Hiring the right people at the right time is critical to the success of a growing business. As a CEO, it’s your job to make sure you’re getting the right people on the bus. First hires can boost you to a strong start or snowball into a string of unconfident hiring decisions and wasted resources. Join host and CEO Casey Gauss for a conversation about hiring with Viral Launch Director of Talent, Matt Henry.
Matt Henry is the Director of Talent at Viral Launch. From GE to the Healthcare industry to Angie’s List and now Viral Launch, Matt has an incredible depth of knowledge when it comes to finding, hiring, training, and (when necessary) firing employees. He has hired for highly technical roles across various industries and knows exactly how to pinpoint talent.
Follow the Data Show Notes
- Check out the Netflix culture deck that Casey mentions in the show
- Want to learn more about Matt? Check him out on LinkedIn!
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CASEY GAUSS: As a business grows hiring the right people at the right time is critical to success but not a simple task. How do you find the right people. What should an interview look like and what are the right and wrong questions to ask. Who should be involved in the process.
If you’re currently running your Amazon business or planning on getting started anytime soon as a CEO it’s your job to make sure you’re getting the right people on the bus. First hires can either boost you to a strong start or it can snowball down a slippery slope of unconfident hiring decisions and wasted resources.
I’m Casey Gauss your host for Follow The Data, your journey to Amazon FBA success in the show we leverage the data we’ve accumulated up Viral Launch from over 30.000 product launches and experience working with over 8,000 brands to help you understand the big picture when it comes to Amazon and more importantly the best practices for success as an Amazon seller.
So Cam is still in China so we have another guest with us this week Matt Henry, our Director of Talent here at Viral Launch. Last week we talked to sellers Anthony Nick and Fernando about their experience building teams for their businesses. So this week we wanted to talk about kind of the same topic but just from the Viral Launch perspective. And so Matt welcome to the podcast.
MATT HENRY: Hey guys. Thanks for inviting me to join today, Casey. I’m pretty excited to talk about how we’re building our crew here at our Viral Launch and how we go about our recruiting and vetting of candidates. So you obviously making good hiring decisions as critical as companies grow from start-up and continue to scale. So as the saying goes, making a bad hiring decision will cost the company more in the long run than taking time and diligence to make the right hire the first time.
CASEY GAUSS: Absolutely. So, Matt, if you could just help everybody get to understand you a little bit better what is your background. I think it’s pretty impressive but I’d like for the people to hear it themselves.
MATT HENRY: So my first job was an internship with General Motors when I was in college. I got to have the experience recruiting and hiring other college students who were primarily engineering majors to participate in internships that would eventually lead them to a full time offers, when they did graduate. And then I also experience in health care HR – it’s sort of its own kind of animal. I did everything from payroll to recruiting nursing aids to doing training and compliance and then most recently before Viral Launch I was at Angie’s List. So a tech company here local to Indianapolis I did high volume recruiting for sales teams. I’ve done operational recruiting so that would be roles like finance and marketing and then highly technical roles like software engineering and data science. While I was there I did a stint as an HR information systems analyst so I know your software and analytics pretty well and how those can contribute to the business. And then my last assignment was a HR partner to the organization. So involved pretty much any and everything or that leadership or employees would need throughout that organization.
CASEY GAUSS: So does I. I imagine this is so – does every person have their number? Of how many people they’ve hired.
MATT HENRY: I kind of do. I’ve kind of forgotten because I’ve been so busy – I haven’t been tracking it as much lately. But I do know in one month it was January of 2017. I hired gosh I think it was like 29 software engineering people, in just one month.
CASEY GAUSS: Wow. So if you had to ballpark is it in the order of you know a couple hundred?
MATT HENRY: No it’s probably at Angie’s List it was probably over 600.
