Recruiting Manager for Virgin Hyperloop One, Greg Toroosian, explains how his team hires specifically to fulfill immediate projects and business needs, rather than hiring “opportunistically” when a particularly talented person comes along. He further unpacks the candidate experience and business impact of this approach.
00:00 Rob Stevenson: Welcome back you fabulous gaggle of talent acquisition wonders. It’s me, Rob Stevenson, here at the helm of your favourite recruiting podcast and I am out here just fulfilling my content marketing destiny to deliver you conversations with the best and brightest in the talent acquisition space and hear all about their strategies, techniques, experiences, etcetera. If you never heard the show before, I kind of just said basically what’s going on but I have to say this part so I can work in that little flare sound that I spent hours in Garage Band composing. Here’s all you need to know about the podcast. Every week I will be bringing in my favorite people in talent acquisition, directors of recruitment, VPs of TA, recruiting managers in this particular incident, and they are going to do primarily one thing.
00:45 RS: Talk Talent To Me. This week’s episode is a goodie. I travelled down to Los Angeles to rub shoulders with some Southern California recruiters and I wound up at the headquarters for Virgin Hyperloop One, which you may remember was proposed by an Elon Musk-authored e-book a few years ago which promises to just totally disrupt transportation and logistics via magnetically levitated and electrically propelled railway. They are doing some amazing work over there, definitely go check out the website and learn more. And as far as recruiting is concerned I caught up with their recruiting manager, Greg Toroosian. And Greg walked me through the dangers of what he calls hiring opportunistically and how his team instead opts to hire in accordance with immediate projects that those individuals would be working on. So this approach encourages hiring managers to be more thoughtful about their specific team needs and larger product delivery goals over the short to medium term. We unpacked all this plus how that relates to candidate experience and not polluting your candidate pool, as Greg put it. It’s a really great conversation, I think you’re all gonna love it. So, without further chicanery or jiggery-pokery, I give you Greg Toroosian, Recruiting Manager at Virgin Hyperloop One.
02:40 RS: Alright, we are broadcasting from Virgin Hyperloop One HQ here in sunny Los Angeles, California, and I am joined by Greg Toroosian, the recruiting manager here. Greg, how are we this morning?
02:50 Greg Toroosian: I’m good, I’m good, thank you.
02:52 RS: What are you working on today? Or I guess, what were the things that when you were sitting in traffic this morning, what were the things that you wanted to work on before people started coming up to your desk and saying, “Hey, a quick question?”
03:03 GT: Good question. Yeah, probably more accurate question. I have a bunch of focus within our software team right now and by default, I’ve taken on a bunch of ephemeral work as well, just because of bandwidth within our team. Being the recruiting manager, I’m just absorbing what some of my team can’t do so there my main focus is, I’ve had a couple of on-sites that I’m working on and making sure that those get seen through properly as well as a bunch of different initiatives within the process and the team. Things that have been on my to-do list for a while and I’m thinking you know Friday I’ll get everything wrapped up before the weekend but it never goes to plan.
03:43 RS: So, speaking of never going to plan, what is the… Normally, I wait to ask this question but since we stumbled upon it somewhat organically here, what is the one project or initiative that if you could put your head down and devote a week to or wave a magic wand and have it be the case, what would you want that to be?
04:00 GT: Oh, man, let me think. We have a bunch of stuff that has been… Is almost at completion that is more process orientated because we’ve got, obviously our ATS system, and we’ve done a lot of work and myself personally a lot work with our intake process, alignment forms and things like that and the scorecard which I’m very passionate about alignment intake and scorecard, that whole process is key for me. So we’ve done a lot of work as a team on that over a period of time and we’re almost at a completion phase, there’s still a few tweaks. So if I could have waved the magic wand it would have been that, to just get it all done and socialized and trained throughout the whole business. If I could still wave a magic wand, it would be to finish out that last bit because we have just changed stuff in Greenhouse, which is the ATS system that we use and we now have to go through this whole training process with all the hiring managers and people who are interviewing for us within the company on how to use it all properly, because we’ve had it for a while but people aren’t utilizing it to its full capability, and there’s been some updates along the way that now we can really reap the benefits of. So yeah, just trying to utilize that.
