5 Effective Hiring Tips for Early-Stage Startups


You don’t have much of a company without a strong, dedicated team. Yet, the hiring process can be challenging, from sourcing candidates, screening and interviewing them to making the final evaluations.

The competition for candidates today means some job seekers might have many tempting job options. Early-stage startups are pitted against bigger businesses with their army of recruiters, heavy branding campaigns and seemingly unlimited swag.

Yet, there are still ways to develop a competitive hiring advantage to reel in the best candidates and convince them to commit to your startup and its mission. Here are five steps that you can take immediately to enhance your recruiting efforts.

1. Be transparent about your needs (and how they may change).

At a startup, staffing needs change frequently, along with the company’s direction, products and goals. Let prospective employees in on all this.

You’ll notice a considerable amount of churn if you fail to appropriately manage candidates’ expectations before they join the company. Overwhelmed with new responsibilities, unsuspecting new hires will find it hard to succeed if they are forced to adapt to a change in job description every two weeks.

To hire the perfect new team member, fully disclose current expectations for the role being filled and how that may change as the business evolves and pivots. Candidates need to be prepared and even excited about the fluid nature of a startup and how that might affect their day-to-day responsibilities. Otherwise those who are underprepared will become bitter and burn out.

Learning from Airbnb

Five months. That’s how long YC alum Airbnb spent interviewing their first employee. And they only hired two employees their first year.

Before hiring anyone, the founders wrote down a list of the values that they wanted every Airbnb employee to have. The most important value? Candidates had to “bleed” Airbnb. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t hire them. For example, Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky used to ask people if they would take the job if they got a medical diagnosis giving them only one year left to live. That question alone was enough to weed out the people who didn’t really possess the values Airbnb espouses.

Your employees play a huge part in defining your company. That’s why you need to hire people that believe in your startup almost as much as you do.

2. Build positive relationships with all candidates.

Although you cannot — and should not — hire every job seeker who comes knocking on your door, you have an opportunity to develop strong goodwill and rapport with each one.

As a recruiter at an early-stage startup seeking exceptional talent, you need to develop the firm’s reputation as an organization that everyone wants to work for. If a candidate turns out to be a terrible fit for your business, write off the lost time and salvage the situation by turning that person into a brand advocate.

Encourage candidates you’ve rejected to refer other job seekers with an incentive such as a finder’s fee or guidance and support with their job search (resume or interviewing tips, referrals to openings elsewhere).

Who knows? They might even return for an interview at a later date after gaining more skills.

3. Make the benefits awesome.

Never lure a candidate with a false promise of future wealth at the company. Generous stock payouts are more myth than reality these days. Instead, offer opportunities that can make a candidate happier about the job (even it lacks a market rate salary).

A few cost-effective enticements enjoyed by employees include the freedom to take on new challenges and responsibilities, and personal-development programs (lunch-and-learns with successful businesspeople, fireside chats with industry experts and weekly study sessions at the firm).

4. Enlist help in hiring.

Even the smartest businesspeople know they can’t do everything themselves. Hiring is a skill that’s developed with practice. So if you’re running a young and hungry startup and desperate to find that unique individual who can take your business to the next level, you may need additional counsel.

Consult friends who have hired for specific roles (marketing, sales,engineering) to learn where to source the best candidates, how to effectively review resumes, better questions to ask and ways to determine the final selections.

5. Close the deal, again.

The hiring process does not end when a candidate accepts an offer. Continue to sell the new hire on the opportunity throughout their first weeks of work.

Make the onboarding process seamless so that the employee feels confident in the new role and is excited about the company. Be selective about the tests administered.

Do challenge new hires to make a real impact within the organization but don’t deliberately overwhelm them to see their response to pressure. When possible, make the new recruits feel like family, give them what they need, remove barriers and provide them resources and the knowledge to become successful. Then you’ll be impressed by your startup’s retention rate and amazed by what new hires can accomplish.

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