CASEY GAUSS: Holy cow. OK. So as you guys can hear this guy has tons of experience. One of my favorite qualities of Matt the one thing that I admire the most is this guy knows how to say everything so in any particular situation he knows how to very strategically ask a question to get the result that he’s looking for or he knows exactly how to you know push a candidate to accept the offer now even though they want to later or maybe in an uncomfortable situation when he has to address some of the things that you know fall under HR this role he absolutely knows the perfect words. He has a perfect like vocal inflections I mean it’s amazing so I’m really trying to pick up on what this guy is doing and how he talks. So yeah a lot of the times when I have a particular question I have to go deal with this particular situation. I’ll first pull Matt into a room and say Matt – OK what words should I use or how should I say this. I really appreciate that Matt.
MATT HENRY: I might be blushing a little bit.
CASEY GAUSS: OK so just to get into some basic questions are job descriptions important? So when you put up a listing for a candidates actually first: where is the best place to post jobs? Where are you finding these people?
MATT HENRY: Yeah well I want to take you back to job description for just a second. The only reason I say that is you can’t hire the right person if you don’t know what the responsibilities will be you’ll just spin your wheels talking to all sorts of different people so take the time first to outline what the job is actually going to be. And then once you get that figured out you can move about posting the jobs. So there’s ZipRecruiter, Indeed, LinkedIn – those are all pretty popular and your own career site is definitely a place you want to make sure you have it posted and that brings me kind of to a side point a company career site is key. So people who know about you and want to be part of what you’re doing will often go searching your site for information. So if you don’t have that specific career page showcasing your culture and listing out of your jobs there’s a pretty good chance you could miss that person that was just the right fit for the job. So back to job postings they’re certainly you know probably one of the most popular ways to hire but I would also argue that networking is the most effective way. So even that might be out of your comfort zone, get out there and meet people. I met you guys at a networking event and look what happened.
CASEY GAUSS: Yeah. So we met Matt at a networking event here in Indianapolis. And it just so happened that he was in the market for a job and we got you started around October I think. Recording this April just got started and how many people have hired at Viral Launch, like 15 or so?
MATT HENRY: It’s been 15 just this year and there were a couple the end of last year.
CASEY GAUSS: Yeah. So Matt has really been stepping on the gas which has been amazing – some of our best hires have come already from Matt. And he just has everything in the pipeline. So going back to some basic questions resumes are coming in. What are you looking at?
MATT HENRY: Yeah I mean you first have to kind of look at those skills. You know how does what they’ve done in the past contribute to what you have. So can kind of relate that back to the job description or what you envision that job to be. Once that looks good you know set aside those people and if you need to rank them so that you’re not spending too much time on the individual interview process. Do that and go with your first couple candidates first. You probably want to spend some time on the phone know before you go through the struggle of bringing all these people in because you can learn quite a bit on the phone screen.
CASEY GAUSS: So speaking of phone screens – you know how do you approach those? How long are they supposed to last? What kind of questions are you asking? What are you looking for?
MATT HENRY: Yeah. So screening candidates on the phone is going to help eliminate the need to do interview after interview so that’s why I consider it pretty important. The candidate looks good on paper. That’s only half the battle. So spending some time on the phone can certainly give you a good feeling for how they align with the position. And then also how are they going to contribute to the culture of the company. You can kind of hear that through the phone or you can ask some questions centered around that as well.
CASEY GAUSS: So sorry to take it a step back and try to take a pretty actionable approach for those who are listening. So if I am writing my first job description where should I be looking. You know how do I come up with the concept for this job description?
MATT HENRY: Well generally most most jobs that anyone think of have been posted it out there by other companies. So one of the best resources is to just do the search as if you’re the candidate. Gather some of those descriptions put it together and then you know kind of specialize it for what your needs are. So it might involve taking some from one of them from another. And then also help you come up with some other points that might be valid for your description.
CASEY GAUSS: Nice. Yeah I love that. And then. OK. You’ve gone through I can’t even imagine how many thousands of resumes. So what are some of your tips or tricks for going through those quick enough where you can throw some out and keep the ones that really matter?
