The Container Store

It Takes a Unicorn to Find a Unicorn: Our Recruiting Philosophy

It Takes a Unicorn to Find a Unicorn: Our Recruiting Philosophy

Recruiting Director Karyn Alvarez (top right) with her Recruiting team at our Annual DC Derby.

At The Container Store, we’ve always felt that hiring great people is one of the most important aspects of a successful business. We believe this so much, in fact, that we love sharing our hiring philosophy with our customers and other businesses. In the article below, Karyn Alvarez, our Recruiting Director and 20+ year veteran of The Container Store, shares her strategy for finding the cream of the crop.

While interviewing a recent job candidate for The Container Store, the candidate kindly referred to me as a “unicorn in the recruiting industry.” I’d never been called that before, so I dug deeper to find out what she meant.

The candidate proceeded to share her experiences interviewing with different organizations—talking to recruiters, meeting with hiring managers, etc.—but most of these experiences hadn’t been positive. She said she appreciated my communication, openness and support. She also said she felt like I was on her side, that I wanted to find the right candidate for the job AND that I wanted to make sure she was making the right choice to join our team.

She said, “You should teach other recruiters how to treat candidates so they feel included in the process.” I hadn’t thought about defining what that looked like, but I decided to give it a go!

Learn the position

Before launching a search, get to know the hiring manager and ask detailed questions about the role and the team. Find out what the hiring manager wants both technically and in soft skills. Have them describe an ideal candidate. Find out where they are willing to bend and what areas are non-negotiable.

I like to ask them to describe a day-in-the-life and I also ask the hiring manager, “What will the candidates ask me?” This really gets them thinking. Understand the position as if you would sit with this new hire every day. Trust me—it will make a difference.

Communicate transparently

Communication is critical. My philosophy is to “talk early and talk often.” When you reach out to candidates, share something unique about the role, the company or the team. Think of it like a job in sales: it’s your job to sell the candidate on why the position is important to the organization. It doesn’t matter what level the role is or the area of business; people want to know that what they are doing makes a difference.

Find out what is important to the candidate. Is it company culture? Share what it feels like to be on the team. Benefits? Share healthcare costs and your dress code. You should also expect that they want to discuss compensation.

Clearly define the timeline for hiring and communication. At the end of the first call, let the candidate know when you will follow up. I put reminders on my calendar for follow up and I make sure to stick to that time.

Update often

Stay in touch with your hiring manager. Ask them who are you are seeing—or not seeing? Keep asking questions and adjust your search as you learn more. I put a note on my calendar every Friday to send an update to my hiring manager and their supervisor on the progress of the search; it’s an easy reminder and helps people feel included.

Once the search starts to narrow down, find out the when the hiring manager plans to make a final decision. Who else needs to meet the candidate? What do they think training will look like? Do they have any unanswered questions you can help with?

Give your candidates updates as well, even if there’s nothing new to report. For example, if they’re moving forward in the interview process but you’re still waiting for a hiring manager to get back from a trip, just be honest with them. In this candidate-driven market, speedy communication to candidates is critical.

If you aren’t moving forward with them, have the courtesy to call them to politely decline. Don’t put it off. Use empathy and think about the candidate – they want to know where they stand. Being turned down is part of the candidate experience. The way you handle breaking this news reflects on your company’s brand, and will impact the way they think about your organization.

Have fun when you touch base

Remember, you are selling the role and the company, but you’re also building the candidate’s trust. Therefore, put yourself in the candidate’s shoes and show them that you care by communicating in a fun and unique way.

If you aren’t a creative writer, use an internet search to find something fun to share.  I’ve used the National Day Calendar to start my message like “Happy National Eggs Benedict Day” or “Don’t forget your sunscreen – it’s National Sunscreen Day.” (No joke—it’s a thing.) Or, you can reference something fun that’s happening in the company. The specific intro doesn’t matter as much as saying something unique, fun or thoughtful. 

Be a friend

While it is your job to fill the open position for the company, you should also be an advocate for the candidate. You know what they are looking for just as much as you know what the hiring manager needs. Stay connected about the timing and what works with their life.  Do they have other offers coming up? Vacations planned? What is going to happen when they give notice? If you’ve built that trust, the candidate will share with you so there won’t be any surprises. 

As for my unicorn-candidate, she unfortunately didn’t get the job, but she was very gracious, and we still had a great conversation when I called to give her the news. I promised to stay connected, and it’s a promise I intend to keep.

At the end of the day, we all want to work alongside great people who care about each other. As a recruiter, I’ve found that practicing clear, honest communication and building relationships throughout the hiring process is the best way to ensure that you find those people. It’s much more fun, and you never know how hugely it can benefit everyone involved!