This is an interview our CEO, Ilya Brotzky, had during the IMPACT HR Conference. Hope it helps you hire great tech talent!

Amber Vanderburg:

We have one more conversation for today, and that is someone more from my side of the pond. Ilya Brotzky, he is based in Canada. I know that he is a big hockey fan. So we’ve been talking about that. But he is the CEO of VanHack. And so we are going to be talking about VanHack and the work that you have been doing to attract, train, and retain talent. So hello, Ilya. Happy to have you.

Ilya Brotzky:

How are you?

Amber Vanderburg:

Well, hello. How are you doing?

Ilya Brotzky:

Good

Amber Vanderburg:

Yeah. They kind of have their own idea. Well, I’m glad to have you here to finish off our day one. So yeah. Good to have you. I see that you have your coffee. I’ve drank my tea. I’m ready to go. So we’ve had a bit of a conversation, but if you wouldn’t mind sharing with the audience a little bit about who you are and what VanHack is and what you do.

Ilya Brotzky:

Yeah, of course. Thanks so much for having me and it’s really exciting to be here. This is definitely the earliest I’ve ever spoken at a conference. And it’s cool to have these kind of new challenges. So my name’s Ilya. I’m co-founder at VanHack. We are looking to build the world’s largest talent community for folks who want to work from anywhere, work either abroad, work remotely, relocate, whatever that they’re looking for. And enabling enterprises to be able to manage, higher those people and bring them to wherever those candidates want to be, which allows them to hire more senior and more diverse candidates faster.

Amber Vanderburg:

That is a massive mission statement that you just said. I love that. So just for context for our audience, yeah, so Ilya, you’re based in Vancouver. Is that correct?

Ilya Brotzky:

Yeah. Canada.

Amber Vanderburg:

In Canada. Yeah. Yeah. Wonderful. So you are in a hot business right now. There is a lot of opportunities for people that are looking for work. There is a lot of opportunities right now as people are actively seeking to fill positions. So if you could tell me a little bit about how we can and how you have found and built talent for your company.

Ilya Brotzky:

Yeah. Well I think for us, to be honest, we made a lot of mistakes from the beginning. We’ve only been around for six years. And really the first two years of that was kind of just trying to figure things out, working part-time, and then really early only two, three people on the team, or one person full-time and some part-time folks. So I would say at the beginning there was a lot of mistakes. It was basically you have a pulse, do you want to help us and work with us? You’re hired. So we’ve gone from that, kind of trying to figure things out, really not knowing what to do. This was my first startup, my first company I’ve ever I’ve ever built. Or let’s say first one that kind of is a little bit successful. To now, I think we have a pretty sophisticated and kind of good, I would say not great, but good process and working towards great.

Ilya Brotzky:

So I think the first thing that we do is we use our own software for that, which is something that we’re kind of proud of. And we’ve launched a free ATS for anyone who wants to use that, to kind of use our software as an applicant tracking system at no charge. And we use that platform, and something that we’re excited about. And more than that, though, it’s really having a great HR team. So Mayara, who’s managing our HR team, and we’re adding a few folks there now, because we’re growing so quickly. Having that team in place has really allowed us to have good processes, have internal alignments, and really have that and kind of strong process and candidate experience to attract talent to our team.

Ilya Brotzky:

Another thing I would say we do decently well is having an employer brand. It’s not something I think we’re really great at. We don’t even have career space, for example. We have a lot of room for improvement. Kind of ironic for given what we do. We’re working on that one. But just having kind of a strong presence on social media, and also a lot of success cases and testimonial and content about what we do and who we are, I think allows us to attract a lot of great talent. So those are the main things. And there’s a lot more I can say on kind of general talent acquisition. And I think that for us, we’re definitely not perfect, but we’re working towards getting better. And it’s really cool to kind of see best practices across all the almost 1,000 employers we work with so we kind of tell what works and what doesn’t.

Amber Vanderburg:

What has been the trends that you’ve been seeing in terms of best practices in talent acquisition?

