiting.  It wasn’t until after this exchange that it occurred to me – these words could also describe running a startup: challenging, exhilarating, high stakes.

As I thought about writing this post, I wondered if, in general, people for whom recruiting is part of other responsibilities have a different perception than I do as a professional recruiter.  I used the Honestly Now site (Tereza Nemessanyi, Founder/CEO) and Quipol (Max Yoder, Founder) to do some cursory research.  As of this writing, the votes on whether or not people enjoy recruiting are about 50/50 from both sources (excluding those who chose “none of the above”).  Perhaps, not conclusive, but indicative.

I thought it would be interesting to bring the Quipol over to this post so that AVC readers could also chime in:

In the end, it is not my enjoyment of the work of recruiting that represents my true motivation. 

The true motivation and why it is a passion is summed up in a statement made by Fred in another MBA Mondays post earlier in the year:   “Building the business largely means building the management team. They are one and the same.”  I have a passion for helping entrepreneurs build businesses.  

Fred’s words represent why many of you who are founders and/or CEOs have shared in the AVC comments that recruiting is one of the most important things that you do.  In questioning William Mougayar (Founder/CEO, Engagio) about his underlying motivations in recruiting, one of the reasons that he gave was:  “I need to find the best talent that can give me a competitive advantage.”  

It is not a matter of whether or not you enjoy it, it is something that needs to be done.  The life of your company depends upon it.  As Aaron said, the stakes are high.

There are a number of directions that I could take from here, but I am going back to the beginning of the post.  It would be understandable if you thought “So what!  Who cares whether or not recruiting is enjoyable. It just needs to get done.”  

Even for me, as someone who does enjoy recruiting, the enjoyment in itself is not what motivates me.  However, enjoyment is a huge contributing factor toward excelling in my work and approaching a client’s hiring need with excitement and enthusiasm.  I believe that doing something that you enjoy turns out a better quality product on a more consistent basis.  Attitude and perspective in recruiting influence results and may even produce a better team in the long run.

Some ideas for transforming your perception of recruiting:

Recognize recruiting as a source of opportunity beyond hiring.   The insights gained, and discoveries and contacts made during the recruiting process can be an invaluable investment into your business.  For instance, you may learn of business opportunities, build your network, gain market intelligence, be exposed to new ways of thinking and of doing things, and introduce your product to people who will become evangelists.  

Use the activities involved in recruiting to strengthen abilities that will contribute to your overall effectiveness.  There are elements of recruiting that you probably already enjoy and that exercise the same abilities that you use in other aspects of running your business, such as:  creating something out of nothing, analyzing and solving problems, devising strategies, making new contacts, crafting and relaying your company’s story, negotiating and closing deals. 

Think of your staffing need in terms of an opportunity rather than filling a job.  What is the opportunity that you are presenting and why is it great?  What problem is being solved by this hire?  What challenge is being met?  What opportunities will your business be better positioned for?

Create a recruiting culture.  Build elements of recruiting into the fabric of your business and use this to galvanize your team and increase their engagement.  More in this post.

The goal I had in writing this post was to share my enthusiasm for recruiting in the hope that some of you will be inspired and will take a fresh look at recruiting.  One thing I appreciate about this community is that a post doesn’t need to supply all the answers and typically merely serves as a conversation starter.  I look forward to where you take this.  Carry on, please…

#MBA Mondays

Comments (Archived):

  1. Rohan

    LOVE the enthusiasm!The lovely thing about such energy is that it’s contagious. From my experience working with you for a fair bit on ‘side project’, all I can say is – God bless the entrepreneurs who hire you, Donna.They are assured a 100% performance. (I don’t use 110% because I find it corny)We are what we repeatedly do..

    1. Donna Brewington White

      Dear Rohan, thank you!Maybe we should take the experience from our “side project” and do our own startup! ;)BTW even if an entrepreneur can’t use my services, I am happy to give advice!

  2. JamesHRH

    What a neat post.I have never really thought of looking at the act of recruiting & thinking about its characteristics.It has to be done & done well, so I always thought it should be fun too.I really like the idea of seeing recruiting as an opportunity to learn – constant startup meme it seems.

    1. Donna Brewington White

      Thank you, James. Also, I just saw your comment for the book suggestion from another post. Thanks for that, too.

  3. William Mougayar

    I like that you’ve thrown in the Fun part into the mix because Fun is a great motivator for getting things done. If something is painful, it won’t get done, or won’t get done well.The trick is how to make it fun? What comes to mind is: Pre-recruiting.Recruiting doesn’t start when you need to fill a position. If you do that, you’re already behind the eight ball. You must anticipate your needs and start to find potential candidates way before, because it may take a long time to find who you’re looking for. Of course, there are exceptions when you get lucky.So recruiting actually starts before you actually start the act recruiting. Like anything in life, what you do now depends on what you did before. The types of pre-recruiting activities that are necessary include networking and being out there in the market both online and offline during real events. Your job is to Attract Talent out there. If they come to you, recruiting becomes more fun.I once almost joined Deloitte for a senior role, and one of the key messages instilled was that partners are always recruiting. It’s an integral part of their job. They do that during their normal networking and being out there in the market.So, to make recruiting fun, figure out your pre-recruiting. That’s the real fun part.

    1. Donna Brewington White

      Really good advice, William. Sometimes what takes the enjoyment out of recruiting is the sense of pressure. This can also lead to bad choices in hiring. Pre-recruiting doesn’t have the pressure and allows you to have more fun with it. Plus, it’s just a smart thing to do. However, I know that for some, it is hard to get motivated to do something until the pressure is on. Recruiting has to be a discipline.

      1. William Mougayar

        Agreed. Recruiting is a habit.