MATT HENRY: Well you know formatting is a big key as someone’s resume is trash. This doesn’t look good. That kind of can go to the quality of work that they’re going to produce for you. So I generally eliminate those people pretty quick. And then there are a lot of people who just apply for any and everything even if they have no skills to match the reading through the resume you can see that you know if you’re if you’ve got someone who has been a customer service representative and they’re applying for data science you can quickly put that aside too.
CASEY GAUSS: Hear Viral Launch we don’t care if you have a degree so much. I mean definitely can help weed things out but we really focused on your ability to produce results. And so obviously the way that your resume looks is a reflection of that. So after the phone screen. First off before we dive into the specifics more can you can you just walk us through the process so you look at resumes. You filter them out then a phone screen. What does that whole process look like?
MATT HENRY: Yeah so after the phone screen. You know you’ve got a pretty good selection of candidates you might have four or five sort of fit the mold and then you can move forward with setting up interviews. And typically when it comes to an interview there are a couple of ways you can set those up. But I would recommend that at minimum, you obviously want to have them meet with the person who’s going to be managing them from day to day.
CASEY GAUSS: Yeah. So if you have a product manager or maybe you have a marketing manager or just a general project manager, then make sure that they’re going to get along that they’re going to mesh well. Then also I think it’s important to take that person’s opinion of how well this candidate will be able to perform the job or whatever into account. So Matt here for some of our roles we do skills assessments. Can you walk us through why we do these skills assessment and where those fall in the interviewing process?
MATT HENRY: Yeah so skills assessments. You know it really depends on the role. So I always recommend them for highly technical roles – in fact it’s almost a must. It’s easy for a candidate to sort of spout off definitions and talk pretty intelligently about a topic. But can they actually apply it. So here at Viral Launch we use an interactive coding test for our software engineering roles and it’s proven to be pretty highly effective piece of the interviewing puzzle. If you can pass that, chances are you’re going to be very good at working on our platform.
CASEY GAUSS: Yeah. So guys I cannot stress this enough. So we’ve hired maybe 51, 52 people or so and we’ve had to let some people go because we you know I put full blame on us. We made some bad hiring decisions. And so I think it’s inevitable that you hiring is so tough in probably the area I’m or one of the areas I’m most intimidated on when it comes to business and growing a business. One reason I’m so thankful to Matt here but I mean you guys are going to make mistakes. I don’t like if you are over analyzing. If you are afraid to move forward because you are afraid of making these mistakes you’re really doing a disservice to your business and your potential customers. I think you have to be taking those steps I think you have to be putting those foot those feet forward because you to learn so much through that entire process. Every hire that we made that we shouldn’t have made was simply a function of we just weren’t paying attention to the right things or we were paying attention to the wrong things. And yet anyways hiring very important. Very tough. So I imagine people are intimidated. I think one of the most common questions I hear is you know I am a perfectionist and I know people who will not be doing the job as good as myself. So I think there’s there’s two potential answers here. One your business is very its growth potential is very limited if you are the bottleneck here so you absolutely have to be hiring. Two, if you are doing a good enough job hiring you should be finding people that are doing whatever these tasks are whatever these projects are much better than yourself. So obviously there will be time to ramp them up bring them up to speed. But assuming that they are good at whatever it is coding, product research, project management, customer service, these people should be better at that than you are they should be able to do it at scale. So I cannot encourage you enough to get out and start making those decisions. This is one of the biggest reasons I see people not reaching their full potential on Amazon is honestly they’re just too afraid to hire or they’re not willing to take the time and sometimes you have to take one step back so you can take three steps forward four steps forward. Sometimes if you’re hiring the right people, especially in these early stages it can have major growth potential. So. Anyways going back to Matt and some of these questions. One I think favorite question is: What is your best your favorite interview questions?