Ilya Brotzky:

I think the biggest one is speed. A lot of companies, they’re way too slow. And we all kind of cry about there being a war on talent, but at the same time we do nothing about it, or almost nothing about it. And forgive me for being so blunt. But it’s a little bit, I don’t know, people kind of say, “Hey, there’s a war on talent.” It’s kind of a fun, cool thing to say, but then, okay, why are you taking five days to get back to candidates? Are you late for interviews? Why don’t you have feedback systems and telling people what’s going on or not? Why don’t you have an employee referral program? There’s all these things that people don’t do. And the biggest one is just being too slow.

Ilya Brotzky:

And they’re slow because it’s not a priority. Because it’s easy to get sucked into your product. I want to build this. I want to get this done. I want to execute on my strategy and get my things going. And then you forget about hiring. It kind of is off to the side. It’s like that 10th thing that you have to do because you have to build the business, and make revenue, and pay the bills, and get things done. But then you realize, oh my gosh, we have 15 open roles. I had a company yesterday come to me, and say, “We have 50 open roles.” Right? So it’s crazy.

Ilya Brotzky:

And so I think it’s something that you just have to be fast at. And that really comes with having a strong HR team and leadership alignment and stuff like that. So that’s the one thing, just being too slows is I would say a challenge. Another thing that I’m seeing companies kind of maybe doing well is they’re looking to hire from anywhere. So I think that’s something that if you’re not doing that, you’re only looking at, let’s say, 1, 2, maybe 5% of the world’s talent if you’re limiting yourself to a city or a country. Would you do that with 1% or 5% of the world’s food? Would you do that with 1% or 5% of the world’s art? All those kind of things. Would you only like to service customers from your city?

Ilya Brotzky:

Then why are you only hiring talent from your city and fighting over with everyone else who happens to be in your city or your country? And, oh, by the way, there’s a ton of companies like Amazon and Facebook and all these huge companies, hiring from your country and hiring globally. And you’re only looking for talent in this area code or zip code. And I know there’s some legal reasons, things like that. But there’s a lot of innovations coming out and happening. So we’re seeing that kind of the companies that are the most nimble and most open and flexible are the ones having success.

Amber Vanderburg:

I want to go back. I think that speed should be in all caps underlined with exclamation points on it. So yeah, definitely, definitely agree. Whenever you are, especially if you’re looking at your cycle time for your applicants, and it’s looking like at it’s a month, or five or six or seven weeks, it’s yeah, not going to be great for your war on talent, like what you’re saying. So especially in terms of that, what are some action steps that you’ve been taking to make sure that you’re getting back applicants in a timely manner and expediting that process?

Ilya Brotzky:

I think it starts from the top, from the leadership team. It’s something we discuss almost every week, pretty much every week, as a leadership team when we meet. How are our internal hiring processes going? Which roles are we having trouble with? Which roles are we doing well with? What are the steps everyone’s in? We are able to log in and see all the roles in our ATS and kind of decide what to do, what’s next. Tag each other, and say, “Hey, check this out, check that out. Talk to this candidate. This candidate’s been a while.” I’m not going to sit here and say we’re perfect. We definitely have a lot of candidates that we need to get back to right now, and we haven’t. Had one actually sent me a message on LinkedIn this week, be like, “Hey, what’s going on with this role?” So that’s life.

Ilya Brotzky:

But I do see that we are able to make a lot of hires. I think we’ve hired like 10 people in the last two or three weeks. So things are moving. And yeah, it’s just been a lot of alignment on the top, getting that conversation strategy going, and also allowing our leaders to run with things so there’s no bottlenecks, or we’re removing the bottlenecks as much as possible. So if someone, for example, our CTO is looking to hire four developers. He can have a quick chat with HR and everyone else he needs to align with, and then go run that process and make that his own. Or head of sales, she can make that her own. And same with success and events and all those different teams that we have at our company. So I think that’s really important. And yeah, also having good software helps. You can just one click reject someone or one click move them to the next step and book another interview. So those kind of things help a lot. But it really has to have that top level alignment in your company and make it a priority from the beginning.

