Recruiting leadership during a recession with Michelle Rife (VP Talent Acquisition @ Branch – $4B)

We recently had a community roundtable with Michelle Rife, who leads talent acquisition at Branch (a $4b SaaS company that is transforming how users and brands interact across digital platforms).

Our conversation covered everything from the biggest mistakes that recruiting leaders make during economic downturns, to how we can use data more effectively during the hiring process.

Here’s one great snippet from our conversation. As economic conditions change, creative companies like Branch look inwards to fill roles and provide current employees with cross-functional stretch assignments.

Michelle is a creative and entrepreneurial leader, and has been managing large recruiting and TA teams for the past decade. In the past, Michelle has led Talent Acquisition teams at Playstation (yes, the gaming company!), GE Digital, Facebook/Meta and Aurora.

We talked about how the best recruiting leaders are taking this time to cross-train their team.

In our conversation, we cover:

(00:43) Michelle’s background
(01:55) Cyclical nature of recruiting
(02:31) Radical changes to recruiting in past few years. How recruiting leaders must adapt.
(03:20) Rethink “the how and the why” of the role, it’s no longer just doing a job
(04:19) Candidate’s don’t make a job decision based solely on comp
(05:20) How to prioritize recruiting changes on your team
(06:20) Why/what data is a massive differentiator for recruiting teams, when making changes
(08:30) Biggest mistakes recruiting leaders make during a recession
(10:20) Why many large privately-held companies have an advantage right now
(16:19) How to best help former colleagues during a reduction-in-force?
(21:40) Career development, opportunity to jump a few career levels during a downturn, cross-training, and continuous learning
(23:30) Being a champion for early career hires
(25:55) How to kickstart a data analytics program within recruiting
(31:10) Group Q&A and Roundtable
(39:11) End

See below for the full AMA + roundtable!

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We interviewed dozens of employees who recently changed jobs 💃🕺. Here’s what they say the best companies do to stand out in 2022

In the past few months, we’ve talked with recruiting teams that have a ~100% offer acceptance rate. And they are hitting all of their hiring goals. Their recruiting processes are thoughtful. They have great corporate cultures. They care. And despite a challenging recruiting environment between layoffs and never-ending talent battles … they are having FUN!

We’ve also talked with recruiting teams that are struggling. Their offer acceptance rates are sub-25%. They are working hard, but struggling to win great talent for their team. Struggling to stand out. Struggling to find the right people. Struggling to keep their team motivated.

So we asked ourselves, ‘why do some recruiting teams win most A+ candidates they connect with, while other teams are struggling to hire any candidates at all?’

We decided to go to the source. Not recruiters, but candidates.

We interviewed dozens of candidates who recently accepted job offers, and asked them about their recruiting experiences. These are top candidates, accepting roles at some of the most competitive tech companies such as Greenhouse, Google, Flowcode, and many others.

Our candidate interviews resulted in A LOT of juicy content, so we wrote 5 episodes summarizing feedback and insights about key parts of candidates recruiting experiences. Below is Episode 1 – follow along for more!

Episode 1: First contact with top candidates
Episode 2: People and culture transparency
Episode 3: Career progression
Episode 4: Offer stage
Episode 5: Standing out

Episode 1: First contact with top candidates

On average, only 10% of recruiting outreach messages get a response (

I asked one engineering candidate about what they thought of InMail, and they told me that “LinkedIn can F&#@ right off”. So there’s that.

That said, there is a HUGE variance in response rates. And many recruiting teams say that InMail is central to their recruiting machine.

In two of our candidate interviews, new hires mentioned that a key part of the entire recruiting experience was a light-hearted and personalized cold outreach message that drew them into their future employer. 🤩🤩🤩

What makes a great intro message? Let’s talk about it.

🤝 Warm intros are becoming more creative

About half of the employees we interviewed had a warm intro to their next job.

However, warm intros these days are changing. They are more broad than a simple direct referral from a current employee.

Growing connections through networking on LinkedIn is still powerful! Candidates are 46% more likely to accept InMails when they’re connected to your employees LinkedIn

Internal company referral systems do work. But the problem with those programs is that they have limited surface area of exposure, especially for smaller companies. You can’t ask the same employee group of 25 people for their list of referrals and expect a different answer every month 😛

Here’s a great example.

We talked with Nkem, who had a strong connection to Greenhouse – the company he recently joined full-time – before he started interviewing for his next role. A few years ago in a previous role, Nkem was working at a different company partnering with Greenhouse on a cross-company initiative. And it turns out, Nkem’s partners were on the same team at Greenhouse that he ended up joining full-time

The hiring manager for the role reached out to me on LinkedIn. I worked with his team in the past to build an integration between our platforms. He contacted me just at the right time when I decided to put myself back on the job market. I had great interactions with his team and the brand in the past, so I was excited to chat.

Nkem Nwankwo, recently accepted role as Group Product Manager at Greenhouse

What a giant vote of confidence not only to the Greenhouse recruiting team, but also to the eng-prod-design and partnership teams who developed such a great relationship with Nkem that he later wanted to collaborate with them full-time years later. 🚀

If you’re playing the long game, think about that the next time your company works on a cross-company initiative.

