Hiring Tips for Startups

By Chikezie Oguamanam 12 Min Read

Every business, regardless of its size and structure, relies on its people to deliver positive results to the bottom line. Hiring the right people can be the deciding factor for success for startups. Because of the usually-small size of a startup, hiring the wrong people can lead to a toxic work environment or even break up a team. It’s important as a startup founder to know how to attract the right people to work for you.

Here are a few pointers curated from the advice of HR professionals who have hired for many startups.

Build your company with a mission and vision

At the start, you are probably not going to be offering the best wages, and therefore recruiting great talent won’t be easy. In order to attract top talent to come and work for you, you need to build a company with a great mission statement that excites them. As a founder, you must be able to share your long-term vision with your potential employees and present your company in the best way. Your vision must be clear and you must seek to hire people who subscribe to it.

Start searching for candidates to fill critical positions early

While in the midst of raising capital, you should also keep an eye out for top talent. That’s precisely the right time to start attracting people to the company. You’re building momentum for funding, in an effort to attract investors. You’re getting a lot of press attention, growing your network, bringing on advisors & mentors, testing viral campaigns, etc. That stuff works on candidates too. They want to see momentum and traction. They want to feel like they’re going to jump on a rocket ship and have a huge impact doing it.

Give yourself enough time to recruit the best people possible – they’re not going to jump instantly and easily – and build relationships over time. In the same way that you have to go through numerous meetings with investors, find those that you connect with, get aligned on vision and strategy, etc. — do the same things with candidates.

Hire your fans

Every viable product has a few people who have enjoyed using it. If these users are skilled professionals whose services you need, you may want to consider hiring them. Hiring fans means hiring people who will take ownership within the company and, as a result, will work harder than regular employees. Also, fans can sell you through word of mouth. The right attitude to work can be very invaluable.

Talk about your company online

Trying to ignore the fact that you are not a recognizable brand is a bad idea. Be open and have a blog, and contribute guest content on relevant sites. Build your brand into a thought leader, and talk about your company. Share the lessons you learned. Talented people will read your writing and some of them will want to join your team.

Look for people with personal projects

Try recruiting people who have a couple of side projects. This shows a healthy initiative which can be useful in a startup where roles may not be as clearly defined as large organizations. Also, things such as contributing to open source projects or writing a blog are a sign that a professional is excited about his work beyond the monetary incentive and therefore would be more likely to produce top of the line work for you for a fee.

Look for social media presence

If you are hiring for a web startup, then it makes sense to hire people who understand how to use the web. Look for their activity on their own social media handles. A good way to assess a candidate’s world view is to look through their last 100 tweets. Longer articles and blog posts are also a good way to measure intelligence. It is, however, not to be used recklessly. To assess a candidate solely on the content on social media would be to look through only a fragment of what makes a candidate.

Recruit people with previous startup or small business experience

This is pretty obvious, but generally you want to stay away from people who have worked exclusively (or almost exclusively) at large corporations. They’re just not likely to have the right mindset or interest in working at a startup. A lot of startup recruits come out of small businesses.

A small business is different than a startup, but if someone’s worked at a small business, it’s a fairly good indicator that they’re interested in working in small teams and having more responsibility – not always, but it’s a good sign. Even so, they might not have the stomach for working at a real startup, so be careful not to confuse, “I like working at a small company” with “I want to work at a startup”. But occasionally (and I think more often than you’d realize) you can find people languishing in small businesses without any real sense of how to get out.

Ask for referrals

Referrals could be a great source of hiring talent. There are people out there who have worked with really skilled professionals that you may need. It also works both ways, you could get referred and you could also get recommended by an industry leader as a great place to work. There is no need to be self-conscious about it. All you seek is to get the best on board.

Be a great place to work

Word of mouth is an effective tool for finding great talent. If your current employees are happy with their work environment, they will talk to their friends about it. Build and maintain a great company culture, be a great place to work and great people will want to work for you. People who enjoy their jobs, co-workers, and environment will work harder, churn less, and add more value to your company.

Hold onto your existing talent

Talented people want to work with other talented people. They are interested in constant growth and being around other talented people inspire and drive motivation. Learning from each other and celebrating each other’s successes help talented people build momentum. And when you have great talent, it becomes easier to attract even more prime talent.

Offer a chance to contribute to challenging projects

Talented individuals want to be stimulated by their work. They are less likely to settle for a role pushing paper. As a startup, this is where you have a major advantage. You can offer your candidates the opportunity to make major input into the direction of the company without the responsibility of being in the C suite. You also have the shortest route to becoming a co-founder on offer. Many startups already do this but what you want to do is bring it front and center of your pitch. You are probably not going to be able to compete with Apple on wages, but you can offer something they can’t.

Look for people with founder aspirations

There is no easy way to ascertain this from a resume. However, some candidates reveal this aspiration when sharing their goals at the interview stage. You want these sort of persons on your team because they would appreciate the opportunity to learn on the Job. They would be more willing to work towards a dream that only the team can see. There are so many of them out there, people who are not quite ready to start their own businesses but have already built skill invaluable to startups. The symbiosis could be game-changing.

Offer job personalization

Most workers today want a little bit of autonomy or flexibility in choosing how they work. People are increasingly looking for ways to make their jobs fit in with their lifestyles and personal goals. As a startup evolving a work culture, there is no reason you should not explore the possibilities for increasing the productivity for your people. Explore remote working options. Remote working can significantly reduce the costs to an employer and offers workers flexibility. If remote working isn’t viable for your business, try time flexibility. Offering prospective candidates the opportunity to work when they are at their best can be a major recruitment incentive and improve overall business productivity.

Use every service possible to find people

Start with the obvious ones: LinkedIn, Google and Twitter. Facebook might work too, although it’s a bit more closed. Local recruiters and industry forums can come in handy too.

And remember…

Your ideal candidate is out there. You just need to be a little bit creative about attracting them. That being said, it is important to properly set your expectations as a recruiter. You are working with a limited budget with opportunities for growth. Offer that same allowance for growth to your candidates and watch top talent reveal themselves within your organization.
There’s no magic bullet for startup recruiting. You’re most likely going to make quite a few mistakes. But those first few employees are so critical you owe it to yourself to recruit the absolute best you can find, take your time (even though it might be killing you), and have a rigorous process in place for sourcing, attracting, recruiting, and hiring.

Share This Article