05:18 RS: Right, right. So when you say they’re not using it correctly, are they putting in bad interview feedback or no interview feedback? What’s the thing you like to fix?
05:27 GT: Combination, to get people to fill in their score cards on time is a challenge in itself. So to speed that process up, we set up debrief meetings after interviews, and people aren’t allowed to come to those debriefs unless they filled out their scorecard and to give them some information regarding that. And the importance is, we don’t want you to get influenced by your team member’s feedback before you’ve had a chance to put your natural first feedback in the system. So that’s a challenge, people aren’t doing it at all in some instances and in some instances it’s very bland or generic, like a thumbs up or a thumbs down without context.
06:09 RS: Right, which is not good enough.
06:09 GT: It’s not good enough. Some of this actually ties back to the alignment and the intake form. You have to create a proper scorecard, you have to understand which areas you want to be assessing people on, what’s the criteria and who’s gonna focus on what throughout the interview process. So the interview panel aren’t all going through the process asking the same interview questions, not getting out the information that’s needed for that job or coming out saying, “Yeah, you know what? I thought they were cool. I could actually, yeah, have a beer with this person,” or, “I was interested in the project they last worked on, but none of it’s relevant to the role.”
06:43 RS: The beer test is so bad.
06:44 GT: It’s horrible. Yeah. And luckily, we don’t really have much of that, but using from past experience…
06:49 RS: It happens, yeah.
06:49 GT: Yeah, you can get lost in a conversation so quickly, especially if someone’s done really interesting work or comes from an academic background that you may be interested in or worked at a similar company that you used to and you go down this rabbit hole and you use your whole hour of interview time and just come out and say, “There’d be a great culture fit,” and they’ve worked on cool stuff. It doesn’t really match what the need is for the company.
07:11 RS: Yeah, I’ve totally done that myself. I’m guilty of that. It’s like, “How was the interview?” “Oh, great. I don’t know how good they are at marketing but they sure know their ’90s TV shows.”
07:18 GT: Exactly, and you’re like, “Yeah, definitely, a great fit for the team.”
07:21 RS: Yeah, a strong yes, strong yes. Okay, so that’s pretty common, right? Just people not filling out Greenhouse recruits although you’ll be happy when you were giving me the tour earlier, I noticed on someone’s monitor, they had their Greenhouse open and they were writing a real novel in there. So you’ll be thrilled with that.
07:36 GT: Great. Good. Someone’s listening to the training.
07:39 RS: Exactly. And the rest of them can listen to this podcast afterward and you can beat them up a little bit from afar.
07:44 GT: Exactly, and maybe you’ll find that magic wand for me to wave around so everything gets done.
07:48 RS: Yeah. Exactly. I’ll do my best.
07:49 GT: Thanks.
07:50 RS: What’s the makeup of the recruiting team like here?
07:53 GT: So right now we have two recruiting managers, myself and Kelly. I am the recruiting manager for all of engineering. So within engineering, we have systems engineering, hardware engineering, and hardware engineering is broken down to pod which is our vehicle, hyperstructures which is our tubes and our stations and pylons and things like that. We have power electronics, levitation and propulsion, and then software as well, which we have all of our machine intelligence and analytics, all of our embedded teams, controls and sensors. We have our off-board software. We have all of our DevOps. What else do we have in there? Our simulation integration, a heap of stuff.
08:37 RS: Yeah, yeah.
08:38 GT: All of engineering pretty much falls on me.
08:40 RS: Right, right.
08:40 GT: Yeah, and my team.
08:42 RS: I was gonna ask that next. How do you sort of divide up the requisitions and prioritize roles? ‘Cause even though Hyperloop is very uniquely… Sorry, Virgin Hyperloop One is very uniquely technical, you’re still hiring for specific parts of the product essentially, right?