      2. Abdallah Al-Hakim

        Great post Donna and I do think that the timing to recruit is sometimes not well understood by some startups. You will be interested in a number of excellent posts (curated here – http://www.instigatorblog.c… ) by Ben Yoskovitz (VP at GoInstant) about this topic. I especially liked his one post “recruit talent while and before raising capital”

        1. Donna Brewington White

          Thanks, Abdallah. Looks very interesting.Should have read these before writing the post!

    2. Anne Libby

      Always Be Recruiting!

      1. awaldstein

        “Recruiting is a state of mind” was my suggested title to @donnawhite:disqus

        1. Donna Brewington White

          And it is a good title, a good thought.

    3. ConversationAgent

      building relationships takes time and recruiting is one of the most costly internal activities of a firm. Having a solid buy strategy helps end up with talent that is an asset up for trade or the consequences of a trade…

      1. Donna Brewington White

        you get it — recruiting is about building relationships



      1. FlavioGomes

        And a free bacon and beer sign.

  4. Avi Deitcher

    Donna, great post! I see so many companies (large and small) that hate dealing with recruiting. I think many view it as a “distraction” from their core job, and for others, it is often a fear of the process and even needing to make an important decision (yes, even at startups I see it, let alone large companies).One interesting side: I see many companies afraid to pull the trigger on a hire because they are afraid of making a mistake (which is interesting in the context of startups, where it is all about making mistakes quickly and then learning from them). Even those quick on the trigger for external-facing decisions or even strategic ones seem to have a hard time with the idea of making a mistake in recruiting. Love to hear ideas around helping them get past that.

    1. Donna Brewington White

      Actually, VC Mark Suster @msuster:disqus has a great post on this titled “Hire Fast, Fire Fast.” http://www.bothsidesoftheta…I do understand that some mistakes are more palatable than others at a startup. Making a bad hire is loaded in so many ways. Actually, the original post that I wrote for this guest post was advice on preparing for the search, but I discarded it in favor of this one. What allows for fast hiring is doing the preparation ahead of time — having a clear sense of the need, knowing what you want to accomplish with the hire, knowing the type of people that succeed in the particular environment (using current team members as an example, for instance) and having a clear sense of what the non-negotiables are vs. the nice-to-haves. If a person meets the requirements and references check out, then pull the trigger! It is very important not to begin to pick apart petty things. Keep focused on the things that truly matter, that you have decided on based on careful thought.Also, in interviewing, candidly address all concerns and this may help the comfort level. You can also get a second opinion — board members can be good for this.Does this help, Avi?

      1. awaldstein

        People are complex and life and our resumes are all a bit messy.’Focus on the things that truly matter’ is simple but sage advice.I often get asked by clients to do an interview. Glad to do it but I’m always nervous when my input is the deciding one. Shouldn’t be.

        1. Avi Deitcher

          I am on board with you on that. I really enjoy doing the interviews, because I am pretty good at putting the person at ease, and then get to know them. And I love meeting great people who stimulate my mind.But, yes, when mine is the deciding vote – aka they outsource the decision to me – I decline. Happy to give an opinion, but not to decide.BTW, 8 months ago, I did an interview for a senior role, CEO asks me my opinion, I gave a “neutral-positive”: I think he would be fine, but not the game-changer we needed. CEO overruled me, and I am really glad he did. I was dead wrong on it, guy is fantastic hire.

          1. awaldstein

            Like minded on this one for certain.Good story.

          2. Avi Deitcher

            “Like minded” in approach, or that we both misjudged situations? :-)We are all human…

          3. awaldstein

            It’s taken me a while but being at peace with my personal foibles something I allow myself 😉

        2. LE

          “Glad to do it but I’m always nervous when my input is the deciding one.”In relationship good to stay far away from man/woman who insists on validation from best friend, sibling, parent etc. before deciding if you are a good person or not. @rrohan189:disqus @ShanaC:disqus @anyoneunmarried this is a huge tip of iceberg.

          1. Rohan

            Haha. So sweet of you to think of me/us.Thanks for the advice, LE. Noted! 🙂

      2. Avi Deitcher

        I remember that post from last year. Sort of the “agile methodology of HR.”I agree that the mistakes in hiring can be so detrimental, even toxic. I like your point on prep: if you haven’t prepped for the opportunity (which includes what kind of mindset and cultural fit you need), not just the job, you are bound to be unsure of yourself. I am thinking through slow-movers I have seen, and lack of prep – whether about the role, the culture, or just about what we are willing to compromise on – seems to be common there.I am with you on candidly addressing the issues with the candidate (pun intended): I always do, but that doesn’t always translate to everyone else.Thanks for the valuable input.



        1. Donna Brewington White

          I have a feeling you might actually mean this.

          1. FAKE GRIMLOCK


  5. awaldstein

    Nice Donna…Most of us approach our work with passion and verve. It’s obvious that you do as well.You are like a special teams expert and bring a sense of depth and perception that sheds some light on a core component of success.My question to you is whether the process has changed over the last 10 years and in what general ways as a recruiter?Honestly, for all the changes in how we do businesses and the tools we have, great recruiters are a rarity and we hire them as individuals cause they just ‘get’ it and get the job done.

    1. William Mougayar

      In full disclosure, I hired Donna to help us in our recruiting activity. The deciding factor was that I was looking for someone who could be an “extension” of my startup. Donna was that person and acted as such. I didn’t want a recruiter that was just interested in getting the job done in a mechanical fashion.

      1. JamesHRH

        Does anyone @ Engoagio not have a tie to AVC….I feel left out :p

        1. William Mougayar

          Yes. 50/50.

          1. JamesHRH

            I kid.

          2. William Mougayar

            I didn’t kid.

          3. Donna Brewington White

            William somehow I downvoted this! Fixed.

        2. Donna Brewington White

          Engagio was born here. I feel like its aunt.

        3. Timothy Meade

          Playing around with the mobile site, not sure it maps to the full site and it’s a bit slow on my Dolphin HD.