MATT HENRY: So I think it kind of goes two-fold when it comes interview questions. There can be the one role that you don’t really have the skillset to hire for. So it’s just too far above you. So one of the things that I recommend before I go into necessarily my favorite questions is to figure out someone out in the community that can be sort of that person to help evaluate candidates. You can do your research to kind of understand the skill set better. But it’s kind of going to lead me back to when we were talking about networking earlier. Oftentimes people we meet through networking have that sort of ability to help help hone some interview questions for you or even maybe we’ll spend some few minutes on the phone with the candidate that you’ve identified to make sure that pass that technical side of things and then we go to the whole like how does that candidate work how are they going to fit into the environment. So for that I usually like to focus on behavior based questions. Those are the types of questions that tell me about a time or what would you do when or describe this for me. These questions are great to understand just how has the candidate behaved in the past because as we all know past behavior is more often than not an indicator of future performance. While these qualities may help you eliminate candidates I wouldn’t necessarily say that’s the goal of these questions because they can also help you understand areas that you might need to help new employees grow in. So maybe they pass all the technical skills and they do pretty well with these behavior based questions. But one of those questions you know put up a little flag that this is something that might be something that I need to work on with the candidate. I also caution you you know we hear a lot about we want people who are team oriented. So you’re going to have a lot of candidates that use the word we a lot. So it definitely shows the teamwork aspect. But I want to understand how accountable someone is the specifically. So was it that the team did all the work or I’ve sat wondering before you know someone told me that that we have accomplished all these things. But I don’t really understand how they contributed. Do they just go along for the ride? So I force them into giving specifics about themselves even if you have to directly ask them how did you specifically contribute to the project you were just talking about.
CASEY GAUSS: Nice. Yeah so going back to an example of using someone that is very tech savvy within the particular domain where you may not have the expertise. Maybe it is an operations person to come in and make a handle facilitating working with suppliers bringing that inventory into Amazon you know whatever. So here at Viral Launch have been trying to hide a data scientist for seems like forever. And so we we’ve made friends with the chief data scientist at one of the incubators and VC funds here in Indianapolis. And so whenever a data scientist candidate makes it past like our technical test then he will come in and test them out. And so he’s really saved us so there is a guy pass our technical test. He’s actually one of like 30 some people or so that I’ve actually passed our technical test. We brought him in we interviewed him we are super excited about him. Then we had Mark this chief data scientist come in to interview them and they were speaking data science at like high level or whatever. And we absolutely he came in and said you know this guy is absolutely not your guy. And I do not think that you should hire him and so that was kind of scary for us because we definitely would have jumped in and made that decision if he wasn’t helping us so as Matt said make sure you’re building those those connections. I mean it will payoff so much more than just hiring. But that’s one quick example of how that has helped us. I didn’t want to give a specific example on some technical tests that we’ve done so for photographers for example. We send them a couple of products we ask them to do some studio shots some lifestyle shots. They have to go and figure out what that means exactly. We want to understand their creativity through that process. We don’t give them you know a specific shortlist or anything we want to understand how creative are you. We want to make it most like a real life scenario. And so whatever they come back with if they do a good job of that then they move on to that final stage of hiring or you know we are hiring like a director of finance or a controller here. So then we sent them you know a couple of anonymized months of transactions and we asked them to categorize them pull some put together some correlations you know help us that according to GAAP scheduling GAAP accounting sorry. And then he comes in and he presents it so he or she. So anyways those are just a couple of examples of skills base tests. So Matt bad hires performance like how do you manage performance especially. I don’t know if you have too much experience with this but especially in a like a remote scenario. One question is how productive are these people being? You know do I need to be big brother and monitor every single mouse move of theirs? How do you handle that?