08:57 GT: Yes, yeah. So to break down the team a little bit more… So I myself and my team focus on engineering. Kelly is non-engineering, so all of corporate services. But that’s a recent change, so there’s a lot of overlap, and as a team, we are absorbing all these different workloads. For example, software is my main focus but I’m taking on thermal, or Kelly is still working on engineering stuff, but has a recruiter working for her that focuses on our corporate services. And then we have a HR business partner in Vegas who takes care of our Vegas positions, and then we have another person in Dubai who focuses on an all of Dubai and India.
09:38 RS: Got it.
09:39 GT: And then underneath us, our recruiters, the way that I try to align it is per team, so one person focusing on systems engineering, one person doing our part in our hyperstructures, one person doing test and dev, one manufacturing. Oh, I completely forgot those teams, my bad. So, yeah, technically I guess I wouldn’t couple them under hardware engineering ’cause they are their own teams, system, dev and manufacturing. But yeah, they fall under engineering as well, and we have our recruit folks on each area there. And then what else? Software obviously.
10:15 RS: Right, right. So there’s those handful of different ways you can divvy up roles. Is there any prioritization based on strategic import of roles going on?
10:23 GT: Oh, yeah. As a business, we went through this whole prioritization exercise. So the first thing was, “Tell us,” to all the hiring managers and heads of department, “Tell us what you need in your team to build a Hyperloop? To build the commercial Hyperloop system, what do you need?” And you basically open the floodgates and people submit all of these really far-fetching, elaborate team structures and orgs and hundreds of positions that you get, but it’s realistic because to have something of this scale and us to build the amount that we want to build in-house, you need X amount of people. It’s a capital-intensive and labor-intensive project.
11:05 RS: Right.
11:06 GT: That was the first step. The second step was, “Okay, well, what do we need head count-wise and workforce-wise in place to achieve our first milestone for our commercial development, whether that’s submitting a proposal or getting a customer signed or whatever that may be?” So that was the second prioritization step, which we did and now we’re in our… We’d call that our priority one hiring. And priority one hiring was then prioritized by month hire.
11:34 RS: Okay.
11:34 GT: Yeah. And we did that through from, let’s say, August to end of Q1. Let’s use that. I’m just using rough dates for you just because obviously I can’t get way too specific, but… So then we do month hiring of prioritization for the teams. If you wanna complete this project or this deliverable by this time, we need people in-house working by this date, so we need to hire them earlier.
12:01 RS: Got it. So, it’s a factor or very specific shipping goals, more or less?
12:06 GT: Yes, yes. Deliverables, milestones for the teams as well and factoring in the amount of lead time you need to ramp someone up or in some cases get something certified, you know?
12:19 RS: Yeah. Yeah, definitely. So that encourages recruiters to hire very specifically for a profile that can execute on this project that’s in the near to medium future?
12:30 GT: Right.
12:30 RS: As opposed to getting someone in your funnel who, while this person is really exceptionally talented in a lot of areas, maybe not specifically this area. But recruiters, you see talent obviously, and so you wanna… There is this one philosophy in recruiting where it’s like, “Get the best people and sort them out later.”
12:49 GT: Right.
12:50 RS: And like, if you can get the best talent, just bring them in, no matter what they do, what their specialty is, and then figure out what to do with them later.
12:55 GT: Yup.
12:56 RS: So this would be the other side of that coin, right?
12:58 GT: Yes. This is getting rid of that mentality and becoming more focused to the business, and what’s right for the business and what’s right for what our commitments are and what’s right for our growth. Because we used to do it that way as an early stage company and there’s nothing wrong with doing it at a certain stage in a company. Because earlier on, we were very R&D focused, it’s a very cool project, it’s getting a lot of buzz, and a lot of people wanna work on it. We’re like, “Yeah, eventually we’re gonna need X engineer to work on X project, so we should definitely hire them and bring them in.” And people are working, not so much collaboratively across this whole end goal, but working on these side projects everywhere and what’s the cool interesting thing, let’s do that now. Then you take a step back and you say, “Alright, well, we’re getting buzz, we’re getting potential customers, we’re getting regulators and governments interested, what do they need to see and what is step one, two, three for that?” It’s not this person working on this project that maybe five years out.