      2. Donna Brewington White

        So, how did I do? 😉

        1. William Mougayar

          You can put us on your reference list 🙂

  6. Cam MacRae

    Wonderful stuff.It occurred to me whilst reading this that as building a business is fundamentally about building people, if you don’t enjoy recruiting you might not enjoy building a business (as distinct from a product, say). Thoughts?

    1. John Best

      Agree – Finding *and then developing* someone to exploit an opportunity is the best way (to quote William from the post) “… that can give me a competitive advantage.”

    2. JamesHRH

      Absolutely – people become teams and teams become teams of team…..

    3. Dale Allyn

      In business, people are the single most challenging element. They are the producers and the inspiration, and yet the most delicate aspects as well. There are nuances, sensitivities and tragedies which simply do not affect most other business matters. A $six-figure combine harvester or a server array has no ego…Ability to build and lead a team of people is crucial to a successful business. This requires not only recruiting, but also requires nurturing, motivating, and developing their trust and respect.

    4. LE

      “building a business is fundamentally about building people, if you don’t enjoy recruiting you might not enjoy building a business”Recruiting is something you can outsource to someone like @donnawhite:disqus and I think it’s not essential to enjoy doing it (and to do it) in order to build a business if it’s not something you feel comfortable with.I think “building people” is not the same as “recruiting” people. Recruiting people is like buying machinery. Building people is like operating machinery.Fred says “building the management team” which to me is not the same as doing the grunt work of identifying and narrowing down a list of potential applicants.Most importantly I think anyone doing recruiting has to have a clue about the job they are recruiting for (whether it be the in house recruiting person or someone like Donna). Otherwise how do they know who is good? By how fast they answer questions? By credentials (which gets into what I call the “assumption of legitimacy” whereby the stamp of approval by another company is all that is needed.) There are people that I would be very good at hiring because I have spent a lifetime observing people in those jobs and have an idea of what qualities to look for.But one of the biggest mistakes I see people make is in trying to identify someone that is good at something in an area that they know nothing or very little about.Here’s an example. Say I am advising a business and I’m looking for a marketing person that also knows about wine. Off the top I would think of @awaldstein:disqus because to me at least he knows so much about wine. But since I know very little about wine how am I in a position to judge Arnold’s expertise? I’m not. And what is more important knowledge of marketing (and in what area and what type) or knowledge of wine?People aren’t very good at vetting other people’s expertise in something they know little of which is why they would rely on experts to at least give them a better chance of ending up in the wrong place. (If you’ve ever watched Shark Tank on ABC you will note the number of times entrepreneurs think that the Sharks can build any business just because they have built a business in the past (some more than one of course but business is very broad and what you learn in one business doesn’t apply across the board obviously).

      1. awaldstein

        I’ve asked Donna earlier in this thread “How has recruiting changed?”My response to this from your example using me above is that we are highly visible and can be evaluated by our public presence to a significant degree.Want to know something about me (from your example) as pertains to marketing? My background is public. References are public. A hundred posts with a few thousand comments are public. My disqus thread is public.Same is true for me about wine.I’m a marketer and a would be writer so of course you need to factor in ‘intention’ but of course in the position you describe, the ability to create a presence is part of what you are hiring.We social web changes everything is some way. Even recruiting.

        1. Donna Brewington White

          I am not ignoring your question, Arnold, but it is a big one and I didn’t want to answer offhandedly. I’ve been thinking about it throughout the morning — and well, actually since you first posed this a few weeks ago. But, I am also very interested in hearing how you think it has changed — I know that you’ve already touched on this in the above comment.

          1. awaldstein

            I don’t feel ignored at all ;)Been busy till this comment called me back.

          2. Donna Brewington White

            I love that Disqus summoning device.

          3. awaldstein

            A dial tone to conversation.

        2. LE

          “A hundred posts with a few thousand comments are public.”Really good point and a great source of data.(My example of you probably wasn’t the best because I know so much about you exactly from that. I used you because people know you here.)I’m just remember for the three businesses that I started which I knew nothing about how nobody that I was selling to ever questioned what I knew at all. Day 1, out of college, in something I knew nothing about. I walk around cold calling announcing the opening. My first customer says “here, you’re the expert”. He wasn’t an idiot either (ended up building a pretty big business). I can’t tell you how many times that happened over the years. People don’t ask questions that they should. They assume based on gross obvious factors.I was hired for a job in silicon valley after I sold the first business. The job involved “printers” and I had experience in “printing and graphic arts”. Oh well. Then I got a job at a competitor because of the first job.What I can determine though from the community members that are regulars (as well certain commenters on HN) is that they are really passionate and interested in learning and knowing everything they can about things. (So to me I definitely don’t question the “intention” at all). I give high marks to that. I like people that are like that (curious and want to continue learning). Even if they benefit in some other way from their interaction.As an aside there was one community member here that was fairly active and dropped off the radar after commenting almost daily. After a bit I noticed and decided to check their linkedin page. Turns out they had stopped doing consulting and found a full time job. As a result I guess they no longer have any benefit from AVC so they don’t bother coming by anymore. So how passionate could they have been?

          1. andyidsinga

            re intentions.I also dont like to judge what i imagine folks’ intention for commenting on blogs might be. I try to assume that they very well may have many intentions in parallel

      2. Donna Brewington White

        Good points, LE about the difference between recruiting and building. Recruiting is one aspect of that building process. But recruiting is a comprehensive process. I’m probably lumping a lot into that term as shorthand — one of the dangers of over-familiarity with a topic.

      3. Donna Brewington White

        Hi LE — I had some thoughts about a few aspects of your comment:”Recruiting is something you can outsource to someone”To an extent. Not in the sense that you can turn it over to someone and forget about it. You still have to stay involved, engaged. The relationship with a recruiter has to be a close partnership. Particularly with leadership level hires. You want the recruiter acting as an agent on your behalf, not as a free agent.I save clients a lot of work, but sometimes to do it right, I create a lot of work for them as well. The right kind of work that is part of being an effective executive and truly leading.”the grunt work of identifying and narrowing down a list of potential applicants”.This is not recruiting. What you are describing are tasks that support the recruiting effort.”Recruiting people is like buying machinery.”You don’t have to cultivate relationships with machinery in order to get it to agree to be loaded onto the back of your truck. However, the point is well-taken between recruiting and hiring vs. actually developing and managing people.

