As a startup you don’t hire to fill a job, your hiring to build a company. It’s essential to make connections with the future in mind. Having nearly 10 years experience as a headhunter for corporate multi-nationals and startups alike, I started Talent Rocket, a web app which connects startups to talented people. Because of this I speak to startups about their hiring problems every day. As a startup founder myself there are many areas of my job where I feel like an impostor, but when it comes to understanding how to land talent, I know my sh*t. So here’s a brief run down of how to hire the best talent for your startup.
1. The importance of hiring
I’d argue that getting the right people for your startup is the hardest thing to get right. It’s harder than raising money, it’s harder than creating a great product. Get it wrong and it will slow down or kill your business. Get it right and no matter how crap your idea is, your awesome team will find a way to make it fly or make something even better.
2. Always be hiring
The best companies are always hiring. Show me a good CEO and I’ll show you a hiring fanatic.
80% of people find work via informal conversations not formal application processes. It’s your job to take that coffee, lunch or beer after work with the guy/girl who’s interested in working for you, even if you’re not hiring right now. And it’s not just the responsibility of the Founder, CEO or Talent Acquisition specialist. If you have a team to manage, you should be meeting a steady stream talented candidates and building up a talent pool to hire from. I try to keep at least 3 candidates per position or future position warm and meet them regularly to chew the fat and keep them bought into our vision.
3. Start building your employer brand
Hiring is marketing. You’re always speaking to 2 audiences – your customers and your potential future employees. Your employer brand is your strategy; if it’s non-existent then your tactics (advertising, headhunting, networking etc) are rendered useless. Without a compelling sell on your company you’re making hiring 100 times harder.
Tips: blog about your company culture and keep your audiences updated with what’s going on via social media. Get on Instagram, get on Twitter and get on Facebook. If you’re a founder, answer questions on Quora, Stack Exchange, blog on Medium and build your personal brand. If you’re a startup based around a community then get involved on Meetup, sponsor events and push for speaking gigs.
Create a compelling story about your company culture, but an honest one. For a great example of this check out this Buffer blog post talking about their open salary policy. UK company Gamevy talk about their employee ownership structure in various blog posts and tweets.
Your employer brand needs integrity. So be honest about what it’s like, people will see through the bullshit.
4. Hire for culture fit
If remember one thing from this blog post it’s hire for values first. According to Mark Murphy, the author of Hiring for Attitude
“Only 11% of new hires fail in first 18 months because of lack of technical ability, the majority is down to lack of motivation, unwillingness to be coached or problems with temperament and emotional intelligence.”
The number one reason new hires don’t work out is that their values aren’t aligned with yours or the companies.
So ensure you have evidenced your company values at interview (look out for a follow up blog post on this). Finding people who fit in is more important than their ability.
Some early stage startups tell me “but we don’t have a culture yet”. Trust me, if you have a company, you have a culture. People buy into the founders; smart people want to work with other smart people. They want to solve interesting problems, so get your culture (or yourself) heard.
Tip: In the early days consider hiring people with a personal brand. People who are active on social channels, are well-respected and are well-known in your market. As a rule, well-networked people tend to bring an influx of great talent to your company (provided you’ve created an awesome culture first).
5. De-risk your hires
Try before you buy. Hire new employees on a contract basis first. We live in a time where this is possible. If you’re in desperate need of hiring, then get on ODesk, Elance and try some freelancers out. Bootstrapped startups need to grow organically so this level of flexibility can be important.
At Talent Rocket we always have a 12-week trial period for any new hires to see if it’s working out before making any permanent offers. Making the wrong hire at this stage is just not an option.
6. Stop your job descriptions from sucking
Most people say what they are looking for and get inundated with responses. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they are the right people for your startup. The aim of a job description is not to get people to apply to it; it’s to stop the wrong people applying for it. What makes a great hire is someone who believes in what you believe. If they believe in what you believe they will work for blood sweat and tears. If they don’t believe what you believe they work for your money. It’s really as simple as that.
Think about your audience and target them with the kind of thing that turns them on.
Looking for a developer? Write it in code. Leave an error and see if they spot it. If you’re hiring for a copywriter – ask applicants to respond to a scenario e.g. President Obama just got photo’d on holiday wearing a dress, how would you respond? e.g ask candidates to apply with a tweet (first filter), a blog post (second filter) and a press release (third filter). For developers you can use sites like Codelility to put coders through tasks before interview.
7. Headhunting is easy
The best candidates don’t apply to job adverts. So if you want to hire the best you need to target them yourself. Identify talent on sites LinkedIn, Github, TalentBin, Sourcing.io or Twitter. To be fair all these tools are great in theory, but in reality I just use LinkedIn to send a connection requests to anyone I want to talk to.
Tips: Make it personal and explain why you’re reaching out. The worst thing that can happen is they ignore you. So ditch your ego and get hunting.
Some suggested headhunting grounds to explore: Established companies where employee options may have vested. Unstable companies – check the press for any companies going through restructures. Also for tech talent, check Crunchbase for seed funded companies that haven’t received further funding 12-18 months down the line.
University ‘HiPos’ (High Potentials) are a bit harder to woo. If you can afford the time then get your ass to talk at the top Universities about your product (and don’t forget to drop in how much everyone loves working for you).
8. Hire your fans
Hiring your fans is a no-brainer, they are going to work harder than people who see work as just a job. Tech companies such as Moo, TransferWise, YPlan and many others are using Talent Rocket to build up a talent community of fans who are interested in working for them. You can get an idea who is serious and who you want to talk to by using interview filters. e.g. if you get overloaded with applicants consider creating a survey form of questions or tasks for each job applicant, this is more relevant than a standard cover letter. Also consider video interviewing candidates before inviting them in. We recommend using Launchpad Recruits where you can ask candidates to respond on video to pre-recorded questions. This saves time interviewing a great CV with zero personality.
Finally, if you’ve got your employer brand out there, approached your fans, been clear and transparent about your culture and interviewed against the values of the company then people won’t work for your money; they won’t even see it as work. I hop you take some of the ideas I’ve shared here and use them to find great people for your startup.
At Talent Rocket we’re helping startups build talent communities (for free) in Beta. Interested in being listed as a great place to work? Drop me a line for more details.