14:03 RS: Right.
14:04 GT: It’s this right now. Which is a different mentality because… And it’s tough and it’s tough to change the business and the hiring managers and teams to see things that way and it’s tougher sometimes for recruiters or even earlier stage recruiters to get that mentality as well because you see a great person. I’m working on this now for two or three different teams with candidates in mind. I got a great person, they’re tough to find, naturally we wanna hire them. But the problem with doing that is, you don’t have a body of work for them specifically. And then the business, more so in a start-up world, you have to be conscious of dollar spent, you have to be conscious of resources that you can allocate. So if you as a hiring manager, you say, “You have five hires to make this quarter,” if you wanna allocate two of them to positions that aren’t priority, shame on you because your work still needs to get done, right? And that ties into a whole bunch of other stuff, candidate experience and retention and all this other stuff.
15:10 RS: Yeah, yeah, I was just thinking that. So there is this conception like, “Okay, we’re gonna send a… ” What do you call it? There’s a term for the pod, right?
15:18 GT: Our pod?
15:19 RS: Yeah, there’s something shell?
15:20 GT: Oh, the aeroshell.
15:21 RS: Yeah.
15:22 GT: That’s just… Yeah, that’s for the test track, yeah, yeah, yeah.
15:24 RS: Okay, got it. So we’re gonna send the aeroshell to the moon someday, right?
15:27 GT: Yeah.
15:27 RS: Great, it doesn’t mean we want aeronautical engineers today.
15:29 GT: Exactly.
15:30 RS: So instead, maybe it’s not as sexy, but you have all this government regulation that needs approval, etcetera, so you don’t wanna put the cart before the horse. But it’s interesting that that plays into candidate experience too, because not only is it really expensive, the most expensive thing is hiring someone and then they stay a few months and then leave, right?
15:47 GT: Right.
15:47 RS: You’ve got the hiring cycles, you paid them obviously, the opportunity cost of not having the right person, etcetera.
15:52 GT: Yeah.
15:52 RS: But then also, they had a bad time.
15:54 GT: Of course.
15:55 RS: They leave.
15:55 GT: Yes.
15:55 RS: And then they tell their engineering friends or whoever, “Yeah, they have no idea what they’re doing over there. I got there, I was twiddling my thumbs.”
16:03 GT: Yeah, you pollute your candidate pool. And I’m very conscious of doing that for anything. Our interns, our candidates that come in and interview, even if they’re not suitable or they bomb their interview, we still want them to have a good process or not leave here and go and tell their colleagues or friends or whoever it is that those people don’t know what they’re doing, or their process was terrible, or steer well clear.
16:25 RS: Yeah.
16:26 GT: And candidate experience for hiring someone, an opportunistic hire or someone who’s not on a plan, can be bad and detrimental if you’re not communicating that. Even if you do, if you told someone, “Hey, look, we really wanna hire you. We’re gonna bring you in, we’ll figure out your role, we’re gonna sort out the job description, everything, but can you start in two weeks?” Cool, they come here, no one’s figured out exactly what this person’s gonna do, they can’t add value as a true professional or someone who’s passionate, especially the people that we want to or tend to attract in the engineering world. Actually, in any team they wanna add value, they wanna be challenged, and they wanna work on something cool. If they come in and they’re not doing that and then they leave… ‘Cause the competitions for engineering and talent in general in LA is tough, there’s a lot of cool projects now. Not as many doing exactly what we’re doing, but there’s others out there in other places. So, someone can just leave and go and find something else if they’re not getting what they were supposed to when they come in.
17:25 RS: Right.
