New York for sale: Behind Squarespace’s hiring campaign
Posted by Jacob Passy × March 11, 2014 at 4:21 pm
Joris Luijke, vice president of human resources at Squarespace, helped launch the company’s latest hiring campaign. The program, called “Be A Part Of It,” is based in part on his own experience in moving to New York a few months ago. (Photo by Jacob Passy)
SOHO, MANHATTAN — There’s never been a better time to be looking for a job – if you can code, that is.
The U.S. economy added an impressive 175,000 jobs overall in February according to the Bureau for Labor Statistic. But what’s more remarkable were the increases seen in the professional and business service industry. This broad sector, which includes technology workers, alongside everyone from accountants to consultants , posted 79,000 jobs last month.
And tech jobs are now the top jobs, according to U.S. News and World Report. This year, for the first time in the magazine’s history, software developers crowned their “Best Jobs” list.
But when it comes to New York City-based tech companies, a better job market means a more competitive one. According to Dice.com, a site that monitors hiring in the tech industry, Missouri comes out on top when it comes to fastest growth in the technology job market – New York is in 10th place.
To combat this fierce competition, New York-based tech company Squarespace has launched a new recruiting program. Called “Be A Part Of It,” this hiring initiative seeks to attract new employees by playing up the company’s biggest asset: its location.
“Everyone knows New York, right? And everyone knows that it’s a stylish city,” says Joris Luijke, vice president of human resources at Squarespace. “So for us to say, Squarespace is like the company version of a New York City helps us translate what we are about as a company.”
With the goal of hiring 30 entry- to mid-level engineers and designers, Squarespace set up an application portal on its website where interested people can submit resumes and cover letters. But Luijke felt that message alone wasn’t strong enough to get the top-level talent the company wanted.
“We could have just come up with an announcement saying that we’re hiring 30 engineers and designers,” says Luijke. “But that in itself isn’t an interesting message. We wanted something that stood out more – that was able to really establish the values of the company and the backdrop of New York City.”
So the company decided to offer a free weekend trip to New York City to top applicants who were pre-interviewed and approved. The catch: these lucky would-be employees also get to bring their spouses or partners along for the ride. While in New York, they’ll be treated to myriad amenities including accommodations at the Soho Grand Hotel, concerts at Smalls Jazz Club in the West Village and meals at Alder in the East Village.
Squarespace also welcomes referrals. And those who do the referring will also receive airfare for a trip to New York if their suggestion leads to a successful hire.
While such extravagance may seem par for the course with top-level employees – think your CEOs and COOs – Luijke says these giveaways were aimed at creating excitement around the company on social media for all sorts of positions – not just the top brass.
And the excitement appears to be working. Within the first day of the campaign’s launch, Squarespace had received around 300 applications. Just a few weeks later, that figure stood at over 1,100, but only a fraction of these people will get flown out to New York after the pass muster, according to Luijke.
To some, such an impressive response is hardly surprising. Michael Mandel, who drafted ‘Building a Digital City,’ a study of New York’s tech sector commissioned by former mayor Michael Bloomberg, says the growing strength of the city’s tech sector could represent a major draw for prospective employees.
“Really what they’re doing is saying, ‘Let’s use our major asset here, New York City,’” Mandel says. “It’s an attractor in a way that it hasn’t been in years.”
While the folks at Squarespace and Mandel argue their plan is working, others in the tech community, including recruiters, say this approach to hiring will not produce the desired results.
“It doesn’t seem very effective to me,” says Robin Reiss, co-founder and managing partner of Landover Associates, a prominent recruiting firm. “It just seems like throwing a very large net out there. We’re doing very targeted searches and that’s our value.”
And Bonnie Halper, a recruiter and CEO of sendresume.com, worries that Squarespace’s campaign isn’t as cutting edge as they may think.
“I’ve seen people do gimmicks all the time,” Halper says. “Clients have been calling and retaining the services of recruiters because they have been posting everywhere online and not finding the right people.”
Reiss and Halper both agree that offering free trips to New York could lead to lots of money spent without many applicants accepting offers. Reiss compares Squarespace’s approach to that of time-shares in Florida.
“The resort spends a lot of money to get people to come down to Florida for a free trip,” Reiss says. “And then, they don’t buy anything because they got their trip.”
So, even if Squarespace’s campaign isn’t all that it’s chalked up to be, then why would the company invest so much time and money into it? Well, Squarespace’s Luijke says the program will actually save them money.
“That may sound contradictory to what you would think,” Luijke says. “But if you look at the amount of money that technology companies spend on recruiters every year, there’s a lot of people you can fly in and give an amazing experience for that same amount.”
Using a recruiter would cost around $20,000 per new hire, Luijke says. Recruiting firms, says recruiter Reiss, assess fees based on a percentage of the salary that the new employee will earn.
Squarespace, Luijke explains, would prefer to spend the bulk of the $15 million they have budged for new jobs to cover salaries and not the costs of recruitment.
Recruiters, of course, insist that they draw on better pools of talent for their clients.
“We go after people and truly headhunt, and don’t let them come to us,” Reiss says. “We’re going after people who aren’t even looking for jobs.” And this, Reiss explains, is key to finding strong employees.
Luijke hopes to complete the initial round of hiring through the “Be A Part Of It” campaign by the end of March. After that, the folks at Squarespace plan to draw on the program’s momentum and more than double the company’s size by the end of next year. With such lofty goals in mind, Luijke says he’ll take whoever he can get – so long as they’re talented.
“If I could hire every single engineer and designer tomorrow, I’d take them,” he says.