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Alex van Klaveren
...bring in a human touch into interviewing.
Co-Founder and CEO at Kandidate
Alex has been a founder at six startups with two exits and two that well...didn't work out. He has worked with over 100 talent teams at scale ups and his team has placed over 5,000 candidates at scale ups. He is passionate about helping founders solve their no.1 problem, talent.
Kandidate helps talent teams at fast growing companies hire, fast. Their embedded model of talent partners and sourcers work directly with talent teams to help them hit their hiring targets.
In this episode, we are chatting to Alex van Klaveren, who is the co-founder and the CEO of Kandidate. Kandidate is an embedded recruiting company that does things a little bit differently. They send their talent partners to work as internal recruiters in their clients' businesses, to help increase the speed and the quality of the hiring process.
Alex talks us through the reasons behind this unique approach and gives some very good insights into how to find out if not only a candidate, but also the hiring company is remote ready.
He also shares some tips for a successful interview process and what questions are best to avoid when trying to find the right candidate.
With Alex Van Klaveren, Co-founder and CEO of Kandidate
Sandra Redlich 01:25
Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule. Alex, I know you've been quite busy lately. So appreciate it. I want to start off our conversation with a question that I ask every guest which is where are you joining us from today?
Alex Van Klaveren 01:38
So I'm in Lisbon in Portugal. We have a team here. We have a few clients here. It's a great part of the world. It's a big surfing part. I'm sure a few of your Aussie listeners have probably looked it up. It's got the biggest wave in the world, Nazaré. I actually saw it last week. And it was... So the record is 33 meters.
Sandra Redlich 02:02
Oh, wow. That is a big wave.
Alex Van Klaveren 02:05
That doesn't even look... When you see it on Instagram or on YouTube, you think it's sort of CGI or something. But I saw it and it was eight meters. And that was still, when you're on the shoreline, you still sort of, you take a step back. So yeah, I mean, incredible country, doing lots of interesting things. And it's great to be here.
Sandra Redlich 02:26
That sounds pretty good to me. So when you're saying you've got a team here, that's your team at Kandidate, a company that you co-founded, and are currently the CEO of and what I've read about Kandidate is pretty intriguing. Because you are - correct me if I'm wrong - a hiring agency, a recruiting agency, but you have a very unique process to how you approach your work. Can you describe a little bit about, like, what it is that you do differently or how your process, your work, looks like?
Alex Van Klaveren 02:54
Yeah, I suppose we wouldn't really call ourselves an agency. I think a lot of people, when they hear the word agency, they think of a recruitment agency where you come and they pay a per fee per role. So we've been going for six years, we're 60 People now, we're spread across 26 countries, which I think is quite unique. Most of our clients are scale-ups. So they tend to be about Series B and they tend to be hiring quite fast, or they tend to be hiring very specific roles, which is often product and sort of engineering. The model is a little bit different, in that we call ourselves embedded. We are part or we actually work alongside the actual talent team. And the team is split between sources. Sources in this case means kind of researchers, and also talent partners, which are also called recruiters, but I think the way we deliver, the way we partner with companies is pretty unique. The business model means that companies save a huge amount of money. And we are typically with a company of somewhere between four and six months.
Sandra Redlich 04:00
The way I understand it, you basically... You said embedded, so you have your team, and they kind of go and move into your partner's businesses to help them set up a hiring strategy or actually go to work and hire. Where does the work begin and where does it end?
Alex Van Klaveren 04:20
It's both. I mean, in some cases, there's a very small talent team. And in some cases, we actually have to work with them on process. That's a great thing for us. And we really like showing the way that we do things. In other cases, certainly later stage start-ups, the process is quite defined. And in that case, we come in, they will give us the roles, which tend to be on the engineering side. And we will come in and we will look at it, we'll spec it out and we'll bring a team in and then we deliver on that.
Sandra Redlich 04:51
Yeah. And what is the reasoning behind this unique process that you've come up with? What are the pros that you found doing it this way?