17:26 GT: And the loss of that person, because most of the time they tend to be passively looking. And the approach that I prefer to take is, “We think you’re great,” and I’ll probably set up a technical phone screening for them so the hiring manager can speak to them, gauge whether this person is someone that we do wanna consider for the future, and then you have that conversation, “Look, we really wanna consider you, we think that you would be a great addition. Unfortunately, there’s no role right now that you could be suitable for. But we have something coming up in X amount of months or in the new year.” And if they are passive and if they are passionate and interested in just your project, chances are you can re-engage. ‘Cause I’ve done that as well and it works great. People are like, “Oh wow, I’m flattered,” or, “I’m surprised you remembered and reached out because everyone says it and they don’t do it.”
18:15 RS: And you did right by me by not just bringing me in the door and looking at my profile and thinking, “Okay, I could close this person,” and getting him in house and then letting the hiring manager deal with it later, right?
18:26 GT: And it’s all about communicating that as well. I could bring you in now and you could have a job and you’d be happy initially, but the chances are we can’t. And another part of that onboarding process is, you need a clear job description, we set up a 100-day plan so you can be effective and everything like that, and you feel you’ve hit these short-term achievements and goals. You can’t do that if a job doesn’t have deliverables or you can’t do that if a job doesn’t have a need for body of work, right?
18:54 RS: Yeah, yeah, definitely. So in the event that someone does make it through the hiring cycle, you have to have that conversation and have those open lines of communication. But step one would be educating hiring managers so that that happens less and saying to them in kick-off meetings, “What does success look like in this role after six months, a year, 18 months?” How have you gone about calibrating hiring managers so that you don’t have to hire opportunistically this way?
19:21 GT: As I said, it was a shift.
19:24 RS: Yeah, yeah.
19:24 GT: It changed. It was a process. Part of it is how we write our job descriptions now. So if you look at our job descriptions online, they have set proportions. So one is the role, like what the role is doing. There’s a candidate profile. There’s the reason that we’re hiring the role, so where it sits within the organization and stuff like that and what success looks like, and there’s the minimum requirements and the preferred. I’m jumbling all of that up by the way, but it has separate sections, so you can go through with the hiring manager and say, “Okay, so what does the exact profile of the person you wanna hire look like? Okay, why do we need this role? What does success look like in this role? Alright, now let’s break down the requirements of this person experience-wise and abilities-wise.” And then that’s a nice blueprint to go into the recruiting process with, but the real meat comes in that intake meeting when you build out that scorecard because the job description, as everyone knows, is an advert, it’s externally facing, you’re not really gonna be using that most of the time to properly assess that person when they come in and interview. Because putting a technology, a language or a technology or a process on a job description is not, “Oh cool, yeah, I can do that. I’ve worked with X before.”
20:44 RS: Checkbox.
20:44 GT: Yeah. But what have you done with it? What environment was that in? What did the project look like?
20:49 RS: Right.
20:49 GT: What was your involvement in it specifically? And that’s more in the scorecard.
20:54 RS: Okay, right, which ties into what you were saying earlier about getting people to probably fill these things out.
20:58 GT: Exactly.
21:00 RS: Got it.
21:00 GT: So if we fill it out properly with the hiring manager and the kick-off meeting and in our intake meeting, then we should really be able to build out, as a recruiter anyway, a color and understanding of what this role really is and why it’s important in the team because once you know the team that you recruit for, you could be like, “But who does that right now?”
21:20 RS: Yes.
21:20 GT: Or, “How is this work getting done,” or, “Why is it important? Because we just hired this person to do something similar.” And a lot of it, which I’ve been training my team on recently because this is a huge part of what we do, I call it recruiting blind. If you haven’t done your intake meeting, you’re recruiting blind and that’s dangerous.
21:38 RS: Yeah. Yeah.
