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Hiring during a pandemic and accompanying economic crisis was hard. We had tons of applicants, many of them excellent prospects, some not at all suited to the roles we posted but eager, hardworking and just looking for a job. Every ‘no’ was difficult.
But it was just as hard to advance promising candidates to the next round when we couldn’t say with certainty that we’d be able to offer a long term role. What if tough economic times meant we could no longer afford the new hire? We came up with a great solution, and we made a great hire with minimal risk. We’re sharing it because we think it’s one interesting way to navigate uncertain times without having to give up on amazing people and company growth.
When we posted a job description for a new role, we met a lot of great candidates. In the end, one in particular stood out to us - his work was fast and smart, he was collaborative and took feedback well, and he had a wide range of relevant skills that we knew would let him contribute to our team wherever the need was greatest. Unfortunately, we couldn’t say for sure that we’d have a job for him in six months, or a year.
We found ourselves on the horns of a dilemma. We didn’t want to make an offer, commit to a new teammate, and then be forced to consider letting them go if our business hit a downturn. We also didn’t want to miss out on a great prospective teammate who we felt confident could help us grow. We had to figure out a responsible way to balance the risk.
Our solution was simple: split it.
We offered Eric a newly invented position: Summer Associate. This role would last three months, and be paid at the prorated salary of the role he’d originally applied for. We’d treat him like a full team member (with benefits), and at the end of three months he’d be eligible for a full-time offer. This compromise would allow everyone to see what it was like to really work together and provide an amicable way to end the relationship should things not work out.
Here’s what we got:
- A great new teammate
- The chance to test out a number of different responsibilities and see what sticks
- The chance to assess him in a live work environment with limited risk exposure in case he turned out to be less great on our team than we thought
- The option to part ways amicably if things weren’t a fit
- A commitment we knew we could honor: three months of salary and healthcare benefits
Here’s what he got:
- The chance to see what it’s really like to work at OpenTent
- The chance to carve out and define an ongoing role
- Three months of salary
- A chance to grow his skills and build his resume
- An easy out if OpenTent wasn’t a fit, without an inconvenient employment gap
What made it possible:
- We wrote a charter outlining clear expectations, how we’d measure success, and our commitments to him.
- We were clear about milestones for checking in and sharing feedback both ways.
- Most importantly, we stated our intention to make a full-time offer if the Associate experience went well and we were financially able to do so. It was critical that we were approaching this in good faith.
- We risked communicating to Eric that we didn’t value him. He could have perceived the short-term Associate offer as us doubting him (instead of us doubting OpenTent’s financial future).
- We realized this is a comparatively weaker offer than a full-time offer from a competitor. There was always a chance Eric could have gotten poached and there was a high likelihood he might continue actively searching for full time offers during his summer associate phase.
- Having a teammate work on a trial period has the downside of not allowing them to openly ask questions and share vulnerabilities, because they’re still interviewing, in a way. We value openness, honesty, failure, and collaboration at OpenTent. We don’t want to leave a teammate unable to access those values because they’re worried about making a good impression and getting a full-time offer.
We tried to mitigate this by communicating in multiple ways, frequently, that we valued his work and experience and hoped to be able to make an offer. We checked in regularly on how that was looking, and how he was feeling, too. We made sure he had opportunities to show his value, and he wasn’t stuck in low-value “intern” tasks.
The upshot: We made Eric a full-time offer last month. We’re so thrilled to have such a hardworking, enthusiastic, generous and talented teammate, and so glad he was game to try this out with us. We’ll try out this Associate approach if we need to again. Here’s what he had to say: “I liked this because it gave me a chance to get to know my potential teammates while seeing and feeling what it is really like to work at OpenTent. It was a great learning opportunity--I think that even if I did not receive or accept a full time offer at the end it was a really valuable training experience that I think could have opened doors for me elsewhere.”
In a more optimistic time, we would have made the full-time offer and just worked through the kinks, confident in our ability to find a way for the new teammate to contribute and our ability to therefore cover the costs of that teammate. In these times, we felt it was too risky to do so. But it’s equally risky to put growth on ice and stay stagnant. In order to grow, we had to get creative. In the end, we found a path that created value for us and the prospective teammate even if our time together ended after three months. Lucky for us, it hasn’t ended.
We’re proud of the creative thinking, collaboration, and problem-solving that let us keep growing and thriving.
Are there unique ways you are navigating hiring in this uncertain time? I would love to hear what’s working for you - reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.