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16 Tools for Modern HR Teams

The right mix of technology and person-to-person interaction can feel like magic. These tools will get you started—without annual contracts, or insanely high per-seat costs.

Ben Jackson
January 13, 2018

Photo credit: Ryan McGuire

When you’re starting out, investing in people operations is a tough sell. It takes focus away from the product and competes with revenue-generating investments like sales and marketing. But at a certain point, taking a hands-on, DIY approach to everything just won’t scale.

If your team is larger than 25-50 and new faces appear every week or two, it’s time to invest in the tools that will help you double and triple in size.

Below, in the order you’ll need them, is a list that will get you started. And since annual contracts are the kiss of death for an early-stage startup, all the tools offer month-to-month plans and reasonable per-head fees.

The Basics: Payroll, Benefits, and Expense Tracking

Payroll & Benefits

If your company was founded after 2010, there’s no excuse for having an unusable employee portal. A good all-in-one HR system will provide payroll and benefits, plus administrative tools like time-off scheduling and support for paying vendors and contractors.

Before you make a decision, it’s important to understand whether or not it’s best to work with a Professional Employer Organization (PEO), or whether you’re better off as employer of record. More info available here.

Try These:

  • Justworks (PEO): Starts at $59 per person/month for companies with at least 25 employees ($69-$79 for smaller companies)

  • Gusto: Starts at $6 per person/month with a $39/month base fee.

Expense Reporting

Recording expenses is already the least enjoyable part of work travel. You might as well make it suck less by investing in a decent system.

Try These:

  • Abacus: Starts at $9/user per month.
Abacus mobile app user interface
Abacus is fine. That's all that matters.

Hiring: Applicant Tracking, Job Listing Scanner, and EQ Assessment

Applicant Tracking

If you’re interviewing more than a handful of people every month, get an Applicant Tracking System (ATS). A good ATS organizes your hiring by tracking candidates’ status and standardizing job postings, interviews, and scoring. It will keep candidates from slipping through the cracks, automate reminders and follow-ups, and resurface great candidates later when new roles open up. The best ones will also include an easy-to-use employee referral system.

Try These:

  • Breezy: First job free, starts at $49/month for up to 3 jobs.

  • Recruitee: Starts at $79/month for up to 4 jobs.

Breezy's Scorecard Feature
Breezy's scorecards help eliminate selection bias by standardizing interview scoring for each role.

Job Listing Scanner

You don’t need to pay for a professional copy editor to write a decent job listing. These text scanners will alert you copy errors and language that might turn off promising candidates, including ones that might affect candidates based on sex, race, or personality type. They catch a lot of things you’d otherwise miss.

Try These:

  • Joblint: Checks posts for “sexism, culture, expectations, and recruiter fails”. Free.

  • Grammarly: Checks for spelling, orthographic, and grammar errors. Free Chrome plugin for individuals. Premium starts at $10/user per month for business plan.

  • Textio: Checks for tone and style issues, clichés, and language that elicits positive or negative response from applicants. Free for 2 weeks, then scales with number of jobs. Note: Textio bills up front. They don’t have public pricing, but the numbers I’ve heard from them represented around 0.25-1% of a typical annual salary. They’ll give you a discount for opting in to their data exchange.

Textio User Interface
Textio highlights clichés, culture issues, and other language that might turn off great candidates.

EQ Assessment

While you might be uneasy asking candidates to fill out a “personality test”, the data can add valuable context to phone screens and in-person interactions.

These assessment tools use a combination of self-evaluations and references to match candidates’ soft skills to the requirements of each position. Hiring managers answer questions about the job (e.g. “lots of freedom” or “very structured”), and candidates answer questions about their own preferences.

Try These:

  • Day 100: Starts at $159/month ($129 if billed annually) for up to 3 jobs.

Engagement: Pulse Surveys and Networking

Pulse Surveys

You can’t manage what you don’t measure. When rolled out correctly, Pulse Surveys—regular emails that ask employees how they’re feeling at work—are the best way to gather data on engagement.

You’ll want a tool that lets you gather both quantitative and qualitative data. The best ones use respondents’ answers to ask smart, open-ended follow-up questions for added insight.

Try These:

  • Officevibe: Starts at $4/user per month.

  • Peakon: Starts at $3.50 per users/month.

Networking Roulette

Starting a job is a bit like switching schools: the sooner you find your lunch table, the better. Randomly pairing up employees to meet IRL helps new hires quickly build relationships and develop a support network.

Try These:

Donut Slack bot user interface
Donut introduces random coworkers who opt in to the bot by joining a channel on Slack.

Transparency: Performance Management and Knowledge Base

Performance Management & OKRs

If you haven’t yet heard of OKRs, here’s a great introduction. These tools increase transparency by aligning individual goals with team and company goals. When rolled out correctly, they allow anyone to see both their own and everyone else’s progress in realtime.

Try These:

  • Lattice: Starts at $8/user per month for Platform tier with Goal Tracking.

  • 15Five: Starts at $14/user per month for Plus tier with Objectives.

Knowledge Base

If your knowledge base is like most, it’s a bunch of scattered docs in Google Drive. Rolling out a user-friendly wiki is the easiest thing you can do to make things easy on new hires. By organizing everything new hires need in a familiar structure, you can avoid repeated questions and highlight the most important information up front.

Try These:

  • Notion: Starts at $8/user per month.
Notion Wiki Interface
Notion makes it easy to build a corporate knowledge base that doesn't look like it was thrown together with spit and duct tape.

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