    5. Donna Brewington White

      Oops — sorry Cam. Responded to LE here and moved the comment.

      1. Donna Brewington White

        @cammacrae (Disqus wouldn’t let me respond to you twice after my comment fail above) It would depend on whether that dislike of recruiting was indicative of a dislike of the people aspects of building a business, or merely a dislike of recruiting.Leadership and management skills are required to build a business. A leader doesn’t have to be good at everything but she or he needs to know self-weaknesses and reinforce accordingly.And, thanks.

        1. Cam MacRae

          My contention is that if you don’t enjoy recruiting people to your cause you’re probably (I’ll allow some wiggle room here) not a leader of the movement. That doesn’t imply you can’t get your section over the parapet, but these functions are in many respects distinct.

  7. Fernando Gutierrez

    Great post Donna, I was waiting for this one!The problem with recruiting is that it takes a huge amount of time to do it well. And the curve of recruiting-quality/time-it-takes is exponential. I do enjoy it, but I’m usually anxious while doing it because I’m putting apart other things that also need to be done. I guess I should look for help.

    1. Donna Brewington White

      Thank you Fernando. Means a lot!My guess is that a lot of people can relate to what you are saying. Recruiting can be consuming. I like the idea of getting the team involved when possible.

  8. JamesHRH

    Speaking of fun…………I have top 40 in my house (10 yo daughter) and I am actually a fan of really good pop music, which Miss Jepsen’s smash hit qualifies as (& she’s CDN).But I am not sure the original is as good this…..wanted to Share it Maybe.

    1. Rohan

      Upvoted just because it doesn’t deserve to be bottom of thread! :-)Plus I love the song. 😉

      1. JamesHRH

        Thx Rohan – I am in summer mood. Maybe not everyone else is there.This made me laugh and then required 45 minutes of YouTube / Sesame Street exploration with my 7 yo son, last night.I had forgotten how much of a Guy Smiley & Grover fan I am.

        1. Rohan

          Summer mood is happy.And happy is good! :-DThanks for sharing, James!

    2. panterosa,

      We cracked up over this one. My daughter is 10.Have you seen the Obama Call Me Maybe?

      1. Donna Brewington White

        No!!! Must find this. Ha!

        1. panterosa,

          It has 19M views in 40 days…PS Haven’t figured out how to make the pic link like @jameshrh:disqus

    3. Donna Brewington White

      @ShanaC:disqus sent this to me last week and I immediately Tumbl’d it. I am more serious than I may seem online and sometimes need a bit of silliness to help me get sorted.Thanks for sharing it, maybe.

  9. reece

    nice post @donnawhite:disqusone thing that i love about recruiting in a startup is that we literally get to pick the people we work with… while the primary goal is finding the best person for the job, a big part of that is finding people who are a cultural fit while adding some diversitybut at the end of the day, it’s up to us to pick who we’ll be working with, learning from, and cracking beers with… how cool is that?

    1. Donna Brewington White

      Wow, Reece. You make it sound so…shall I say… fun!If you get a moment, do you have any pointers on finding the right cultural fit while adding some diversity? Like how do you gauge this?

      1. reece

        hard to develop a formula around it, but it’s basically creating multiple touch points and seeing that person in different lights… have a technical interview – see how they thinkhave a casual conversation and see where it goes… see what interests them let them ask questions – test their curiositymake sure they meet the other team members somehow, not just an interview through all this stuff, you should get a pretty good idea whether the person has a similar moral compass and desire to build/learn/create… that stuff is more important than “we root for the same team” my team has some really, really different interests, but we all like working together, having fun, creating value…

        1. Donna Brewington White

          I can see why this works. Thanks, Reece.

    2. Brandon Burns

      Any hiring manager in any company gets to pick his/her team.There are too many people getting into startups for perks they think only exist in startups. They just never made it far enough in their pre-startup career to discover and enjoy said perks… and learn the important lessons involved with getting there.I spent this weekend consoling a friend at a fairly established startup where the CEO feels it appropriate to “build the team” by having one person go around to everyone, ask them what they don’t like about everyone else, and then report the findings back to the employees. HR no-no #1; no wonder they’re averaging a near 100% annual turnover rate of employees.And I hear stories like this all the time. Far too frequently.I’d work a team of startup rookies who made a dent in their previous lives before i commit myself to someone with “startup experience.” It shows that you’re not just quitting your job to launch a startup because you can’t hack it in a real company… which is what you want your startup to become one day, anyway.

      1. ShanaC

        *headthunk* so highschool.

        1. Brandon Burns

          another down vote?! shana! who is this person?!!!

          1. ShanaC

            I don’t know!!!

      2. reece

        for the record, we (my cofounder and i) do talk about our “startup experience” (5 years doing this across 2 companies, multiple products, financings, TechStars etc…) but we never presume to know everything about what we’re doing the point is, we want entrepreneurial people. i would love nothing more than to create the “Shelby Mafia” and have a bunch of our team go start other companies years from now, so we get hungry people who want to learn some of the early stage stuff with us before they go do it on their own

        1. Brandon Burns

          definitely won’t question the experience of someone i haven’t met. it comes in all forms, many valid. everyone’s gotta go with the culture that matches their experiences.some of the most brilliant people i know have built great teams, spearheaded many great initiatives, and been recognized with countless accolades… all within a non-startup corporate environment. the cushy paycheck and feeling of security they take home is the oil that greases their wheels in the office. and they could care less about the equity; more in the founder’s pocket!”entrepreneurial” can be defined many ways.good luck on igniting a “shelby mafia.”#youknowyouvemadeitwhen…

          1. Anne Libby

            One of the things I appreciated about the Lean Startup was the acknowledgement that large company people could be entrepreneurial. Same thing is true of people in the service.

