Nylas’s Ted Kleber on Bringing out the Best in Recruiting Operations

Halden Pfearsen
Halden Pfearsen
Managing Editor

10 minute read

There was a time when Ted Kleber was making upwards of 75 cold calls every single day just to make a hire.

“It was a lot of trial and error!” he told Ashby when we sat down with him. “You were given a job description and a hiring partner. And then you had to learn your own way through it.” He had to rely on his candidates themselves to learn what his own interview questions meant. “A lot of it was on the phone with candidates. I would ask them to explain to me what they did and, thankfully, I met a lot of people who were kind enough to take the time to talk to this junior recruiter to explain, this is what I do and this is what you mean when you're asking these questions.”

As introductions to the world of recruiting go, it was a rough one. But it did inform Ted’s hiring philosophy. “You just have to not take it personally if you have a rough call or somebody decides not to take the job you're offering. Because it isn't personal. But that said, it pays dividends to be collaborative and to have a kind and honest approach.”

These days, Ted isn’t making nearly so many cold calls. He’s the senior manager of recruiting operations over at Nylas, boasting a well-earned decade in the technical recruiting field working for companies like Uber and Twilio.

“About two and a half years ago, I made the transition into recruiting operations,” Ted said. “And I've been doing that since. At Nylas, the role is kind of unique and it's taking shape even as I'm developing it.”

What recruiting operations is

If most recruiters wear a lot of different hats, Ted has a particularly impressive collection. “Part of it is ensuring that our systems are configured correctly and that we have the right tools and software and systems. Another part of it is data analytics and understanding what activities are going on and, and how we’re setting goals. Another piece of it is enablement and training materials, so some of that is building training for the business. That’s so they can feel comfortable with our recruiting process and internal enablement materials, so that the recruiters know how to use our different tools, where to go for resources, and how to interact with the business expectations. There's also an element of employer brand; I'm also helping with our presence on social media like LinkedIn, Glassdoor, AngelList, and contributing a little bit to like our website and making sure that our job posts are all branded correctly.”

Though Ted is building out a team to help shoulder the work, he mentions that these duties came up organically. “I went in expecting one thing and I just found all these opportunities to expand and help out. That's one of the nice things about being part of a startup, you can really set whatever scope you want to.”

"As a recruiter, your focus is really on your client. And there's all this other stuff that needs to be thought of, set up, and built to support that function."

That’s an unsurprising function of the recruiting operations role. In a space so new, definition is a constantly evolving work in progress.

“Recruiting is such an interesting division to be in in HR, and the recruiting operations function as a subset of that is an emerging space,” said Ted. “If you think about the traditional roles in recruiting, you have recruiters who need to focus on their clients and focus on making good hires for the business. But then there's all this other activity that has to go into recruiting. Think about it as a business within a business. You need to be a bit of a marketer, a bit of a lawyer, a bit of a sales person. On top of that you need to understand how to build a good experience for your candidates and for your hiring managers. As a recruiter, your focus is really on your client. And there's all this other stuff that needs to be thought of, set up, and built to support that function. Recruiting operations can be a bit of a catchall, but it's also an opportunity to fill in those gaps.”

Startup recruiting isn’t made for robots

After years recruiting for startups, Ted had noticed that many of them repeatedly miss the same marks when it comes to their talent acquisition. “There are some startups that do an incredible job at hiring,” he clarified. But of those that don’t, the mistakes are often the same: “Recognizing the value add that recruiting is.”

He went on thoughtfully. “I've talked to some chief people officers that have said, well, I just sort of view recruiting as an overhead. It's a function that consumes money from the business and I don't see the value in it. But then there's other startups where hiring is so critical! People call it the war for talent, and I don't know if I love that term. But the competition in recruiting to get the right people into the role is so key at the startup baseline. If they don't have the right people that has that cascading effect of not being able to ship products or hit revenue goals and eventually that doesn't look great to investors or the public.”

It’s two very different approaches to hiring that impact everything else a startup is.

“What really good startups do,” he said, “is recognize the value that recruiting brings as a function to grow the business. They also see a recruiter as being a strategic partner to hiring managers and helping them do organization planning. Everything from thinking about their job profiles and how to build a healthy team, to what the right balance of senior to junior folks on the team is.”

