Guest posts / Hiring

RedOwl built its 40-employee team using these 3 sneaky recruiting hacks

RedOwl's Lauren Locklear shares tips for how to grow your tech team.

Inside the Federal Hill offices of RedOwl Analytics. (Photo courtesy of MDBizNews)
This is a guest post by RedOwl Director of Internal Operations Lauren Locklear.

When I joined RedOwl in December 2012 we had 17 employees. Fast-forward to July 2015, and we just cracked the 40 employee mark.
While a growth rate of about 10-12 employees per year may not seem that impressive, when you factor in 4 different locations (Baltimore, NYC, San Francisco and London), a one-person HR department and the typical startup recruiting budget (next to nothing), it starts to seem a little bit more like conquering a mountain, or at least a very steep hill, versus a nicely paved flat road.
At RedOwl we rely on traditional recruiting techniques — posting to LinkedIn and Dice, using external recruiters, etc. These methods can be effective, but they certainly won’t be cheap. That leads us to the big questions — how did we grow RedOwl to 40 people in multiple offices without causing the immediate need for another funding round?

1. All press is good press? All press is good recruiting.

Newspaper articles, TV interviews, online features — no matter the format, press coverage is our single greatest free recruiting tool.
Every time RedOwl is mentioned in the media our applications skyrocket. We try to multiply the volume of applicants by tweeting a link to the story and posting it to our LinkedIn page. The larger the audience the story reaches, the greater chance that RedOwl’s name will reach our dream candidate. Then we’re just one small Google search, and one click (“Careers“), away from an application. Then we’re just one phone call away from an in-person interview, and then … well, you get the idea.
When relying on media traffic to draw applicants’ interest, it’s important that your website stays up to date with all open jobs. If you’re not hiring for any specific positions but always welcome applications from talented individuals, make sure that’s on your site as well! Companies pay millions to drive traffic to their websites, but you can get it for free with a well-timed and well-executed piece of press. And you can convert this traffic to applications with a current, detailed careers page.

2. Employee referral system

I’m willing to bet that 100 percent of startups have some sort of employee referral system in place. Some are as informal as encouraging their employees to network and find talent at local meetups, while others are as formal as offering a specific amount of money for every employee you bring to the company. Regardless of the format, employee referrals are a highly effective recruiting tool and they can be the best way to find talent in new cities.
At RedOwl we’ve varied over the past couple of years. We started out with a monetary incentive system, then switched to emphatic encouragement, and now for the past couple of months we’ve used a structured referral program where employees get a lump sum for finding a new hire and a lump sum also gets added to an “employee fund.” The employee fund can be used on anything ranging from happy hour to laser tag to stocking the pantry with 10 kinds of fruit snacks.
While one method hasn’t been more successful than the other, all employee referral methods have ensured a steady stream of applicants in our pipeline at minimal cost. One advantage of a set system compared to word of mouth encouragement, however, is that once an employee receives a cash bonus, he or she is likely to continue referring new candidates. This consistency is great compared to a more laissez faire system where referrals ebb and flow based on employee desire to network or scan their LinkedIn account for friends who may want to switch jobs.

3. Hacker News

One of our developers sent me a link to Hacker News last year and told me I should look into using the site as a recruiting tool.
Every month, HN posts an “Ask HN” “Who is Hiring?” link and invites companies to comment, for free, with any openings they may have. When we have a particularly large amount of openings that aren’t being sourced out to external recruiters I’ll post a comment with our jobs and a link to our website. I get about 5-10 applicants after every post, which isn’t too bad for a free job ad! We’ve gotten some very qualified candidates through this method and I would definitely recommend it as a low-cost recruiting tool that can help you find candidates worldwide.


As a startup, RedOwl has a limited recruiting budget but an extremely large hiring need. To balance these two competing factors it’s necessary to be a savvy, cost-conscious recruiter.
If you’re able to use the press, your employees and free internet sources to source qualified candidates for you, you can keep recruiting costs low while rapidly multiplying in multiple geographic regions.
Certain positions will always necessitate external recruiters or headhunters of course, but the more you can rely on the resources freely available to you, the more resources your company will have to dedicate to your product or service. Here’s to 40 employees, and hopefully 40 more!

Companies: RedOwl Analytics

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