          1. reece

            ha. i like it

        2. Brandon Burns

          video on “intrepreneurs” the folks in this sub-thread may find enlightening:



      4. LE

        “the CEO feels it appropriate to “build the team” by having one person go around to everyone, ask them what they don’t like about everyone else, and then report the findings back to the employees.”I assume that was done anonymously and w/o attribution to a particular employee?

        1. Brandon Burns

          the CEO had the 2nd in command go talk to each employee. at the end of it, the CEO sat down with each employee and said, “so [2nd in commend] found out that [so-and-so] doesn’t like you due to [whatever reason so-and-so gave].”it was not a performance review (and even if it were, that would have been the wrong way to do it). the whole exercise was to “find out where the bad apples are.”the CEO was transparent about this.the startup is well staffed/funded.them be the (hopefully unbiased) facts as i received them.

          1. LE

            Interesting. Sounds like the makings of a great reality TV show. (Really).One thing though. I’ve always thought that restaurants that ask you how a meal or server was should really ask you what could have been improved. “Tell us where we sucked!” I understand that they probably can’t do this on a mass basis lest mix around a negative in someones head that might change future business. Maybe this could be neutralized with some humour though.”We must have sucked somewhere! Where might that be!” I received a restaurant survey which was one of those “how dweed do?” deals. At first I was going to blow it off. Then I decided I would try and be honest to see if I got a canned response or a personal response (as part of my ongoing human nature research). I complained about a few things mealwise, HVAC wise, as well as the server (to many interruptions) and got a reply from the manager with an offer for a free meal.



      1. reece

        and i am such an asshole to myself sometimes…

      2. Donna Brewington White

        Hey FG, my son is looking over my shoulder and wants to know why you chose this character. He said, “Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s pretty cool!”

        1. FAKE GRIMLOCK


          1. Donna Brewington White

            I am going to get a blank stare when I relay that to him. He’s my sweet one so he won’t say “whatever”

          2. FAKE GRIMLOCK


          3. FlavioGomes


  10. RichardF

    Why am I not surprised that your approach to recruiting is fun Donna. Your husband’s choice of title for this great post was bang on. I’d be be pretty sure (even though I’ve not met you offline) that’s your approach to life.Recruiting should be fun, you get to meet different people, engage with them and find out stuff about them and in some cases those people can turn out to be lifelong friends. Sounds pretty good to me.

    1. Donna Brewington White

      Thanks, Richard.Yes, you “get” it. That is no surprise.

  11. Scott Barnett

    Nicely said Donna… I’ve always enjoyed recruiting since I’m naturally curious about people and their experiences. Your tactics/habits make a ton of sense.I tried the Quipol, hopefully i did it right!

    1. Donna Brewington White

      You did it perfectly, and you were the first to leave a Quipol comment! A pioneer.I find that natural curiosity is part of what makes recruiting — and for that matter life — more enjoyable. I like to talk and to share — recruiting has forced me to listen. It has been a good lesson and has made life richer.

  12. Kasi Viswanathan Agilandam

    I will still go with Aaron’s statement … challenging, exhilarating and high stakes.It is all what he said and more for initial hires. It is no ‘fun’ finding a rock-star and convincing him/her to work with you… because they care nobody. There is no error margin in the initial hires and it is really really really hard and exhausting.Well that is my experience and I don’t think it is rare.

    1. Donna Brewington White

      Wow, Kasi. I feel your pain.Did the hires work out?

  13. James Ferguson @kWIQly

    Great and made me think in a new way.Up-voted.The best about recruiting is that the best find the team – not the other way round. It is one of the few things that happens as a side-effect of getting other things done (cash flow is the other).New people bring new slants on old ways – and test stuff written in stone that is beginning to flake.Re-express a culture and finding a fit – re-expresses your culture.Starting new and intense relationships is better than ending them – and some do survive.But at a personal (secret level) I love how scary it is, its an experiment on someone-else’s life and on your own. You can change both for the better (whether you hire or not).Finally, I love how you feel when you look down at the other team thinking, better, leaner, stronger, faster, resilient and all because of who we are !That in my book is the effect of +1 ;

    1. Donna Brewington White

      Some good thoughts here, James.@aaronklein:disqus made a great statement in a comment on my blog about hiring his current team:My team is very lean right now, but when I hired those guys, my question was “If I hired you, I’m going to be trusting you with my career. Are you comfortable trusting yours to me?”I loved that! When you are getting down to the wire, conversations have to be raw. There is no room for posturing in an early startup environment.

      1. James Ferguson @kWIQly

        Props to @Aaron Klien on that – That is exactly how I feel.I was on the other side of some exchanges with him yesterday – but what I love is that AVC is for grownups – we can disagree and still respect – and having looked at his site I have to respect some of what he is doing (even though his startup is not my field at all) – let me shout out http://www.adamituluproject… from

        1. Aaron Klein

          Indeed we can. Civil disagreement is a good thing…and thanks for the link to a great project! 😉

          1. James Ferguson @kWIQly

            : ) – Heck I was having a really crappy day anyway – Hope yours was better.My wife is African born and when I see poverty fueled by ignorance greed and politics (particularly the arms industry) it makes you wonder how to help. Our efforts end up half a continent south from yours – but it’s great to see you lending a hand . Education is the start, middle, and end of aid.

          2. Aaron Klein

            My daughter was born in Ethiopia…so I share those thoughts wholeheartedly. Thanks!

