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As head of human resources for a rapidly-expanding company within the blockchain industry, I am constantly faced with a variety of challenges that are unlike any I’ve encountered in my nearly 10 years of experience working in the corporate and financial sectors. Very early on, I realized that finding top professionals for this exciting, yet uncertain, space was going to require more than just an average hiring rubric, and assembling an efficient and collaborative team was going to require careful due diligence and thoughtful consideration.
I liken it to what’s known as a “Greenfield Site,” where we have a unique opportunity to build out a company from the ground up — complete with candidates from myriad practice areas and varying levels of experience. Instead of marching ahead with a traditional hiring strategy, I first asked myself: How can you effectively hire for an industry that’s just beginning to formalize its policies, and what job-specific skills do you look for in potential candidates that have never heard of blockchain?
Over the past year, with the help of two top-notch technical recruiters, my team has hired 78 industry professionals, with 40 hired in the past three months. While this is certainly fast-paced growth, it’s not unprecedented. In fact, there has been a 320 percent growth in the number of blockchain jobs offered on popular hiring sites in the past 12 months, with a 52 percent increase in blockchain-related job searches from June to November 2017 alone. The industry as we know it is changing, and companies are looking for bright, engaged, professionals from an array of different industries and career stages to provide their expertise. The following is a brief overview of my experiences, as well as my take on how other blockchain companies can compile an expert team in the most exciting and innovative field since the dawn of the internet.
This past year has been overwhelmingly referred to as the “golden year of blockchain.” What was once an industry comprised of small-scale startups with largely unstructured teams has since flourished into a global industry with a current market capitalization of $269 billion. This is certainly promising news for the future of blockchain, but for HR professionals it means hiring top talent is surprisingly difficult. And that means it’s difficult to scale. With rapid fluctuations in the space due to hyper-expansion and regulatory formalization, it’s becoming harder to ensure that prospective candidates have the necessary experience to understand the shifting requirements.
In setting substantive recruiting expectations, I recommend starting from a standpoint of company culture and engagement. Does this candidate fully understand the current climate surrounding the blockchain industry, or, perhaps more importantly, do they understand the mission of the company? Do they have any relevant experience in the blockchain industry? And, if not, how has their prior experience prepared them to take on this upcoming role? These are some of the first questions I’ll ask in any interview.
As the industry begins to gain mainstream momentum, hiring top candidates with blockchain expertise will become less of a rarity. However, for the time being, finding individuals with a deep-seated understanding of the company’s mission, as well as a demonstrated interest in blockchain and cryptocurrency, is a far more achievable metric. As with any team, there’s certainly a learning curve, and rejecting candidates simply for their lack of experience could result in losing highly-qualified individuals.
Building a team
For most HR departments, building out a team is a formulaic process. Managers hire their direct reports with approval from senior executives. This is certainly true for blockchain companies. However, as startups begin to transition into fully-realized companies, new positions become necessary that might not have been pertinent six months ago. Service providers with soft skills, particularly in the communications, legal, and marketing practice areas, are excellent examples of this. Of course, key skills needed as a startup may no longer be required for the next phase of growth so companies have tough decisions to make. In anticipation of new positions, in new departments, in new regions of the world, HR professionals should set up a precautionary hiring policy that establishes where incoming service providers will fit into the overall company structure.
Similarly, as blockchain companies continue to expand, HR professionals will need to ensure that internal protocols, including onboarding, performance reviews, and training programs, grow to meet the heightened demand. Regardless of size or scale, every incoming person should feel adequately prepared for their given position and understand the requirements expected of them. This cannot be overstated.
Fostering a future
Without a crystal ball, it’s impossible to accurately predict what the future will hold for blockchain. The industry is on an unprecedented trajectory, the likes of which even the most optimistic crypto experts could not have anticipated. For HR professionals, this ambiguity can present itself as a daunting and intimidating process. However, I urge you to think of it more as an opportunity — to use this “Greenfield Site” to find top talent, create a team of experts in their field from around the globe, and foster the next generation of crypto specialists.
At my company, for example, we are working with education and research programs — establishing the Blockchain Technology Laboratory at the University of Edinburgh, establishing an Input Output Cryptocurrency Collaborative Research Chair within the Tokyo Tech School of Computing, and providing the ‘Haskell & Cryptocurrency’ course to students in Athens, Barbados, and soon in Ethiopia. This lets us take our candidate search directly to the classroom, informing students about the promise of blockchain and inspiring them to solve real-world problems in this space. The goal of our training courses is to extend the computer science training of participants and introduce them to Haskell, an elegant functional programming language, in the context of the cryptocurrency industry. At the end of each course, students are given the opportunity to apply for positions and continue their professional career in Haskell. Through education programs like these, we have a unique opportunity to reach an untapped pool of global candidates, as well as to inform and inspire their future relationship with blockchain.
As HR professionals in the most fast-paced industry in the world, it’s our shared duty to find and cultivate collaborative teams, as well as to create an environment conducive to their long-term success. Amid such rapid expansion, it can be easy to lose sight of the qualities that make an effective team member. However, with a clear vision, careful planning, and an acute attention to detail, not only can we turn once lofty ambitions into a concrete plan of action, but we can find top talent in a variety of industries to help us along the way.
Tamara Haasen is Head of Human Resources at IOHK.
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