Amber Vanderburg:

Yeah. Really begins with two things I heard you say was, yeah, prioritization and then also having the right processes.

Ilya Brotzky:

Yeah. Yeah. For sure.

Amber Vanderburg:

Whenever you are working with talent, kind of piggying back off of our last conversation of establishing competitive advantage and EVPs, are you seeing a trend in what people are looking for whenever they’re coming into a position? Is there something that they’re definitely looking for, or things that they’re like, I don’t want to come to a company that has this? What are the trends that you’re seeing?

Ilya Brotzky:

I don’t think there’s anything kind of crazy new recently. I mean, other than allowing people to work from anywhere and offering relocation, and kind of just giving them that support that they need. I’ve seen a lot of it, especially, so we work with software engineers. I don’t know if I made that clear in the beginning. But we’re very much focused on tech talent. And within tech talent, the biggest niche there is senior software developers. So kind of very in demand, as you mentioned, talent that can usually get a few offers and kind of has their choice. With us, it’s a little bit different because the candidates are from all around the world. And typically they don’t get as many offers, and they don’t have as much demand for them. And that’s kind of the problem we’re trying to solve. It’s not like a developer in Berlin who can just raise their hand and [Alexander Platts 00:11:41] and a bunch of job offers will fly toward them.

Amber Vanderburg:

The sky opens up. Yeah.

Ilya Brotzky:

Yeah, yeah. Or just update their LinkedIn or reply to one of the 100 recruiter LinkedIn messages. So it’s not exactly the same there. But really, I think people are looking to work at a company that they believe in. I think that’s something that millennials, Gen Z, it’s kind of stating the obvious here, but it’s not just about making as much money as possible. But of course you have a good salary or enough. But really it’s about that mission, kind of getting excited, as the last speaker was talking about, to go to work every day and do something that you do believe in, and you have a great team working with you.

Ilya Brotzky:

Career advancement, I think is something as well and learning, especially for software engineers, is huge. And it’s such an interesting field where like if you stop working for six months, your skills are almost, not obsolete, but you’re far behind. So you always kind of have to keep continue on the new trend, the new skills, the new technology that’s coming out, which makes it really exciting, but also challenging. So if you can bring someone and say, “Hey, listen, I know you want to work on backend. You want to work with Node.js. I’m going to give you a role that allows you to flourish in that skill.” Or maybe, “Hey, we don’t have something for you there, but I can give you mentorship opportunity, or something where you can learn, kind of 20% time.” Something like that. That’s really exciting for candidates.

Ilya Brotzky:

And the flexibility, right? If you’re going to be telling people they need to work in an office, good luck. You’re just cut it off, again, 90% of the world’s talent. It’s great to have an office, but make it voluntary. Come when you want. Maybe one day a week kind of mandate. But you don’t want be forcing people to do things they don’t want to do. And so that flexibility, I think people are putting on emphasis on that now more than ever. So yeah, those are the kind of things that we’re seeing. But it’s really just giving people a chance that maybe you otherwise wouldn’t have of taken a chance on because they, as the last people were saying, don’t have all those characteristics that you might look for, physical and personal characteristics, not skill wise.

Amber Vanderburg:

Right. Exactly. And that that’s really important. I like how you clarify that you’re really focusing on senior level tech talent. So these are really specific things that people are looking for. I just was speaking with some people last week and they had, like you said, 10, 15, 20 positions that now were open. And so that’s the big question is, all right, what can we do? We keep on trying to up the salary. You keep on trying to up so much. But a lot of what you’re saying, and what has been iterated throughout today, is clarifying that purpose. And you’re actually the first one that’s really highlighted those opportunities for growth and added reasons why that’s so important with retaining your talent and attracting talent.

