How to Hire Great People at Web Speed

The speed-hiring team at Vignette Corp. wants to close on at least 25% of its hires within 48 hours -- and cut its turnover rate to 1%.

Just five minutes after Michelle Bynum's name was submitted via an online-referral form for a position as an inside sales rep at Austin, Texas-based Vignette Corp., a recruiter phoned her, assessed her skills and experience, and then asked her to come in for a round of interviews. The following morning, Bynum, 28, met one-on-one with members of Vignette's speed-hiring team. That afternoon, members of the team compared notes, checked Bynum's references, and agreed to make her an offer. Bynum accepted the job offer late that night -- and started work the next day.

Vignette hires fast because it must. The company, which makes software applications for online businesses, is locked in a race for market share in the hypercompetitive B2B Web industry. Its revenue grew 450% in 1999, as it racked up nearly $90 million in sales and sealed deals with the likes of Citigroup Inc. and Motorola Inc.

Talent is the catalyst for Vignette's hypergrowth. In just less than three years, it has swelled from 100 employees to 2,300 employees worldwide. With each passing quarter, Vignette continues to sign on 400 of the toughest hires of all: impact players from other high-tech companies, many of whom are already recognized for their skills.

"We're looking for people who aren't looking for work," says recruiting director Stephanie Beard, 33, who was Vignette's one-hundredth hire. "We want industry veterans with domain expertise and with the ability to get a product to market fast."

Given its less than 3% annual employee-turnover rate -- versus a 21.8% turnover rate for the it industry as a whole -- Vignette also hires smart. People who sign up tend to stay on. How does Vignette do it? Here are three lessons, direct from the company's fast track.

Everyone Recruits

In the battle for talent, your company will be outgunned if HR is left to do all of the hiring. That's why Greg Peters, 40, the company's chairman, CEO, and president, has asked Vignette's employees to devote 10% of their time to recruiting. Many of them are answering the call. More than 60% of Vignette's hires come through referrals, the gold standard for any recruiter.

One reason that so many Vignetters are volunteer recruiters: "Everyone here is a business owner," says Beard. "And we all want to bring in entrepreneurial, passionate people."

But if pitching in for the company's greater good isn't enough of a motivation, hard cash helps. Vignette employees get a $2,000 bonus for every one of their referrals who's hired. At the end of 2000, the employee who racked up the most referrals drove home with a two-year lease on a Mercedes-Benz S500.

Make Your Pitch With Your Product

Vignette's flagship product is the V/5 E-business Platform, which companies use as an online channel for acquiring and retaining customers. Vignette also uses the V/5 to acquire new hires -- by leveraging it as a recruiting database. Vignette's Web site takes in more than 100 résumés a day -- almost 20,000 in the past six months. Within seconds after a résumé is posted, an alert pops up in a recruiter's email inbox. That same day, qualified applicants get a phone interview. Applicants who pass the phone screen are brought in for a round of interviews, often within 48 hours. Says Beard: "We're sending a signal that Vignette has its act together. We know how to make decisions fast."

Tag-Team Interviews

Most candidates are interviewed one-on-one by as many as eight staffers, each of whom has a different area of expertise. A master programmer assesses the candidate's technical chops; a hiring manager takes a read on the candidate's ability to handle Vignette's fast-paced, autonomous culture. Then, the internal recruiter sells the company and wraps up the final interview.

Vignette's tag-team interviewing comes with two big advantages. By digging into a specific set of competencies, interviewers avoid asking repeat questions. And while one interviewer meets with a candidate, other team members conduct their due diligence at the same time and can be in a position to make an offer by 5 PM that day.

The record for Vignette's fastest hire is 24 hours. But as you read this, Beard's speed-hiring team is shooting for two new goals: to close on at least 25% of its hires within 48 hours, before a competitor has a chance to strike, and to knock down the turnover rate to less than 1%. "Recruiting in the high-tech arena is like racing in the Indy 500," she says. "You've got to move fast to win the race. But if you lose control of your turnover, you crash and burn."

Debra Hunter interned at Fast Company this past summer. Learn more about Vignette Corp. on the Web (www.vignette.com).

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