On June 3rd, we hosted speakers from some of the most recognisable sustainability-focused startups in Berlin: Lubomila Jordanova, Founder & CEO of PlanA, Moritz Waldstein-Wartenberg, CEO of Mitte, and Jenny Conrads, CPO at Ecosia. Together with them, we discussed challenges in hiring for mission-driven companies.
How does your sustainable mission impact the way you hire talent?
Moritz: I think that any mission will impact the way you hire talent. There are three factors here: 1) natural filter of relevant people applying to you based on your values; 2) our talent acquisition team is actively looking for people who have a similar value set; 3) once you hire the right people with the right value set, they will become hiring managers, which is a reinforcing mechanism. We published a manifesto on our website, which covers how we want to treat the planet, what purpose do we have, what product do we build, and how do we want to treat people.
Lubomila: We have set up a process that makes sure that the values of the new people coming are aligned with the values of the company. We ask candidate-related questions, like what do they think about greenwashing and what's the most effective way of reducing CO2, which is what our product does — it quickly becomes clear if the person fits or not. We set out the right mindset that people can identify with even before applying to the company.
Jenny: It's not an exclusion criteria. You want to see that people care about it and that they are improving, but everybody is also on their own journey. We want to hire the best, but we also want to hire people who are aligned with our values. That's why we have a rule that we don't want to hire 'brilliant jerks', in a sense that if you're absolute best but you're a jerk we don't want you. There's always room to grow and learn.
Have you found that candidate motivation is higher due to the company's ethical mission?
Jenny: I think that's an absolute 'yes'. I think it's much higher, even from my own experience. I have been using and recommending Ecosia to friends because I thought that they are great. People whom I approach really care about Ecosia, they are informed about our company, what we do, and what impact we have, and they have great questions.
Moritz: I think you also have to 'walk the talk'. It's best to publicly declare what values are important to you, then you also have to live up to the standard. If you don't, it backfires. We are setting up a circularity program for consumers and we have a heated discussion where the reality of business comes to play. Another example is that we hired 23 people in the last months, above 70% of which are referrals. Referrals have a higher conversion rate. We also see a lot of inbounds coming — we opened future job opportunities for roles that will show up in the future. It's hard to isolate an aspect of sustainability in the number of inbounds.
Lubomila: We get 13-40 cold applications per week, all of them passionately explain why they care about the topic. There's a lot of motivation in the sustainability market, especially in Berlin.
How do you aim to create a sustainable company culture, and how does this affect your hiring?
Jenny: There are a lot of aspects that we look at and, as a sustainable company, it's based on our values and how we do things. We offer a lot of benefits to support people and the company in a sustainable culture. I think it's very important to be inclusive and flexible in finding policies and ways to deal with things that include everyone, regardless of the stage of their life, backgrounds, etc. Diversity is very important for us, and we are working to be good at it, together. That's of course part of hiring, but also part of building a diverse culture. We are also trying to give a lot of individual support based on people's situation and circumstances. Having inclusive conversations looks different when you are with 15 or with 70 people. You need a different alignment. We need to change how we approach certain topics and that's something that we are currently working on.
Moritz: Sustainability for us is being more long-term oriented in terms of how you treat people, your market, and the resources that you deploy. You have to look at the values that you put out there and you communicate, and the tools and activities that you implement to support the values. We stated the value set in our manifesto, which is all encompassed in our key phrase, which is 'Better than before'. We have certain activities and tools that we use, like Green Mitte that looks at our internal operations to improve things like separating waste, travel policy, etc.
Lubomila: What's important for use are three aspects: measure — we have built software that measures sustainability. We essentially follow what we pitched and what we embedded into our way of existing; impact — this is our community and the external side of the things. We have organised events for 15,000 people and this is how we use the knowledge that we developed. We use it as a tool for others; diversity — we are 15 people of 13 different nationalities. We have people from all over the world and different continents with different backgrounds who bring different ideas.
COVID—19 has made the world pause and think about how we treat the planet. Do you foresee that interest in working for sustainable products will increase as a result?
Moritz: I have a feeling that the crisis is accelerating some of the dynamics that have been in play for a while now. I think we have been moving towards a world driven by an additional layer of purpose that's not just money, like topics relating to the environment. I think we are living through crazy times in many places on this planet. The things taking place in the US makes many people not able to work on certain things because they are in a survival mode. It looks like we are back to normal in places like Berlin, but that's not a case everywhere.
Lubomila: COVID—19 amplified a lot of issues that society faces. This is, unfortunately, not only in regards to the climate change crisis, but it's also inequality, in how unstable our supply chains are, and a lot of other issues. There are positive side effects like groups of people focusing on helping the environment, but there are a lot of negative side effects too. People who lost their jobs in the US most likely won't be thinking about helping the environment. It pushes us to think forward and create new initiatives, but we should not forget that we live in a complex reality and it will take us to double the effort to get things to where we want them to be.
Jenny: For one, I think that the interest is increasing, but I don't think that's only due to the COVID—19. With the last few years and the climate movement, it has already happened that people are increasingly aware of issues that we are facing and that we don't have the right solution. What I found that COVID—19 has done is that we can see, in some cases, how adaptable we are in times of crisis. If we stand behind something as a society and we get together, we can have a big impact and change things in no-time. There's a potential out there. If we could recognise the climate change in a similar way, there's so much we could do very fast. This is a very hard time economically. You have to be conscious of reality. You have to evaluate what's yours 'better than before'. I think that everybody has to find answers individually. I think that there are more sustainable ideas born because of the crisis.
How do you commit to diversity in your hiring in terms of cultural and ethnic background, gender, age, as well as types of professional and academic paths?
Lubomila: It happened for us naturally to be quite diverse in the sense that we never set a quota on a number of women we want to have, same for different nationalities. When we look at candidates, we always look for people who can bring something new to the table, and this always comes with a diverse background. Every single person on the team has to talk to the person that's considered to be hired — it's embedded to our mindset and it has been an organic process for us.
Moritz: We didn't have any rules about diversity until now, but we started having discussions about that. We have roles that are male-dominated. For a tech company, we have a high share of female employees, 26 nationalities from 6 continents across different ages (25-60). We don't have a strong commitment. We are looking into ideas on how to improve it. We also don't want to focus on just gender.
Jenny: Ecosia was a very small company for a long time and everything developed very naturally. There has been a lot happening in the hiring process to make sure that you have checks and you have more eyes on it and you have an equal distribution across the whole company. Since I started, there has been a need to look at the process with a diversity specialist. One of the things we are doing is universal design, which is a way to form your processes and decision making so that they are universal and include everyone. Another thing is training which allows you to support people individually. You always want to build a mechanism that allows you to evaluate yourself.
How do you search for someone that has the right value fit?
Lubomila: It's a personal process to develop values and put the focus on them. We have a massive privilege of having a lot of inbounds that gives us insights into what keywords people use when applying to work for us. It's a tailored approach to the candidates — it's not one-size-fits-all. I personally take time on hiring. I'm able to assess in 20 min if the person cares about sustainability or just goes with the trend.
Jenny: I find cover letters to be important. It shows why you care and why you're applying to the company. You use certain websites that are like-minded. It's part of our diversity strategy. We inform candidates about how we want to get the CVs from them. It helps a more diverse group of people give us CVs.
Moritz: Writing a cover letter is worth it, especially if it hits the company's core values. Asking why people are leaving their current jobs. In the onboarding process, I'm giving new employees a vision talk about where we are going as a company.
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