It isn’t enough to hire often, Ted pointed out. It requires dedicated, full-time thought. “These good startups don't just stop at a job profile, they need an individual that's gonna contribute in a certain way. Recruiters can add a lot of value by taking that consultative approach and influencing that manager to think about the best long-term growth strategy for their team. That goes into headcount, planning, and conversations that they have with HR and finance to stick to that strategy.”

"What really good startups do is recognize the value that recruiting brings as a function to grow the business. They also see a recruiter as being a strategic partner to hiring managers and helping them do organization planning."

“I think the best startups view recruiting as more than just I turn the crank, I point my recruiter coin-operated robot, and they get me the people,” he went on. “They add so much more value than that. That's the difference between recruiting at a successful startup and recruiting at just a regular one.”

Of course, it’s easier to speak of the recruiter who can keep up with that than it is to find them.

The right skills for a unique job

It’s a complex time for recruiting. COVID-19 continues to impact the world, companies are deciding between remote or in-person work, and news outlets struggle to name the ongoing wave of quitting and hiring and recruitment confusion. But Ted points out that we’re still in a candidate’s market.

“Everything that you do,” Ted told us, “Either front of mind or back of mind, should be providing a good candidate experience. Every call you make, every email you send, every follow up that you need to do, all of that has a direct impact on your ability to attract top talent. It’s in the communication cadence, and the importance of making sure that you’re giving somebody the right kind of attention. Even though there's tons of opportunities out there, the job search can be a very personal and vulnerable thing.”

Falling short on experience too often is damning to a small startup. “It can start to build a reputation. There's a ripple effect that accumulates out there in the market. It makes it a lot harder to attract talent if people are not saying great things about your company.”

The best way to combat this, advises Ted, is to understand, “It's a numbers game. You need to know your clients and your managers, and the profile that you're looking for. You have to provide a solid experience for each candidate, regardless of whether or not they're moving all the way through the process. You never know who you might need to call again, and you never know what people might leave you on a public review site.”

The other key for anyone making the jump into recruiting operations is prioritization, the harsher, the better. “As a recruiter and now as an operations manager, there are so many things that need to be done. Being pulled in so many directions at once can be really daunting. Sometimes it can be to the point where you're a bit paralyzed and you get nothing done because you have 16 things to do and you feel like you have no time to do them, or you can't do all of them well.”

Ted fixes this by making firm calls and committing to them. “I borrow one of the values that I learned at Twilio: ruthlessly prioritize. Taking a step back from the waterfall of the things that you have to do and saying, what can I fill my bucket with? I'll stick my bucket out and I'll catch the things that I know are going to have the most impact.”

Even the best don't always make the right calls. “Sometimes you let the wrong things slide. Sometimes you execute on something that doesn't necessarily really have as big of impact as you expected. But if you start to think about your role in that sense and focus on the wildly important things, it will help you manage the rest.”

The structure makes the success

An excellent manager helps with all these skills, of course, and can be the bridge between a recruiting team wanting to do their best and startup leadership seeking to hire top talent.

“For career growth and for opportunity, never underestimate the value of a good leader and a good mentor,” Ted told us. “Being able to recognize that quality as you're interviewing, and finding someone that you want to work with and you feel has your best interests going to go a lot further than just the name of the company you might join.”

As for his own managers, Ted hesitated to limit the praise to a specific person. “I wouldn't point to any one single person and say this is the person that changed my career forever. I learned all sorts of different things from different people along the way. I learned a lot of discipline from some mentors in the agency. I learned a lot of general process knowledge from people in operations. Even my peers have been mentors in some respects. I really believe anyone you can learn from is a mentor, and I think you can have multiple mentors that serve multiple mentoring purposes. It all comes down to communication and being genuine and kind to your colleagues and offering what you can. Because you may view them as a mentor, but they also might view you as a mentor too.”

With all the progress he’s made in his career, the kind and honest approach Ted learned doing hiring agency work has not changed. “I've met a lot of recruiters and tried different tactics in my day and I've often found that what people best respond to, both colleagues and candidates, is honesty and being genuine. As long as you're being upfront and genuinely yourself when you're talking to people and when you're collaborating or recruiting, it builds that foundation of trust. That's gonna' be important later on in the process.”

You can find Ted on LinkedIn.

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