Dan Jessup

Hiring without a net at Groupon

July 25, 2011: 5:00 AM ET

Dan Jessup, head of hiring at Groupon since 2009, calls upon his days in the Chicago improv scene to take job interviews off script.

Interview by Vickie Elmer, contributor

FORTUNE -- Recruiting talent for Groupon -- the soon-to-IPO online discounter that has grown from 37 to 7,100 employees in 21 months -- requires a lot of improvisation. Which is good, because the head of people strategy, Dan Jessup, has also been an improv workshop leader at Second City Communications in Chicago. Just as in the creative world, Jessup gets no second chance when hiring. "We have a hot employment brand," he says, "and we're very proud of that. But it's not the right fit for everybody." Here's how Jessup gets the best people in the shortest time.

Mine employees for referrals

We leverage our employee base for referrals. About 40% of new hires come from employees -- that works especially well from top performers. Yet we've made phenomenal hires from outside. We also broadcast our roles on our site so our followers are aware of openings.

Speed is key

Groupon hires fast by having internal recruiters partner with hiring managers. We use tracking software that connects easily to social media like Twitter and LinkedIn. We also set aside some Saturdays for mass interview days, where every hiring manager is in and focused. I am also always identifying and moving roadblocks. What worked seven months ago won't work today.

Be objective -- at first

Equip yourself with as much data as you can, then acknowledge that the hiring decision will still be subjective. We use skills testing that's role specific. Then we use a ropes course. I'm joking, of course.

Learn to improvise

Our recruiters increasingly specialize in one area. Some use humor to surprise the candidate. There are no stock questions; they're trying for a free-flowing conversation that gets past clich├ęd dodginess. Many customer service staffers have theater experience. They operate with empathy and without a script.

Focus on fit

What makes a good hire? Two main things -- relevance and character. We still act like a startup, so people need to be very comfortable with an uncomfortable pace. We do not assume candidates want the job just because they're at the interview. It's our job to show them our vibe and our energy. We have a wonderful place to work, but it's not right for everybody. We take our jobs seriously, but we don't take ourselves seriously.

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