Alex Van Klaveren 05:00
It was trial and error. I think at the beginning, I think when we did have an agency side to our business, we had a platform side to our business. And simply with this model, it was just working the best. We were getting the best feedback, it was the best experience for our team, our clients, and ultimately, for the candidates, because I think you're really part of that company. So our team have an email address, they are part of the Slack, they can actually represent the company in the best way. And because we're not just picking up a fee for every hire, I think it just means there is trust amongst everyone who is part of the process.
Sandra Redlich 05:37
Yeah. And given the fact that they're completely embedded, they're also like, one of the main things I would imagine that they're doing is the interviewing and the finding the talent aspect of things. How do you find talent? You've said that you have people in 26 countries, that's already a lot. I'm assuming you're probably hiring in even more. How do you build a talent pool? Or how do you find the right talents for your clients?
Alex Van Klaveren 06:03
Yeah, so sourcing is a word which is quite particular, I think, even the word and the whole sort of discipline is quite misunderstood. So it's a cultural thing. In the states, sourcing is actually its own job. In the UK, and in many other countries, you sometimes have a recruiter who does the sourcing and the actual screening and the delivery side. I think for us, when we looked at it six years ago, we tried to look at what do we fundamentally have to get right to be able to actually create predictable hiring. And for us, it's sourcing. So what is sourcing? So I think some people think sourcing is just going on to LinkedIn. LinkedIn is one channel. It's a very popular channel. But for things like engineers, many of the engineers are not on LinkedIn, or don't respond, even if they have a LinkedIn profile. So you have to use other tactics. Some of the of the terminology I'm going to throw at you or your audience may not know because these are quite advanced. So things like X-ray search, so Boolean search, social search...
Sandra Redlich 07:12
Yeah, you'll have to explain those.
Alex Van Klaveren 07:14
They are, in simple terms, you're manipulating the internet to be able to find people in a more efficient way. So I think Google, we always think of Google as this little box, and we put in a word and it gives us results. What we don't realize is behind that, there's an algorithm that is choosing what those actual results are. So if you put in a different set of things you're looking for, it actually brings up a totally different result. So this is a little clue there of sort of how it works. One of the things that's really important here is DE&I, so this is something that for most companies we speak to, you know, that's a priority for them. They want to do a great job on this. The reality and the challenge is the DE&I actually is very time consuming. And it's time consuming, because actually creating a balanced list, looking for candidates in places that are not just on LinkedIn, that takes time. And if there's one thing that people don't have in scale-ups, that's time, because we're all doing too many things. And we're trying to do it fast.
Sandra Redlich 08:21
Yeah. Are you only recruiting for remote positions? Or are you doing a mix of both?
Alex Van Klaveren 08:29
We do a mix of both. I think obviously, in the last four years, I think you've seen well, one forced, because of COVID. We all became remote. Now we're operating in this area where companies are all doing it a little bit differently. We're seeing some companies go to hybrid, two days a week, three days a week, some guys have gone back to the five days a week in the office, many have opted for the remote. And certainly, I would say it's becoming more and more common in the scale-up space to operate on a remote first basis. That brings challenges, but also I think, massive opportunities.
Sandra Redlich 09:09
Yeah, I would have imagined that finding a candidate for a position that is fully remotely comes with unique challenges such as, you know, finding out if they're actually ready to have a remote position if they might not have worked in one, because it is very different. I know we've all tried, like started exploring it. Home office has been a big thing throughout the last couple of years, as you mentioned, and there's more and more hybrid or remote options coming up. But that doesn't mean it's the right fit for everyone. So I'm assuming you have to find out and screen in your process if that candidate is actually remote ready? Is that something that you have to deal with? And if so, how do you deal with it?