Ilya Brotzky:

Yeah. You got to show people the path. And that’s something, again, we’re not great at. We’re working on. But it really helps people see that, if I stay here for a few years, then maybe I’ll become an [inaudible 00:14:56] manager or maybe I’ll become a kind of guru in this skill, or whatever their career goal might be. I think it helps to be growing fast and having success as a business. So that’s something that I think maybe it’s, I should say, before you work on any of this culture stuff, make sure you have a fast growing business that’s performing and has results and you’re successful there. Because otherwise, this stuff doesn’t really matter as much if you don’t have the customers to support the team, or the investors, whatever that might be in your case. I’m sure all the companies here are in that position, but just want to clarify that.

Ilya Brotzky:

So yeah, I think it’s giving those people, saying, “Hey, today we’re 50 people. Today, we’re 100 people. Two, three years from now, we’re going to be 400 people, and you’re going to be managing a team of 20 people if you want.” Or, “You’re going to be that kind of technical guru, who we all rely on to help us with our integrations,” or whatever the the skill that person might be working on. And then the person’s kind of thinking, wow, that’s exciting. I want to be part of this. This is something much cooler than optimizing the the Google Ads platform by .01% or whatever the [inaudible 00:16:01]. I’m sure there’s other things Google does that’s more exciting than that too if anyone from Google is here.

Amber Vanderburg:

So true. Now so here, we’re talking about the conversation of attracting people. Now you had mentioned earlier kind of in passing about social media. And it really brings about this idea that the traditional pipelines that we’ve been using of career fair in person, in person application, those are not your pipelines that you’re going to see as much anymore. What are some different pipelines that you have been seeing, especially in a fully remote in the COVID world and as we’re getting ready to preparing to go into more of a hybrid environment, what are some different pipelines that you have been seeing?

Ilya Brotzky:

I didn’t understand what you said there, Amber. What is in person?

Amber Vanderburg:

In person?

Ilya Brotzky:

Yeah. What is that? That doesn’t make sense to me anymore. I’m making a joke. It’s just so foreign. Like okay, great. In person. Why? I mean, great. Yes. Once in a while let’s meet in person. But I think, yeah, I’m digressing. But yeah, we’re living the digital kind of world, and I think we have been for a long time. So even before COVID. I think COVID doesn’t really have too much to do with it. Yeah, it does. But not as much as people think. Because I used to go and do office tours. So part of VanHack, you go and meet a new client. Okay, this company wants to hire some software developers. Let’s go to the office and do an office tour, meet them and learn. And so you have HR walk you through the office. And everyone was on their laptop. And everyone just went to the same building and sat in the same room and looked at their screen, especially developers, right? So maybe sales was walking around here and there and having some chats.

Ilya Brotzky:

But I think that it’s been something that for the last 10 years really has been really more very important. And I think what we’re seeing with LinkedIn just becoming the ultimate social network for professionals. I don’t think there’s going to be any… I know XING. No offense to XING, but guys, come on. Yeah. A great company, very successful, a lot of respect there. But compared to LinkedIn and Microsoft, one of the most valuable comes to the world, it’s tough to compete. But yeah, I think that’s really where you need to be. So LinkedIn. And yeah, sure, there’s other social media. But for developers, probably other places too. But having a strong LinkedIn presence is very important. It’s almost table stakes. And other platforms as well that are out there. I think GitHub as well is, another Microsoft company, really important to have really some cool open source code or some just of interesting projects there for people to see and learn more about your company on the dev side. Stack Overflow, I would say is another one. And there’s more kind of different tools that are coming out.

Ilya Brotzky:

But yeah, just having a good presence showing people, maybe making some videos, showing them your culture, happy hours, things that you’re doing. Something that you’re doing differently maybe that’s cool. Always looking for new remote tools. I saw a cool one yesterday called Voodle, which is like, you can do video messages on your phone and then send that to Slack directly, which is nice. So there’s a lot of stuff. But yeah, social media, it’s almost like yeah, of course. How can you not?

Amber Vanderburg:

You’ve mentioned some really good ones with GitHub, of course, LinkedIn, and Over Stack, are there ways that you’re finding talent outside of the social media, but more with more, you had mentioned ads or events, conferences like these, are there other ways that you finding talent outside of direct social media accounts?