In other cases, we learned about friends helping friends make that first introduction. Zohaib shares his journey to Sendlane below.

I was referred to the company by a good friend of mine who said I needed to talk to the Founder and CEO… I thought “Why the hell not” since it was just a conversation. It was in the same space I was passionate about, digital marketing, and the executive team was diverse af.

Zohaib Rattu, accepted role as Senior Product Manager @ Sendlane

It’s very expensive to have casual chats like this, but we found that in most startup recruiting processes top candidates were encouraged to speak with founders and/or the leadership team before getting to offer stage.

🚨 If you’re not introducing top candidates to executives at the beginning of your recruiting process, be aware that your competitors are doing this and you’re probably already behind 🚨

As a more extreme sidenote, we also spoke with a senior AI recruiter at a particular FAANG company and learned that most AI engineering candidates will get an intro to the C-Suite at the end of the recruiting process to wrap up recruiting with some sizzle. Including most IC engineers.


We also talked with Dom, who had a warm introduction for his new role at Cortina via a former colleague and investor in the company. We were particularly drawn towards Dom’s positive reaction to Cortina’s inspiring and accessible CEO. (Subtle signals from company leadership are amplified during recruiting!)

I initially learned about the opportunity from a former colleague who was an investor in the company.

Two things caught my eye:

1) The CEO had really good vibes, someone I could definitely see myself working for and collaborating with

2) If the company succeeded in a large way, I felt could be as disruptive as AWS

Dominique Pennington, recently accepted role as Product Manager @ Cortina

🌡️ Cold intros must get personal

Without a warm intro, how do companies stand out? Personalization is key.

Both Court and Andrew highlighted that they felt important and welcomed during the beginning of the process, with a high degree of personalization in their cold outreach messages from their future employers.

This is time-consuming – but effective. And creates a memorable candidate experience.

I was contacted by the Head of HR on AngelList regarding the position. She had sent me a long, personalized, and well thought out message about the position. Although I was unsure if the position was going to be fit, I was really impressed with the intro email and wanted to hear more about the company given the amount of effort in the initial email.

Courtney Hopkins, recently accepted role as Strategy & Business Operations @ Flowcode

I was contacted by a recruiter (internal) for the company over LinkedIn. I connected with them for a few reasons:

1) The message clearly was not a scripted “blast out to everyone who meets this criteria” type of message,

2) Ease in scheduling a 15 min call with the recruiter,

3) It was an internal recruiter, not an agency (nothing wrong with agencies, just not my preference at the time),

4) Pursued the position due to increase in responsibility and the team

Andrew Elliott, recently accepted role as Product Manager @ Groove

⛔ Stop slamming corporate metrics

At Attentive, we used to clobber candidates in our cold outreach messages with our corporate metrics.. “Attentive raised X, growing at Y, etc”. That used to work well in 2021 (especially given the growth rate of the business – the metrics genuinely were impressive!). However, not a single candidate mentioned corporate metrics as being a differentiator in the intro message. In fact, one candidate said this:

I get 2 or 3 messages every day describing how much money a company has raised or what their revenue is. I care that the company is growing, but I want to learn more about the team and the role and why I might be a good fit for it.

Staff Engineer, 500-person company

Social proof is important, but the fact that a company just raised $1b from SoftBank isn’t the only reason why candidates want to explore job opportunities at that particular company. Also, everybody raised $b’s in 2021 c’mon.

⛰️ De-risking new jobs

Moving to a new job carries risks – we heard this theme from most employees we interviewed – and folks are now aggressively de-risking each opportunity as quickly and early as possible.

Top risks named by job searchers

1. Career growth opportunities
2. Hiring manager support
3. Corporate culture health
4. Business outlook and growth potential

This is all great fodder for future posts, but even now it may be helpful to bring this data into your intro messages. How does your open role present an opportunity for career growth for new hires? Talk about it in your first contact, particularly if it’s a cold intro!

These interviews were SUPER helpful for us at Staffparty. And we’d highly recommend talking with recent candidates who ejected from your recruiting process. Especially if you’re re-evaluating your recruiting processes like many other companies post-2022-hyper-growth. Those standard candidate NPS surveys help, but a little more effort goes a long way – hop on a call with recent candidates! Let us know if you’d like a copy of the interview script that we used, we’re happy to send it to you!

Thank you SO MUCH to all employees we talked with in the past few weeks 🙏 particularly Andrew, Court, Dom, Nkem, and Zohaib who were mentioned in this article 🙂 Yall rock, thank you!

⏭️ Next steps

This is the first part of a multi-part series. Up next we’re going to talk about how people and culture transparency is the one thing that can early-terminate a recruiting experience OR become the one thing that re-engages a candidate who is about to eject.

See y’all soon 🚀


Where we’re going next

Episode 1: First contact with top candidates ✅
Episode 2: People and culture transparency
Episode 3: Career progression
Episode 4: Offer stage
Episode 5: Standing out