Alex Van Klaveren 09:51
I think there are basic things. I mean, for many of us, we were working in a kind of remote way during COVID. So I suppose on the basis many of us think 'Well I'm Ready, I'm remote ready.' I think the focus, I mean, there are certain questions about understanding what that candidate wants, what motivates them. So there are some people, especially for certain roles, I'm just going to pick sales as one, we're actually being in an environment where you might see your colleagues once a week, every day, it doesn't matter those types of environments. That's not to say that you can't sell in a remote way. I definitely think you can. So I think for me, what's more important is the focus on the company, and the management and the founders having really thought through every aspect of how to actually run a kind of remote team. And this is for me, you know, it's about the onboarding. But most of all, it's about the communication. I think communication, you know, tools like Slack, Zoom, like Google meets, these help. But how do you really keep that connection with the team? How do you create a kind of culture in a remote setting, and there are incredible tools out there. So what Lano does is it's just one tool, which really helps with a lot of the aspects that companies have to do on the remote side, including payroll, onboarding, all of these things. But there are lots of other tools out there. There's a lot of great reading out there of what different companies are doing. But especially on that communication side.
Sandra Redlich 11:32
Yeah. Is that something that you support your clients with? The onboarding, culture creating aspect of things? Is that something you can assist with?
Alex Van Klaveren 11:44
So we do informally, and this means that I'm speaking to a lot of heads of people, we're speaking to a lot of founders about their challenges. And I think, you know, we do a lot of workshops, which actually tend to be private workshops, around some of the things that we're seeing across our different public companies. I think what we see is, it depends on the stage. I think some of the latest stage start-ups have the resources and possibly have brought in people who've specifically looked at these challenges. I think, the other thing that's interesting is, I think, in smaller teams, which often means earliest stage, seed, they've started as kind of remote, they are a team of 10, or 15. So keeping that culture even in a remote way, having that cadence of kind of work and shipping product on a daily basis. I think that's easier. But that's just me, that's just a numbers thing. You know, it's a two pizza rule. I think if you're, if you're at that two pizza stage, I think doing a lot of these things, you know, everyone knows each other, you can get to know each other much quickly. At that stage, I think it's easier on a remote basis. I think the dangers are once you start scaling. So once you start getting to that 20 to 50, 50 to 100. And you've suddenly had to shift from remote to hybrid. And you know, now you're starting to think, wow, we need more talent. But the talent that we can find here is, you know, not what we're looking for. These are stages, you have to think very carefully about.
Sandra Redlich 13:22
let's talk a bit more about the actual interview process, because that's something that I'm very interested in to hear from you, from the other end of the screen, from the other side of things. What does your interview process look like?
Alex Van Klaveren 13:37
So for us, the time is spent actually planning it. I think, often we skip that moment, because we're so keen to meet great candidates and to fill that role, because there's often an urgent need, but actually planning that process. So how many stages? I would always say try and keep it under four stages. How fast are you going to try and run through that process, if you can put a candidate through a process in, I would say, under two weeks, that is the best candidate experience. Explaining to the candidate up front, this is our process. This is who you're going to meet, having all the various different people who are going to be part of that process, sit down, plan the questions, and then create a scorecard. Now, again, this is all very time consuming. And a lot of people are like, 'Look, I just want to ask my questions and get going'. Fair enough. The other thing that I think often happens is that we're listening in an interview, but we've got 25 things to do that day, we might take a few notes. I think recording interviews is very, very important because we sometimes miss things. I'm not a big fan of panel interviews. I'm not a big fan of the types of questions where if a candidate says one wrong answer, they're not a good candidate. Everyone misspeaks now and again. I think you've got to look at all of what they're trying to say, which is why I think recording and going back, prepping for the interview, I think many of us have a calendar invite, we go straight from a meeting into an interview. And then we go from that taking 10 minutes before that, most importantly, taking 30 minutes after the interview, thinking about the answers, looking at the scorecard, possibly looking at your own biases, and saying, you know, why am I feeling that candidate is very good? I think the other danger that we see, especially in scale-ups and start-ups, is that people look at a candidate and they say, 'Oh, well, they did that role. And they were very successful at a great start-up, which I respect, that means they will be perfect for in my company'. That in itself is a bias because what you're doing is you're saying that person was extremely successful at Salesforce, or pick any extremely successful scale-up, they must be good for me. The reality is, you're taking one context and you're applying it into your own. You've got to dig deeper. They could be a great candidates, but why? What did they have that created a successful environment for them? What can we give that candidate? So I think we see a lot of situations where you have a very senior CRO, Chief Revenue Officer, and they've taken a company from 3 to 10 million. I'm doing 3 million, I want to go from 3 to 10 million. Now, unless you ask the right questions, what you don't understand is that they actually had a pretty sizable marketing budget. And they had a great growth team. And they had a really strong SDR team. So I think you've got to dig deeper. Ask the questions to understand the context.