MATT HENRY: I mean I think you have to look at what do you have someone on site produce. So if we have someone working remotely are they contributing just as much as the person sitting right next to us? And that’s pretty measurable so software engineer for instance they are either coding or they aren’t. If we have someone and are listening department working remote they either are finishing listings or they are not. It’s pretty black and white when it comes to making sure they are contributing. So I definitely don’t think it’s a big brother situation but I think it comes down to setting expectations so when this person comes on board explain to them exactly what their job is going to be and what it looks like and what performance metrics you expect expect out of them.
CASEY GAUSS: Yeah we’re going to I will make sure that we post in the show notes a link to Netflix’s culture deck. So if you’re really looking to build a team and I think that you should absolutely be carrying about culture we do here at Viral Launch a ton. I view it as one of my top responsibilities to make sure that we’re providing and fostering the culture to push people make sure people are loving what’s going on here. Just really excited about the mission that we have here of our launch. So anyways I want to post this Netflix culture deck. I mean really they are so focused on hiring the right people hiring responsible people that you don’t need to have all of this you know screen capture software whatever to watch okay what pages are my employees visiting when on billable hours. I like working a lot more on a project basis where there are clearly defined expectations and goals and then just allow them that creativity assuming that you’re hiring you know smart people who are capable of thinking creatively and making good decisions. Anyways just sending them that project and then watching what they come back with. Obviously setting expectations in terms of timeline and then from there is just about really kind of pushing them to complete it faster do it better and then moving on to kind of that next project and so through that without the big brother-esque of watching their screen or having you know these time punches of you know you’re on this website at this time or whatever. I think it allows them to just think about the job completely differently and just be very creative. You know some people still think that here at Viral Launch I’m the one dictating every single thing and aware of every single thing that’s going on. I mean we have you know forty five employees or whatever here and I’m not like we’re just really focus on hiring creative smart people that genuinely care about others. And basically it’s my job to help everybody understand what the mission is the goals are so that everybody can march accordingly and we can all work together in our own creative respects to fulfill the mission which is helping you guys. So yeah anyways just a little branch off of where are going. I think that’s pretty much it. Matt anything else – any final words of wisdom?
MATT HENRY: I mean just to go off the bad hires thing there’s nothing worse than bringing a bad hire onto the organization. So I would caution you they can be the cancer that can result in lost productivity negative vibes across your team and pretty much the whole culture down. So I would advocate that you don’t just hire you know based on skills. If someone can do the job that’s great but they lack certain values. You know we spend a lot of time talking about our values and how people fit to our core values. If someone doesn’t fit that value just because we have the skills to do the job doesn’t mean they’re going to work out. It can be a problem. And in the end in the end you’ll find yourself spending more time cleaning up the mess that they leave behind. You can implement corrective action and all that HR speak but it comes down to making sure that you found the right person that fits both the skills and a certain set of values that you want to exemplify in your organization.
CASEY GAUSS: So sorry I went on a tangent just before that so I do want to talk a bit more about that hires. So pretty quickly we’ve been able to discern yes this person does or does not fit within the culture. And yes or no they are not ambitious enough to to really help us achieve what we’re trying to achieve and so kind of the winding down process or when we do identify that you know we don’t think someone is performing as well as they could be or what our expectations are for that role. Essentially we’ll bring them in for more of a laid back talk to really just make sure that you know. A lot of the times in these scenarios, I view it as I am not doing a good enough job setting my expectations or helping them to understand what my expectations are. So talk number one we’ll be sitting down. I don’t even know if Matt would be involved at this point. Or maybe it would just be Matt but it’s really just about setting expectations and letting them know. Okay. You know this is what we’ve noticed in the first week or this is what we’ve noticed in the first couple of weeks. Here’s kind of what we were expecting. You know how can I do a better job of helping you to get there right. And then you know what Matt, like a week or two after that if if we’re still not liking what’s going on then we’ll have a more specific talk.