          3. James Ferguson @kWIQly

            Cool 🙂 I also watched your video interview BTW – Do I understand you that people run their own investment portfolios without understanding diversification and Beta ? – I would think they would be better getting something managed with low transaction costs linked to an index that matches preferences

          4. Aaron Klein

            We definitely leave jargon under the hood. Our technology uses your unique Risk Fingerprint to discover and turn any set of investing ideas into a personalized and predictable portfolio.If you go build yours with our Simple Portfolio, it would be exactly what you described, except we send you alerts when you need to make adjustments, and you don’t have to pay management fees.

          5. James Ferguson @kWIQly

            🙂 – Not mine – I have no money Too busy bootstrapping the biggest startup unknown to humankind !However it sounds really cool – So when some VC sticks a huge wad of cash in my pocket (or even a trade exit) – any volunteers Fred ! , I will be sure to check it out .

        2. Donna Brewington White

          Thanks for sharing that link on the Adamitulu Project, James. Looks interesting.

      2. Aaron Klein

        “There is no room for posturing in an early startup environment.”+1

  14. Tom Labus

    Thanks, Donna. That was great.All those themes run true and for me and I always need to add “slow down”. Good hires don’t get done in a day (my problem) and they need the time and energy to be done right.

    1. Donna Brewington White

      Do you mean slow down the hiring process?

      1. Tom Labus

        Yeah, for me anyway. Too quick to say this is the right person. Sometimes it works sometimes not.

        1. Donna Brewington White

          BTW, thank you.

  15. Anne Libby

    Donna, can you name a common recruiting “don’t” you see out there — and its corresponding “do”?

    1. Donna Brewington White

      Anne, I didn’t get to include the entire Twitter exchange in the post, but I appreciate the thoughts that you provoke in our exchanges and the interaction in general.Most of the recruiting that I do, I have some control over the process and the client benefits from my past mistakes. :)An ongoing issue is a lack of self-awareness in recruiting. I don’t mean individual self-awareness, but of the company’s self-awareness. And also, people underestimate the amount of information that is needed in making a good match.Before a search, I recommend bringing the team together and getting things out on the table. Make sure everyone is on the same page. Assess your strengths and weaknesses. Make sure you are accurately describing the company and culture to prospective candidates. The whole team? Part of the team? Depends on the size of the company and the type of hire.I see this problem less at startups but after about 15 or 20 people holes begin to develop and more is hidden.But, Anne, I want to turn this question back around to you. I am intrigued by the work that you do in helping companies to prepare for a hire. What do you see as a common problem/issue?

      1. Anne Libby

        Hah, I wasn’t expecting to have to work here! (And you, an answer that includes a question, great interview tactic. Another clue that you’re good!)Sometimes people don’t consider bringing someone on board as an investment. (What’s the general metric for this, Donna — 2-3 times salary?) So it’s worth investing your time to do it well, and prepare like you’d prepare for a pitch.To your point about getting things out on the table beforehand, you need a strategy. Important components:. If X people will interview a candidate, who will assess what? On what basis will each person make their assessment? . Has everyone reviewed the resume and other collateral the candidate has prepared/submitted? (Nobody should go in cold!). . Does everyone know how to perform an interview? To a point made by @matt_hughes:disqus earlier, will everyone’s interview demeanor reflect well on your team and your firm?. and so on…(And these aren’t just start-up issues. Just as likely to happen in large firms, once you get to the hiring manager and his/her team. Like anything else, a repeatable process for all of this is useful.)

  16. panterosa,

    Donna – you are always positive, which is always refreshing. Keeping that ‘world is your oyster mentality’ is the way to make most things fun. And fun is like a magnet for more fun. I agree things made with fun attitude are more enticing and playful.Question – do you matchmake founding partners?

    1. Aaron Klein

      That would be an interesting side gig.Take 2 points for the matchmaking and you’ve got yourself a retirement package. 😉

      1. awaldstein

        I like this idea.2 pts though feels a bit rich to me.

        1. Aaron Klein

          Probably so, but that’s what negotiations are for. 🙂

      2. Donna Brewington White

        You’ve got me thinking.

        1. panterosa,

          Me too 😉

    2. Donna Brewington White

      No, but I would love to do that.You know, it is funny to hear people describe me this way. I was a very serious kid and somehow that self-image has stuck.

  17. Aaron Klein

    An honor to be mentioned in your post today, Donna. You emailed me about this at 1:30 pacific time and you’re already up commenting, so apparently recruiting is so exhilarating that you never sleep!

    1. Kasi Viswanathan Agilandam

      the famous quote fits her “when you love your job you don’t work anymore … you have fun”.

      1. Aaron Klein


      2. Donna Brewington White

        Don’t get me wrong…there are many times when it feels just like work. I happen to like work.

    2. Donna Brewington White

      Was working the swing shift (or is that graveyard shift?) — wanted to be up when the post went live in case there were problems with any of the multiple links.Thanks for all the exchanges that help me to continue to hone my craft.

    3. fredwilson

      she’s in turntable at 5am when i show up. i don’t think she does sleep.

  18. JLM

    .Great post. Well played.Your enthusiasm is contagious in the context of your post which I am sure is a mirror into your practice.We do not have enough basic enthusiasm for what we do these days.Start the fire. Well played..

    1. Donna Brewington White

      Thank you, JLM.

    2. fredwilson

      start the fire!!!

  19. ShanaC

    I don’t want to exhaust you, but how do you pre-recruit to best make this fun?

    1. Brandon Burns

      you become friends with Charlie O’Donnell. he’ll go to every event imaginable, meet great people, and then forward them to you when you need them. at least that’s the word on the street!