Ilya Brotzky:

Yeah. YouTube for us is huge. So I guess social media-ish. YouTube for us is probably the second or third best channel that we have. So the way that we look at VanHack is we’re a media company that happens to do education, that also also happens due to recruiting. And we’re actually a technology company that happens to be a media company. So there’s a whole thing. But media is huge and what we do in content is really important. And I think all companies need to look, especially HR departments, HR and marketing need to have a baby. They need to get together and talk into one another, and they need to really be more connected. Because I feel like HR is very much like let’s have the documents and the processes here. And then marketing is like, let’s go crazy and make a lot of cool content. But they should be doing that together.

Ilya Brotzky:

And I think if you, as an employer, are much more excited about your employer brand and market yourself more, there’s a lot of really cool things that can happen. I’m struggling to think of some good examples here. But I know there’s a bunch of kind of things that went viral in the last few years of companies making job postings or people doing that. There’s just a lot of people who are kind of taking outside the box approaches and employers as well. I remember Mercedes-Benz made a game. If you could solve this game, then you can have an interview with us. Things like this.

Ilya Brotzky:

But yeah, I think so coming back to original point, YouTube, making videos of what it’s like to work at your company, employee success cases. I think that’s kind of basic stuff that you should do that. Maybe more kind of fun, cool videos. I saw scavenger hunts and happy hours, and just kind of all these extra out of work things. I think those are also really important. So yeah, I would say YouTube is kind of a really good channel.

Ilya Brotzky:

But with us as well, we have more of a, hey, you’re a developer, you want to work from anywhere, you want to relocate work remotely, come join VanHack. We have jobs for you. And also a lot of content. So maybe look at your candidates as potential students that you want to educate, and then have them learn more about you. I think, yeah, the Netflix Culture Deck, as well, that comes to mind as something really, really powerful. So I mean, I’m sure everyone here has seen in. But if you haven’t, do that. And also read No Rules Rules, amazing book, as well as That’ll Never Work by the other Netflix founder, Marc Randolph.

Ilya Brotzky:

So yeah, those kind of things where you can kind of get your messaging out there and your content out there, that’ll help attract the right type of candidates is really powerful. And I think it’s not technically so hard. It’s more just understanding who your target audience is, as we were talking about, or you were talking about in the previous conversation. And looking at it like a marketing exercise, looking at it as a funnel. And then how do you get people down the steps all the way to the end, and then having them refer. So check out pirate metrics. I think pirate metrics with startups, and then use that as an HR line. I think that would be pretty cool.

Amber Vanderburg:

I love that. I love that. Thank you for giving some outside. I know I’ve talked to some recruiters, and they go, “I have LinkedIn and that’s all I have. Where else can I go?” So here are some practical other places that you can go.

Ilya Brotzky:

Yeah. Ask your candidates. I mean, ask your team first. Yes. So ask the developers in your team. Ask Your Developer. Another good book by the guy from Twilio. I forget his name. Jeff Lawson. Yeah. So ask your developers. Sorry, the coffee’s kicking in. Ask your developers where they go, right? What channels on YouTube they watch, or video games they play, or things that they do? Where do they hang out? Discord. I hear is popular, cryptocurrency, et cetera. Talk to them. Talk to candidates during the interview maybe as a last question, like, “Hey, how did you hear about us?” That kind of thing. That might even be a question in the job application.

Amber Vanderburg:

Application.

Ilya Brotzky:

So you can start having that data. And then go there and just keep iterating because, yeah, it’s a big world out there.

Amber Vanderburg:

Fantastic. Yeah. That’s fantastic. So I know we have a few minutes left. Let me ask what is next for you? You have alluded to explosive growth going on within your company. Yeah, what’s on the horizon for you?

Ilya Brotzky:

Yeah. Well this year’s been a good year. It’s mostly because it’s nothing that really we did, it’s more just the market’s really crazy, and we happen to be in the right place at the right time. And we’re continuing to execute on that and matching more great talent with opportunities around the world and helping organizations scale up, build diverse teams actually, and hire those really hard to fill software developers. So that’s kind of what we’ve been working on.