MATT HENRY: Yeah I think everyone deserves a second chance so certainly comes about that first that first discussion to make sure they’re aware of it. They may not they may not understand what they’re doing that isn’t working right. Maybe we haven’t set the right expectation which is why you know we’ve worked a lot on building that out as we continue to grow. But you know given that second chance and if it’s still not clicking with them you can’t afford to drag your whole organization down just for someone to be sort of sitting there not performing not contributing. So you know it might be time in that relationship.
CASEY GAUSS: So when we usually put together because we want to have everything you know as buttoned up as possible. When is it that we put together the kind of like written. OK. This is what I’m expecting to see kind of thing.
MATT HENRY: Yeah I mean I think you have that first discussion and you know the follow up that next week and if there still are some specific things happening you have that written document ready to say here’s what needs to happen. And you know I think you know we unfortunately have an opportunity for two people to do better. And there had to be a change made. We gave them the chance. But I’m proud to say because we’ve taken the steps up front to make sure we’ve got good hires. We haven’t had any since that time yeah.
CASEY GAUSS: Yeah. Those hires all came before Matt was here actually so to Matt’s credit. But yeah. And you know I think it’s so easy to kind of you know demonize people or think like oh you know they just are lazy and don’t want to work. Like a lot of the time initially it will just be again misunderstanding the expectation. So make sure that you’re setting those robustly upfront and then from there in terms of actually letting people go. I’ve also heard stories of well you know we just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t do it so we just let them continue on. I mean here’s the thing, you are putting everybody else’s job you know in jeopardy or you know you’re pulling the entire company down by having someone you know you’re listening to this podcast you probably don’t have thousands of employees or hundreds of employees at that at that. And so each person on your team should be critical in driving significant value to the company and if they’re not that’s a big waste of resources. And also that’s a spot that should be replaced with somebody that can be very impactful and then you know what I’ve noticed so one guy that we let go we’re kind of friends in college. That’s not why we hired them I was not involved in the hiring process and we brought him on and you know he was really trying really trying. And it just wasn’t working out. And he kind of understood that. And so we ended up letting him go. It really really sucked at first. But I saw him maybe a month later at a wedding and he was like you know thank you so much. I definitely think that you know it was God that had that happen because now I’m in my perfect job. I’m thriving. I’m being very effective. I’m loving what’s going on and the company is loving what’s going on. You know if they’re not a good fit for the company then they probably don’t feel comfortable. They’re probably not excited about what’s going on and you know it’s up to you kind of to help them realize that or to really part ways and so at least that’s how I can justify letting people go I guess.
MATT HENRY: I think sometimes it’s you know we facilitate the next opportunity. Finding the right thing is not here so move on to the next place and we can help that.
CASEY GAUSS: Awesome. OK I. Yeah I think that is it for this week guys. Matt thanks so much for joining us. Hopefully a ton of value if you guys have any more specific questions please. We are posting the show notes on our blog and we’d love any feedback in the comments. We’d love to answer any questions or even specific questions around hiring. So that’s all for this week. Thanks so much for joining us on Follow The Data for more insights into reliable information about how to grow your Amazon business. Subscribe to the podcast and check us out on YouTube. We have tutorial videos for all of our tools as well as webinars that go more in-depth with pro tips for how to really get the most out of the tools. If you’re listening to us on iTunes don’t forget to leave review and rate the show. If you’re listening on another platform like SoundCloud, leave us a comment. We’d love to hear your thoughts your suggestions for future episodes. We want to make sure that we’re driving as much value as possible on this podcast. Help us extract the knowledge of the data the experience we have to help you better succeed in your business. If you know a fellow seller who is trying to grow their Amazon business tell them just check out the series and the rest of the Follow The Data episodes. We want to be a resource for sellers and the information source in the space. So please tell your friends spread the word and share the show. Thanks again for listening. And as always if you want to be featured on the show have an Amazon related question, have an idea for an episode, feel free to leave us a voicemail. Our number is: (317) 721-6590. Until next time remember: the data is out there.
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