      1. ShanaC

        I’ve met him. Maybe I’m looking for a different type of person

        1. Donna Brewington White


    2. Donna Brewington White

      Edited to add: [One way to do] Pre-recruiting is making your company visible and developing relationships. You ask the question of yourself, if I was the person I wanted to recruit, where would I be — online and off. Then you become visible in those environments. You’d probably do this if you plan on making multiple hires for a certain type of job such as a development team — or a very strategic hire.You have to be genuinely interested in what is going on in those environments or you will be seen for a fraud. Plus, you don’t necessarily want pre-recruiting to be the only reason you are there.Then you just have fun with it and you meet people. But you make notes, exchange contact information, offer to be of assistance, show genuine interest.And you tell your story in the course of conversations. It is important to know your story. and to share it. If telling your story is not fun then something is wrong.In the end, pre-recruiting is developing relationships. I have read comments from people like @andyswan:disqus and @philipsugar that give me the idea that they are excellent at recruiting and “pre-recruiting.”

  20. John Best

    Thanks for the post Donna, it really does make recruitment something to look forward to. Team building begins with building the team.

    1. Donna Brewington White

      Then mission accomplished. Thanks, John. When the time comes, there are some people at AVC on both sides of the pond who seem to excel at recruiting/hiring and may help provide a roadmap. I’ll tell you their names. 😉 And of course I’m always glad to be a sounding board or give advice.

  21. matthughes

    Great post.I’ve always thought the best recruiters recognize that many of the people they interview are often loyal customers.Whether you offer someone a job or not, you still want them to be loyal customers after the process. Treat them with great respect and communicate in timely fashion and you’ll have customers for life – not to mention terrific employees.Likewise, you will most certainly lose customers if you are un-cool in the recruiting process.

    1. Anne Libby

      You’ll also lose other potential hires, as people who feel ill-treated tell their friends. Key if you’re hiring from a tight community. (I speak from experience, after an appalling experience as a potential hire in a large firm 10 years or so ago.)

    2. Donna Brewington White

      Yes, Matthew! Great points.”many of the people they interview are often loyal customers”If I were managing an internal recruiting department, there would be some cross-pollination with marketing and customer service and reinforcement of how recruiting ties into the company’s marketing and customer service objectives.I’ve learned this as a 3rd party recruiter because the same person has often been a candidate at some point and a client at another. One of my recent clients was someone that I thought was calling because he was looking for a job and instead he was looking to hire and I wondered if I would have called him back more quickly if I had known that. It was a good wake-up call reminder.One of the emails I received today congratulating me on the post was from someone in his second CEO role that I interviewed a decade ago when he was a product manager. That is one of the exciting things about this business.

      1. matthughes

        I’m glad to hear you approach the process with customers in mind.Now that I think about it, I’ve never once applied at a company where I wasn’t already a loyal customer.

  22. Max Yoder

    “Recognize recruiting as a source of opportunity beyond hiring.”This is as true for the employer as it is for the prospective recruit. Three years ago, I was turned down from an internship at a big company. The connections I made during the recruiting process eventually led me to apply for an internship at a much smaller firm that specializes in user-experience design and investing called KA+A.I got that job, and it changed my life in profound ways.Today, I couldn’t be more thankful that the big company said no. They kindly led me to meet my current business partners and some of my best friends.Anyhow, great post, @donnawhite:disqus. And thank you for using Quipol. As you know, I think you’re awesome.

    1. Donna Brewington White

      Thank you, Max. I’ve got my eye on you. 🙂

  23. John Revay

    Hi Donna,Nice post, I especially liked the way you worked in people from AVC.Seems like Recruiting is something you do on a continual process – made me think about a a post from Fred many months ago about Continual Feedback.

    1. Donna Brewington White

      Thanks, John. Just pulled up that post… I remember this.…What is the connection that you see — if you care to expand?

      1. John Revay

        Just reading some of the quotes / thoughts that you published;Fred’s comment about Building a team is Building a Business,William’s quote about finding teh best talent he can to give him a competitive advantage,And your comment – “It is not a matter of whether or not you enjoy it, it is something that needs to be done”.I did not go back to the continual feed back post (which I often think about in life)….but it just seemed to me that recruiting / team building was a job you needed to do on a continual basis. Sorry if it was a stretch linking the two.

        1. Donna Brewington White

          I think there is something to that connection even if not directly. Recruiting is a building process and so there needs to be continuous activity at some level. That is one thing that companies can emulate from 3rd party professional recruiters. There is a strong “residuals” factor in what we do, which is why we are continuously cultivating relationships.Also, one of the pitfalls I see in search (recruiting) is a lack of awareness of what’s really going on in the company and culture which makes it hard to accurately match the right person — creates retention issues — sometimes HUGE ones! Better feedback mechanisms would help avoid this.

  24. Mac

    Thanks for guest posting on this topic. Being in the pre-formative startup phase, and realizing how little I actually know about recruiting a team, I especially like your point “recognize recruiting as a source of opportunity beyond hiring.” Approaching everyone I come in contact with as a potential early “evangelist”, whether they join the team or not, makes this early stage, in the life of my startup, even more exciting. I may reach out to you for advice along the way.

    1. Donna Brewington White

      Mac, knowing what you don’t know is the kind of awareness that is a seed to greatness.One of the things drilled into my head when I was learning to recruit years ago was make every call count. Now, it would be make every encounter count. I think this is good advice for entrepreneurs as well.Sometimes business development for me is similar to being a job candidate. I once tried to develop a certain CEO as a client. I had to visit his city on business and asked if we could meet. He spent a fair amount of time with me, gave me a tour of the offices and he always answered my emails. We never did business together but I became an avid product evangelist. So you are onto something with that thought.Please do reach out for advice. I would love that.

      1. Mac

        Thanks, Donna, I will. Much success.


    Thx Donna, good information.

    1. Donna Brewington White

      You are welcome EWS. And thank you. 🙂



    1. William Wagner


      1. Dave Pinsen

        +1 for the chuckle.

      2. fredwilson

        if that were true, i would vote for Mitt with enthusiasm

  27. Dale Allyn

    Thank you, Donna. It’s great to see your sincere passion and enthusiasm. That’s a wonderful message in itself.

    1. Donna Brewington White

      Thanks, Dale.

