Annie Rihn has seen Zillow grow from an idea to a towering success, all thanks to its people. She joined in 2005, before the site launched, and effectively built the company from the ground up.
Throughout her journey, LinkedIn has played a key role in her hiring strategy. As one of the first 150,000 members on LinkedIn (today's member count is 464+ million and growing), Annie recognized early on the value of using the platform to network and identify talent unavailable on traditional job boards.
Today, Annie is Head of Recruiting for Zillow Group—the portfolio of brands that includes Zillow, Trulia, StreetEasy, Hotpads and Naked Apartments. She and her team have sought out promising candidates for nearly twelve years, and in 2015, they saw how much progress the Zillow brand had made. For the first time during a college recruitment trip, virtually every student already knew of Zillow.
Zillow Group’s star is rising fast: 2016 has been the largest growth year in the company’s history. By the end of Q3, Annie’s recruiting team had already hired 1,200 people in just nine months. To put this in perspective, Zillow Group ended 2015 with +700 hires.
The department that began with Annie has expanded to more than 40 professionals. She and her team of recruiters are spread across the country, in fiercely competitive markets where Zillow Group’s brands are located: New York City, San Francisco, Seattle and Denver.
Staying Competitive as a Rising Star
Twin Challenges for a Company in Hypergrowth
Zillow Group’s runaway growth is phenomenal, of course, but it comes with a set of unusual challenges.
“We are in a truly unprecedented time in the market,” says Annie. Computer Science graduates are seeing upward of 5-8 offers. We are playing in the sandbox with Google, Facebook, and LinkedIn—all going after that same talent, and most tech companies are facing the challenge of how to scale as fast as they need.”
Considering its high growth, Zillow Group is also singularly focused on quality. “We’ve been incredibly selective when it comes to the quality of candidate, regardless of level or title,” says Travis Jensen, Senior Recruiting Manager for Sales in Seattle. “We’re going after individuals with years of proven success.”
With LinkedIn Talent Solutions, Zillow Group empowers hiring managers to get involved and help shape their future team.
Leadership is intimately involved in engaging candidates—from CEO Spencer Rascoff to hiring managers across each department.
“Spencer eats, drinks, and sleeps hiring,” says Travis. “He’ll make calls and send emails to at least 50% of the candidates that we’re closing. This fosters our culture of hiring. Our managers understand that if they want someone terrific, it’s all hands on deck.”
Hiring managers who sit outside recruitment play a pivotal role in overcoming talent challenges. Zillow Group terms the strategy “collaborative sourcing.” That’s where LinkedIn Talent Solutions comes into play.
“If you’re looking to hire good talent, you’ve got to own it. You can't only rely on the wonderful recruiting teams or referral networks or inbound candidates. If you're looking for someone specific, it's up to you to go make it happen.”
— Chris Lowe, Senior Sales Director
While LinkedIn isn’t the only sourcing channel for Zillow Group, it is a central one—which is why many senior hiring managers have a LinkedIn Recruiter seat. “We have a multi-channel sourcing strategy,” says Annie. “There’s a lot of activity that happens outside of LinkedIn, but LinkedIn is a great platform for hiring manager engagement.”
Hiring Managers Provide a Competitive Advantage
When your potential future-boss reaches out with a personalized invitation to apply, you’re more likely to respond. “We see much better response rates when it’s the hiring manager reaching out instead of a recruiter,” shares Jason Gurney, Group Manager of Technology and avid user of LinkedIn Recruiter.
Along with Zillow Group’s Career Page on LinkedIn, hiring managers also give targeted candidates a vivid vision of Zillow Group’s culture. “Working with hiring managers, we can customize the candidate experience and provide a sense of our culture. They see that we value work satisfaction and their happiness, and get insights into the projects they might be working on.” That’s essential for attracting talent in competitive markets.
Improving the Quality of Candidates
By tapping into LinkedIn Recruiter, managers can provide invaluable input to refine searches and locate the most qualified candidates; after all, no one can identify the perfect candidate better than the person who will manage them.
Managers also enjoy leeway to course-correct. “If they’re not getting quality, or they want to get a jump on building pipelines for future headcount, they’re empowered to step in and ask what they can do,” says Travis. “We’ll source and encourage them to build their own projects in LinkedIn Recruiter, and ask them to reach out once the role is open.