Ilya Brotzky:

But the next step I think for us is just kind of, how do we 10X that. I know it’s kind of cliche thing to say. But we’re creating a five year plan of, okay, how many people do we need to have in year one, year two, year three, year four. We’re looking to probably be around 400 or 500 people in five years, where now we’re at 50. So literally 10X, from 50 to 500. And hoping to grow revenue by hopefully 10X or more.

Ilya Brotzky:

And then kind of more in short term, I alluded it a little bit earlier in the beginning of the conversation, but we’re launching actually our first software product. So the VanHack ATS. Go to vanhack.com/ats. It’s going to be a free ATS, mostly for kind of earlier stage startups. So if you’re at enterprise here, we don’t have all those features that you’re looking for yet. We’re starting early kind of with some kind of basic features for startups, making it free. So getting some people to use that, and hopefully will be kind of the go-to way for whenever people think of hiring in general, not just tech hiring, but generally hiring, they’ll think of VanHack, and we’ll support them with an awesome, hopefully create the world’s best ATS, and make it free, and add a ton of value to the HR community.

Amber Vanderburg:

Oh, I love that. I love that. Yeah. You have a lot coming up. So 10X in five years is huge. I know that especially people who are listening to this, and they say, hey, we want to learn more about VanHack or have more questions about you in terms of recruiting talent, attracting talent, retaining talent, what’s going to be the best way that they can get in contact with you.

Ilya Brotzky:

Yeah. I’m happy to do a consultation or just a chat with anyone who wants to talk. I used to live in Germany. I spent about a year there in 2017, also in Luxembourg and Portugal. Europe is close to my heart. So I’m happy to make friends in Europe all the time. My wife is bugging me to move back. So yeah, but that’s to say, just add me on LinkedIn. I’m the only person in the world with my name, Ilya Brotzky, you can just type that into LinkedIn. You’ll find me and we’ll connect and schedule a chat. Have some coffee and discuss things.

Amber Vanderburg:

Have the coffee ready to go. Okay.

Ilya Brotzky:

Because usually I talk to people in Europe, and early in the morning. So definitely need coffee.

Amber Vanderburg:

I think that [Haviva 00:26:36] will put your LinkedIn information in the chat. We have a couple minutes left. Again, if anyone has any questions, please put them in the comments. But I guess I’m going to end on this final question. And that’s if I’m in a position and I have technical talent that I need to hire, what’s the main action step that I need to make sure that I’m doing to attract that talent?

Ilya Brotzky:

The main thing. Having a cool product. It starts with that. You can put all the tricks and in the book, but if your product isn’t exciting, and you’re working on something really kind of simple and boring, you’re not going to attract the… Maybe you will. Maybe people are passionate about that. But if you have a cool… There’s a reason why video game companies are so exciting and people want to work there, or kind of more innovative VR or et cetera space. So having a cool product, I think. And maybe it’s showing people why your product is cool. Because I think maybe everyone has that, but how do you position that and make it so. I think that’s important. So yeah, I think that’s something. And then kind of everything else will follow from that.

Amber Vanderburg:

Yeah. I love that. I love that. Yeah. And so even, I like how you said, even if it may not seem as exciting, you try and find that purpose, or find that reason why it can be exciting as well. Perfect.

Ilya Brotzky:

Yeah. The reason you’re working on it, right? So how do you explain that to others?

Amber Vanderburg:

Exactly. Exactly. All right. Awesome. Well, I cannot believe that our time is up already. Haviva has put Ilya’s LinkedIn information in the chat. So if you want to reach out to him, please reach out and connect. And sure he’d be open to some conversation as well. Thank you so much for joining us. It was great to chat with you again. Great to see you again.

Ilya Brotzky:

You too, Amber. We’ll definitely have to chat more. And thanks for having us at the conference. Have a good one, everyone. Take care.

Amber Vanderburg:

Thank you.

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