For most of the past 16 years, Jon Wolles has worked in San Francisco and Silicon Valley for a variety of companies, including Friendster, Zynga, Yahoo and others. But 13 months ago, he packed up his bags and headed to northern New Mexico to manage staffing and recruiting at Descartes Labs.
Wolles already knew Descartes Labs’ CEO Mark Johnson and said he believed in him and the company’s satellite technology, which currently forecasts agriculture production around the globe. That initially got him to consider New Mexico, and then when he visited, he was “sold on the area,” he said, adding that one of the key quality-of-life benefits that attracted him was easy access to world-class skiing and hiking.
This appeal has, not surprisingly, become a key part of his recruitment strategy.
“I get satisfaction when I hear co-workers we’ve relocated here talk about all the outdoor activities that they participate in … kayaking, mountain biking, skiing/snowboarding, hiking, camping,” notes Wolles. “It confirms to me that they made the right choice to move here!”
Even so, he’s quick to add that he usually begins his search for prospective employees in-state, and broadens his search as needed to include other locations, including Austin, Denver, San Francisco and Seattle.
Over the past 13 months he has hired 22 people, both from within the state and from other places, and he recently shared with Silicon66 how he’s been so successful in finding and hiring quality candidates.
Silicon66: When do you know whether or not to look in-state or out-of-state for a candidate?
JW: Ideally, I always start in state, but if I don’t have success there, I broaden that search in a ring effect, so I start in Santa Fe and then move to Albuquerque then out to Denver and Austin and those types of markets. I often find myself spinning that ring out to San Francisco, Seattle, Portland and cities like that. There are some specific roles I know I’ll be successful in recruiting. The issue is that we hire very specific types of engineers and scientists and that particular talent pool is limited in New Mexico, but there are a lot of other roles. I’m looking for a finance controller right now and I’m very confident that I’ll be able to find someone locally for that.
Silicon66: How are you able to find local talent in-state?
JW: We utilize the typical tools. I have a target list of companies for candidates, so they at least have an idea of the type of environment that Descartes Labs offers—early to mid-stage startup. We also get referrals from people who live in the area and know people who are looking for opportunities.
Silicon66: What tools or sites do you use to try to find candidates?
JW: We use LinkedIn. We use Hire.com. We use AngelList. Those are three primary sites we use to locate talent.
Silicon66: Have you had any instances where it’s been especially difficult to find a specific candidate for a specific role?
JW: For sure. We just hired a reliability engineer. They are high in demand, and I think we spent six months looking for the right person. We found him in Austin and he actually just started working on Monday. There are specific niche roles that are harder to fill than others. Then again, nothing is super easy because there’s a lot of competition, and good candidates have a lot of opportunities. The other difficulty is trying to get someone to move to a little town in northern New Mexico.
Silicon66: How do you do that?
JW: You sell the company first, then you sell the opportunity and when we bring candidates on site for an interview, we fly in any other decision-maker such as the spouse or significant other and keep them here for at least 48 hours after the interview. We give them a one-pager of activities, everything from hikes to recommended restaurants to neighborhoods to check out. So, we have a pretty good program we’ve put together to give people a good understanding of what Santa Fe is all about. And it’s a lot of high touch. It’s a lot of talking about our experiences. Almost every person we have hired over the last 12 months has relocated from somewhere else, so potential hires speak to employees who have relocated to tell their story about why they moved and what their experience has been like and how happy they are they made that decision.
Silicon66: What makes for a good candidate to relocate to New Mexico?
JW: I specifically look for candidates that enjoy outdoor activities. I literally do searches on LinkedIn for people with interests in things like biking, hiking, skiing or snowboarding. I feel like they’ll be more receptive and open to the idea of moving to northern New Mexico, because of its amazing outdoor activities.
Silicon66: What else should people know about your role and recruiting in general?
JW: A recruiter is basically an information broker and a relationship builder. You don’t try to put square pegs in round holes. You try to find the right match for a candidate and you give information from the candidate to the company and from the company to the candidate. It’s not rocket science. It’s just understanding what people want.