“We have more than a 20% increase in response rate when the hiring manager reaches out, so it’s important to get them involved,” shares Dana Mrozek, Senior Recruiting Manager in Seattle. Dana and her team also organize “sourcing lunches” where recruiters educate hiring managers about best practices on LinkedIn, and power source over pizza. The always wrap up their efforts with an ROI snapshot and that inspires other teams to engage.
What is Zillow Group’s ultimate metric of success? “Making an awesome hire who go on to grow and become leaders and role models,” says Dana. While the recruitment team keeps quantitative metrics, they value qualitative measures even more—metrics like the hiring manager’s satisfaction with new employees and new hire feedback on the candidate experience.
“Our metrics aren’t set up for a culture of competition,” shares Annie. “We want our people to be self-driven, and do what is right for Zillow Group. We trust our team to deliver the best candidates, and are thoughtful in how we use metrics to tell a story.” LinkedIn Talent Solutions plays a key role in letting Annie’s team prioritize quality hires over in-group competition.
Managers Celebrate Their Success
The hiring managers, on the other hand, were all too happy to boast their measures of success. Jason believes that the best hires are often “passive candidates”—many of whom are currently employed and not actively looking for a new job.
“LinkedIn Recruiter has been incredibly valuable in hitting those passive candidates,” Jason shares. “I’ll send InMails that reinforce the fact that I’m the hiring manager and get a response rate of 34%— that’s well worth my while.” An eager adopter, Jason sent over 300 InMails in the last year. That commitment has rewarded him handsomely: about 33% of Jason’s direct report hires over the last year have come directly from his own outreach on LinkedIn.
Chris Lowe also achieved impressive results with LinkedIn Recruiter. His first experience with the tool came when he was looking to hire a general manager on his team. “The candidates coming in weren’t quite right. I connected with the recruitment team, got a five-minute demo on Recruiter, created the persona of the ideal hire, and started sending InMails.”
Over half of Chris’s InMails got a response—in total, he received over 100 replies for the position, making up the majority of his talent pipeline. The final hire was a recruit he first engaged through LinkedIn.
Nick Taylor, Senior Director of Real Estate Sales and Strategy, has seen similar successes. “Anyone on my team responsible for headcount has a Recruiter seat,” he says. “I encourage them to constantly look, source, and maintain a shortlist.” Nick’s team has grown almost 40% in the last six months, with most of his hires coming through LinkedIn Recruiter.
Building a fast-growing team
Attracting the right candidates
With LinkedIn Talent Solutions, Zillow empowers hiring managers to get involved and make a difference.
Jason Gurney, Group Manager of
Nick Taylor, Senior Director of Real
Estate Sales and Strategy
A key priority for recruitment in 2017 will be fostering a culture of diversity, particularly for communities of color and women in technology. The company-wide initiative begins with CEO Spencer Rascoff, who uses LinkedIn’s publishing platform to share Zillow Group’s values through published posts like If They’re Just Like You, Hire Someone Else.
“LinkedIn is an invaluable tool for building relationships with leaders and influencers across diverse communities,” shares Lionel Lee, Zillow Group’s Diversity and Inclusion Consultant. With the help of LinkedIn Talent Solutions, the talent acquisition team partners with hiring managers to provide a diverse slate of candidates. They’ve also committed to ensuring that every candidate is interviewed by a diverse panel of employees.
It’s an initiative that Zillow Group takes seriously: all interviewers and hiring managers are required to complete unconscious bias training in order to lift barriers and build a more inclusive work environment.
The work is just beginning, but there are already a few indicators of success. For example, 50% of 2016’s summer engineering interns were women.
Annie and her team plan on increasing their internal sourcing capabilities, placing a renewed focus on building the talent pipeline ahead of demand. “It's rare that companies make an investment that allow them to start pipelining in advance,” Annie says. “We should be sourcing and engaging talent ahead of our headcount, so we opportunistically identify great talent who align with our values.”
Annie adds: “In a req-driven culture, the window in which candidates are considered can be very narrow. The best talent does not always present during that window, so you have to be opportunistic and always engage in the talent community. This is especially true when diversity hiring is a priority for your business. Sometimes the perfect person presents themselves before you have a need, and if you can seize that opportunity, the entire business will be better for it.”