Cash for referrals, headhunting expats and a 'crash pad': Hiring Web Summit-style

‘Apparently you’re supposed to sell the dream, but I prefer to explain the risk.’

By Paddy Cosgrave CEO, Web Summit

WE, AT WEB Summit, have big plans for expansion.

Recently we announced plans to hire another 100 people over the next year – and that’s after we doubled in size to 135 employees at our HQ in Dartry, Dublin over the past year. In 2016, we will host 100,000 people around the world at our international events.

With that in mind, here are my top 10 rules for recruiting:

1. Applications are important but targeting is vital

Only a small percentage of our hires come from applications. A lot of our roles are specialist and expert, and we spend a great deal of time and effort targeting those whom we would like to join the company.

2. Use recommendations and referrals

It’s a widely accepted principle but we know that internal recommendations and referrals are a key way to find top talent. We have referral programmes with cash rewards for employees that successfully recommend new hires.

The data shows that if you know someone here, the chances are higher that you will get hired. And we have even extended this to our global network, offering free Web Summit tickets for life to those that recommend great people to us.

3. Take interviewing seriously

We make sure that all those looking to join us get interviewed by a range of our staff, from me downwards. This is to check that the candidate is tested, as you would expect, for their fit for the role but also that they encounter the ecosystem in which they will operate – they are introduced to the company as much as we are introduced to them.

In a rapidly growing startup, the right character and cultural fit are sometimes more important than the right skill set or experience.

4. Target Irish abroad

Since 2008, some 400,000 people have left Ireland. Many of them have been among our most-talented and ambitious graduates. Most left because opportunities didn’t exist in Ireland at the time that matched their skills/talents.

But what happens when they leave? Many of those graduates have been exposed to opportunities that they simply would never have had in Ireland. But many of them retain fond memories of the country.

Offer them a great job and many would love to come back here. And when they do, they will add something a little extra to your team.

90398998 Stripe co-founder John Collison at the 2015 Web Summit
Source: Sam Boal/

5. Hunt among the big tech companies

The location of satellite or subsidiary offices of multinational tech companies in Ireland has had an incredibly positive effect. High-potential Irish employees are regularly hoovered up and out of their subsidiary in Ireland to be taken to the mothership in San Francisco or New York or elsewhere.

While the Dublin offices provide great, high-paying jobs, most of the responsibility for key decisions in these companies is understandably concentrated in the motherships. It’s there you’ll find hundreds of Irish in key positions.

Lorraine Twohill of Google is perhaps the greatest example of this. Find the next wave of Lorraines and hire them.

6. Make life easy for new arrivals

When hiring from abroad, whether returning Irish or other nationalities, it is important to help new recruits settle properly in Dublin. At Web Summit, we now have a crash pad in Dublin for new hires.

It’s a big six-bedroom, red-brick house where you new arrivals can live during their first months at Web Summit. Folks flying in for interviews can also stay here. The crash pad removes a massive headache and creates a little sense of community for newbies.

7. Repatriate, relocate – then refer

The first repatriation or relocation will always be the hardest. But once you’ve repatriated one person, you instantly have a reference case and it becomes easier. Trumpet your successes (have them on the interview panel) and more will follow.

8. Plan early for senior talent

Start building relationships early, even up to a year before you pitch a job opportunity. This gives senior and mid-ranking execs a sense for your growth over time both as a leader and as a company. As you grow and mature, their belief that you can continue to grow will intensify.

9. Understand their situation

If someone has just been promoted to a big new position in a multinational, it’s unlikely you’re going to persuade them to jump ship.

If, however, they’ve held a range of ever-more senior positions over a number of years and it looks like they’re about 12 to 24 months into their latest tour, then possibly you’re hitting someone at the right time. There’s no hard and fast rule here.

10. Paint a (realistic) picture

There are all sorts of great posts on mapping out the journey for a potential hire. You just have to be frank with potential hires. Apparently you’re supposed to sell the dream, but I prefer to explain the risk arbitrage. Here’s how the conversation might go:

“You can stay in the relative safety of the warm embrace of a very large company and you’ll almost certainly be doing fine in 3-5 years.

“Move to the frenetic, fast-paced environment of an Irish startup and in 3-5 years you might be doing incredibly well, but you might also be back in that warm embrace of a tech multinational with a few war stories to tell. That’s the reality.”

Paddy Cosgrave is the CEO and co-founder of Web Summit.

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