  28. FlavioGomes

    Some good learning here. Well done.

    1. Donna Brewington White

      Thanks, Flavio.

  29. Guest

    Newsflash for all start up CEO’s and senior management:When you got out in public for any reason you are recruiting whether you do so consciously or unconsciously.I read AVC everyday and just by the comments that people leave I have made a list of those who I find interesting and would like to have further conversations with. Those are people that have “recruited” me. Believe it or not I also wonder, “hmmm, I could work for them….”I cannot count the number of times I have interviewed someone and they mentioned that the only reason they applied for the job was because they had heard me speak or met me someplace and honestly 90% of the time I cannot remember whatever it was they were talking about.I sometimes think about what it would be like to work for/with JLM, I mean we are polar opposites in a lot of ways and trust me, there would be lots of times that being a fly on the wall in an office where he and I were conversing would be quite something to eavesdrop on….But in 5 years, if we didn’t kill the other, we would own the world! 🙂 It would be one heck of a clash of cultures; but remember when thinking about building your company that sometimes “clashes” can create energy and dynamics that create success.Fred is too nice of a guy, he would be no fun to battle with….Now, how important are people to an organization? Well, over the course of the last few months I have been inside quite a few old economy companies and I will tell you that their HR, their recruitment, and their supervisors and management is an antiquated disaster.After today I would say that the number one reason our country cannot create jobs is because management sucks and has as per Murphy’s Law obviously kiss assed to the level of their incompetency.Your people are what will make you successful. Treat your employees like you treat your customers. If you want your employees to give a damn about your business then you better let them know that you give a damn about them.Now Donna will say I am being my typical “straightforward” self, but no, today I am being blunt and brutally honest. Yes, I am in a bad mood but that is because I just returned from a plant that asked me to help them improve their operations…I told them that I decided today I was going to become part of the “changing the world” crowd and that to make the world a better place the first thing I believed that needed to happen was they needed to go out of business as quickly as possible…Then I left and drove home…Remember, you are recruiting people everyday you are out and about; and as a start up or a small company you are the company; and finally, you cannot do it all so you need people so be appreciative and thankful for everyone that honors you with their employment. If you are sincere and truthful, recruitment will be a piece of cake.Or real simple, “talk the talk and walk the walk…”Great post Donna and do keep fighting the good fight!

    1. Donna Brewington White

      Thanks, Carl. I could work with you.You gave that plant a gift. Hard to do but someone had to. It’s not easy being that person.And I think you underestimate Fred.

      1. Guest

        Sorry Donna, the company is the second largest supplier of a critical part of most japanese cars and they will be around a long time.They are making a big push to be number 1 but they will fail at that and eventually its going to dawn on someone that their management is pathetic.But I went through everything step by step and highlighted their weaknesses and actually gave them totals of how much time their plant management spends interacting with employees on production related issues. 12 hour days and I documented less than an hour per supervisor.Never heard so much “passing the buck” going on in one place in my life to them no one is responsible for anything and all problems are directly related to the fact that the employees don’t give a damn…When I asked who was responsible for the fact that the employees don’t give a damn they just looked at me as if I was speaking in a foreign language.Now, the Japanese President has been on the job for four months and they are expanding in a big way…So, there maybe hope, but the American plant managers have all got to go…

  30. Robert Thuston

    If there is anyone to hear about enthusiasm from, it should be Donna. Donna has such a great enthusiasm that lifts people up. And Hiring is one of those important tasks that needs to be approached with it. “Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm” Ralph Waldo Emerson

    1. Donna Brewington White

      Wow, Robert. Thank you so much. And I like that quote. Tweeting it now.

  31. Robert Holtz

    WOOT! Way to go, Donna. ^^

    1. Donna Brewington White

      Thanks, Robert.

  32. PhilipSugar

    Great point. Recruiting is fun. Its so interesting to understand why somebody gave up going for their PhD in Anthropology and go into sales, or why somebody decided to go into engineering because they worked on a line assembling truck trailers. So many interesting people to get to know. And you do all through recruiting.

    1. Donna Brewington White

      Which is probably why I had you in the back of my mind when I was writing this as a good example of a CEO who gets it!

  33. Dave W Baldwin

    Nice post Donna! It is amazing to hear of those who aren’t ready and/or take serious the realm of recruitment.

    1. Donna Brewington White

      Thank you, Dave. I actually do understand. People come at this entrepreneurial thing from so many different angles. Some stumble into this initially thinking they were developing the world’s greatest product and then were hit with the realization at some point that this would also mean building a company, being a leader, managing people. Not always the same personality type doing all these things.

      1. Dave W Baldwin

        Ha! Then you have the outsiders who can’t appreciate what it takes to handle that many things at one time.

  34. andyidsinga

    great, energetic post Donna. ( thanks Fred for bringing in yet another great guest post).I do a little bit of recruiting and especially enjoy meeting with the candidates. Im often surprised and delighted by how different people are after they’re hired. Common interview and resume stack recruiting process seem broken and too facadish ..need more ‘say hi’ time.I especially liked this part of the post:”Recognize recruiting as a source of opportunity beyond hiring”…”For instance, you may learn of business opportunities, build your network, gain market intelligence, be exposed to new ways of thinking and of doing things, and introduce your product to people who will become evangelists”cheers!

    1. Donna Brewington White

      Thank you, Andy. Yes, recruiting and hiring are broken. Often artificial.As grueling as the nonprofit searches I have done have been, I got to know the candidates on a whole different level — met spouses and kids in some situations. Much more relational process. And even though managing a search committee was like herding cats, this was also another source of depth brought to the search. I would like to bring some of those elements into business searches without making them cumbersome — which would take some engineering that I haven’t quite figured out.

  35. Donna Brewington White

    Thank you, Charlie. I was hoping I’d “see” you today.I think that this is one of the most important points that can be made.Recruiting should not be a solo act.