Sandra Redlich 17:03
You mentioned in the beginning, one of the first things you do is to define how many stages there are. And you said that you like to keep it under four, which already sounds a lot to me, in my experience, I think the most I've had was three. Explain the reasons behind how many stages would you pick for what circumstance? And how do you make that decision?
Alex Van Klaveren 17:26
There's a lot there, I think, you know, it depends on the role. Senior to junior, I think there are different aspects that you have to think about. It can be three, can be four, in certain circumstances, you know, there are situations where you sometimes have two founders. One particularly likes the candidate, one is really not sure. So they have to explore deeper. There is no rule of thumb here, I think I'm just trying to give people, you know, some framework to work against. In certain roles, like in engineering, they have take home tests. They're becoming less and less popular, I think, as candidates, you know, spending three hours on a test when you're very senior is not fantastic. But at the same time, a company does have a right to test and explore. One of the interesting things that we've seen clients do is actually pay candidates for that time. And I think that's a really interesting idea, because I think it's respectful. Okay, we're asking you to do this. But again, I think you have to be really clear with the candidate, why you're asking them to do that, why it's important. Step back a moment. And I think what I'm trying to say in a lot of this is try and bring in a human touch into interviewing, where candidates just feel like they get on to zoom, and they just find questions, they don't really understand the questions. One thing we don't do in a remote setting is we don't walk them from the entrance, ask them if they'd like a cup of tea, and spend 5 or 10 minutes with them, try and bring that human touch into this. This is, you know, there has to be a connection here, whether that connection is 'let me tell you why I joined this company. Let me tell you about the culture of the company. Let me tell you about what I did yesterday, which was fun'. That's probably what the candidate is going to remember. Same thing for candidates. Try and I think create some sort of human connection with the interviewer by asking them a few questions. I think I've never... I've got no data on this, but I think there's probably more that is gained out of the first five minutes than the final five minutes of an interview, when there's a crossover between the connection and then we go into all of our skills, experience questions and things like that.
Sandra Redlich 20:07
Are there any questions that you just don't want to hear anymore? Or that you don't want people to ask other candidates? I'm sure there are some pet peeves in there that you're just so sick about.
Alex Van Klaveren 20:19
Yeah, I think, you know, there are some very obvious questions that now have become sort of memes. You know, 'What do you want to do in five years' and things like that. I mean, I just think there's a better way of asking that question. And like, in that question, we're trying to understand ambition, motivation, you know, what's their plan for those careers? So I just think, anything that you've seen as a meme, try and avoid. But again, try and make the question more specific. So you know, you've achieved this in your career, what are some of the next plans that you have in your career? And let's dig into those because I think that's going to be more revealing of the attitudes and motivation of what that candidate wants to achieve.
Sandra Redlich 21:09
Is there anything that you can share that went pretty wrong? Any good interview anecdotes? Of course, you don't have to name names. Or any funny situations? I know, we've all probably heard or seen some examples of, you know, the odd zoom call during lockdowns and a person in the back walking through or the dog doing some weird noises in the background or anything like that.