21:40 GT: So when you’re doing that, a lot of what I’ve been training them on is it’s not knowing everything ’cause we don’t. There’s no way for all of the engineering teams and roles that we work on that we would know it all, especially if you’ve worked like myself primarily in software previously, and then coming in-house and I recruited for every team pretty much, all of our non-engineering, legal, finance, marketing, business strategy, and then now all of engineering, there’s no way I could know all of that. A lot of it is questioning and gathering understanding and just trying to unearth the real need and the reasoning for a role or even a requirement within a role. I need them to have this technology. But why? Well, I need them to have done this project. Why are we doing that? So I can understand. None of it is pushy. None of it is second-guessing. None of it is telling a hiring manager they don’t know what they’re doing. It’s trying to make us both get on the same page and me to get the best understanding I can so I can go recruit for it.
22:37 RS: Right.
22:37 GT: And then it also gives you the ammunition at the end of the process or even throughout the process to push back.
22:43 RS: Yes.
22:43 GT: Like, “We’re going down the wrong path.” Like, “This candidate that you’re pushing through this process doesn’t meet half the stuff you want,” or, “The minimum criteria is a complete mismatch.” Like, “Help me understand why we’re doing this.” And then, “Oh, we want to interview them because we have this other role we’re thinking about.” “Okay, well, that’s not this. We should pause straight away. If you need to create a new role, you have to speak to your head of department or speak to the head of HR and finance to get that budget approved.” And then we’ll carry on with other candidates because it’s wrong to move this person through a process that they’re interviewing against the job that it’s not right for them.
23:19 RS: Right, right, exactly.
23:20 GT: Yeah.
23:20 RS: This speaks to the multifaceted nature of what it means to be a recruiter too. You have to be able to push back on hiring managers, and also in order to do so, intimately know the team that they’re building, that you’re helping them build to say, “Wait, isn’t this other person that you just hired kind of doing that? Are you sure you need this person?” Because even if they get the head count and they’re all excited, and they’re like, “Fire up the job description again,” and you’re like, “Okay, well, hold on.” Because if it doesn’t work out, if that person leaves, then in a sophisticated talent department, that’s a metric you’re gonna be looking at.
23:51 GT: Of course.
23:52 RS: And then that’s gonna reflect badly on the talent team like probably before it reflects badly on the hiring manager, right?
23:56 GT: Right. Yeah. All of the above, everyone, because as a recruit, you’re kind of the first line of defense for the company in multiple ways. You wanna make sure the person meets the criteria and some sort of cultural match and things like that, but then you’d only want suitable people going through to speak to the hiring manager.
24:13 RS: Yes.
24:14 GT: ‘Cause if they’re not, it looks bad on you and if they get hired, how has this person got through all of that?
24:21 RS: Right.
24:21 GT: You know, how have they gone through the whole process and managed for the recruiter to create an offer and they’re so much of a bad fit or wrong for the role, or there wasn’t even work there for them.
24:31 RS: Yep.
24:31 GT: Someone needs to be accountable.
24:33 RS: Yeah, definitely.
24:33 GT: Yeah. Obviously it’s not always the recruiter of course, because… And again, I tell the team, there’s only so much we can do. There’s only so much we can influence and there is a line because we can’t decide what’s best for the department, we can’t decide who they need to hire or the direction they wanna go, we can just help guide that conversation and make sure we stay on track from what our initial alignment is, and you may have to realign throughout the process.
24:58 RS: Right, right, of course.
25:00 GT: Things change. They always change.
25:02 RS: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, definitely. Well, I could keep picking your brain about this, but I know you have a phone screen here in a couple of minutes and I want you to maintain great candidate experience here at Virgin Hyperloop One, so I’ll get out of your hair. But Greg, this has been really, really fascinating. I wish we could keep going. Thank you so much for joining me.
25:21 GT: Thank you. I appreciate you reaching out.
25:23 RS: Absolutely. So that just about does it for us here at Talk Talent To Me. I’ve been Rob Stevenson, Greg Toroosian has been Greg Toroosian. And you’ve all been amazing, talented, wonderful, beautiful, recruiting darlings. Have a spectacular week and happy hunting.
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