Alex Van Klaveren 21:38
Now you're asking. So I think I've probably done... I was trying to work out how many interviews I've done, and I've been a founder for quite a long time now, in this job for the last six years, you know, I think we're getting into the 1000s. I mean, so many fire alarms, so many kids walking in, you know, I don't want to say I've seen it all, because I'm sure there's something I've not seen. And pretty well documented now. I mean, I suppose one thing about Zoom and Google meetings is that, if I haven't seen it, it's definitely on the internet. So know that I'd love to tell you a horror story, the horror stories that I've seen on YouTube. But yeah, I mean, you just have to, I mean, that is one thing, is just make sure that the room that you're in is quiet, like good internet sounds obvious, isn't it? But it's amazing how many times you get on, I think even if you're selling, I mean, if you don't have clear internet, you know, it'd be like running an interview in a train station or something like that, and trying to get engagement from that. It's just not going to work.
Sandra Redlich 22:50
What are some of the things that you're looking forward to in the future? What are some of the trends maybe or the big topics of conversation that you see coming up for your particular position and your field in the industry?
Alex Van Klaveren 23:04
I think there are some credible technologies out there. So I think some of the frontier technologies, whether it's, I mean, frankly, I'm not a big sort of fan of kind of robots. The thought of robots running the world does scare me. However, when I look at - here's another thing. So Crypto, obviously, everyone's got their own thoughts. And you know, there's a lot of people and especially after what happens at FTX on Friday, there's a lot of people that think that Crypto is dangerous. But I think some of the tools that we're seeing actually built around Crypto are incredibly exciting. And some of the thoughts, some of the ideas that are sort of happening around DeFi or more kind of decentralized finance. These are really, really exciting thoughts. So for me, it's looking at frontier technologies. Why is that interesting for this conversation? I think it's because of the new jobs it's going to create. One of the most popular things, new jobs that has been created, is actually drone pilots. And unfortunately, we're seeing this, you know, in a war setting at the moment, but I think there are many more positive settings where the use of drones is going to really help people in all sorts of places around the world. So I think it's the new jobs is going to create. Everyone's worried about, you know, robots, AI taking the world. The fact is, you know, they're already here. But for me, it's the new jobs it's going to create.
Sandra Redlich 24:46
Yeah. Fascinating. Well, I'm sure there's a lot more that we could talk about and a lot more anecdotes and things that would pop up in your head over your, the years of experience that you've gained, but I want to thank you for taking this time to have this chat with us and give some insights into your work and how you handle your interviews. I kind of want to ask, even though I'm a bit scared of the answer, if I have, if I have the job? If I managed this interview with you well or not?
Alex Van Klaveren 25:14
You did, you did.
Sandra Redlich 25:17
Yes? Good internet connection?
Alex Van Klaveren 25:20
You absolutely did, I think you're showing a lot of the things that I would talk about is, you know, let the candidate speak. And always ask kind of open ended questions. So what I always try and do if I'm training someone to interview is always look at journalists and the way that even a sort of investigative journalists, how they approach someone that, you know, they could be interviewing someone who's got a really bad reputation. But you see, they don't take a point of view or force them down. What they do is they ask really, really good questions to try and explore the story without inserting their own particular bias. And I think that that's actually a great thing you can do in an interview setting, is just explore, but explore from a middle position and not take your own position on things.
Sandra Redlich 26:11
Yes, I think those are great words to end it on. And I also liked what you said, and that's something I'll definitely take away from our conversation, is just putting in some human touch into the conversation. I think, especially the more remote and the more virtual our engagements and our interactions are getting, it's definitely great to still keep that human touch. So yeah, I'll definitely take that away.
Alex Van Klaveren 26:36
Just one point on that, I think, you know, we're all seeing a lot of news at the moment on just the way that some employees are being treated, you know, there are very tough decisions that companies are being forced to make in terms of like redundancies, but I think trying to do that with some dignity, respecting the individual and a human touch, it can be done. And it's frustrating to see that companies, just because they're big, they feel that they don't have to, that's really frustrating, and it does get remembered. So I think, you know, if we can all try and bring a bit more of a human touch, it's good for all of us.
Sandra Redlich 27:16
Yes, nothing more I can add there. Thank you so much for taking the time. Have a good rest of your day.
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