The Five Keys to Recruitment That Will Put Your Startup Ahead of the Pack


The Five Keys to Recruitment That Will Put Your Startup Ahead of the Pack Photo

In a knowledge-based economy, talent is King, Queen and Knave (the creative and disruptive kind). Don’t compromise your startup’s future through sloppy or unfocused recruitment. Here are five tips to get you started righ

  1. Plan ahead

At a recent exhibit, we were tickled to see a 19th c. pamphlet on DIY home construction:

“Always have a plan before you start to build,” it solemnly advised.

Apparently some folks were starting to cut lumber before knowing the size and layout of the homes they wanted to build.

That might seem preposterous, but let’s face it. “Plan ahead” is the easiest advice in the world to dish out—and sometimes the hardest to take, especially for startups in high-growth mode. The here-and-now is crazily demanding when you’re a growing company. You’re always racing to meet current needs, always firefighting.

But planning ahead for your talent needs is something you can’t afford to put off. If you are anywhere in the high-tech/digital startup space, you know that human capital is your most valuable asset—and that there’s stiff competition for Top 1% Talent. A helter-skelter approach to HR can put the brakes on even the most robust rise.

That’s because growing a staff isn’t just about adding “more of the same” or stuffing additional talent into the current organizational chart. It’s about thinking forward to the new competencies, teams, and leadership roles you’ll need in place, in order to translate the vision you have as a small company to the reality you want as a large one.

The first step may be finding the right new head of HR/Talent.

  1. Hire the Right Person to Manage Your Hires

In tech startups, there’s a tendency to view HR as a sort of “oh that too” role—a bundle of tasks that get done around the margins. But hiring the right head of HR/Talent early on may be the single most important step a growing organization can take to ensure later success.

That’s because a serious HR/Talent leader won’t just oversee the hiring process or make sure the benefits paperwork gets filed. They’ll actively coordinate and forge a coherent vision of the kind of people you want firm-wide, allowing company culture to expand and evolve in a positive way. (More on culture in a moment.)

Most startups would do well to recruit their first full time HR/Talent leader from outside pools of talent, rather than promoting from within. The goal is to find someone who “gets” and shares your vision –but who also has a proven track record of building out talent for high-growth organizations.

This could well mean your ideal candidate will be older than other company leaders: when it comes to working with and managing people, there’s no substitute for experience. This role isn’t just about exceptional minds, but exceptional people smarts, and that’s something that comes from being in the trenches.

Dynamism is dynamism at any age. Look for a candidate with the energy to play hard in the startup zone, but the seasoned grit to lead a large company.

  1. Know Your Culture

There is tremendous pressure to fill key roles at every level as a startup grows. The pressure can make any candidate with the right competencies look like an obvious fit. They’re not.

With every major hire, the distinct personality of your firm is on the line.

Before you start building out talent at a rapid pace, you need to make sure that all your hiring managers share a coherent vision of the company—culture, values, and goals.

Put the culture question first and foremost in the hiring process. Elicit stories of past successes and failures from candidates and the people who have worked with them, and listen for keywords that suggest a culture fit. Let candidates describe the way they perceive your organization’s values—and see if they are on the ball. Ask them what they would change about company culture, and leave the door wide open. If they’re eager to change something that the rest of the leadership team perceives as essential, they’re not the right fit for you.

Remember that discord and conflict can sap organizational energy, at the very moment you need full focus on moving forward. Better to hold out another month or three and find the right candidate, than to hire someone who fits the bill in terms of skills, but not in terms of vibe. 

  1. Know Your Employer Brand

There is fierce competition for Top 1% Talent. You have to be able to articulate and communicate what distinguishes your company as an employer—why the best and brightest should want to come to work for you, and not just vice versa.

In short, you need to build your own employer brand.

Employer brand overlaps with company culture to a significant extent. Say you value a no-holds-barred creative environment, where cross-disciplinary teams are encouraged and disruption is prized over hierarchy. That environment is both something you need to protect and nurture through the hiring process—as well as a selling point you can use to attract candidates.

The specifics of what you offer may shift over time. For instance, as a new venture, you may not be able to compete with unicorns like Uber in terms of compensation. But you may be able to offer less bureaucracy and shorter time to bring ideas to market. That kind of opportunity can attract top engineering and developer talent more strongly than compensation—particularly if stock options are thrown in to the mix.

While the specifics of compensation and recruitment may shift, your employer brand should represent something vital and enduring about your core company culture. Make sure that action and rewards at every level reinforce the employer brand you seek to build. If your brand is “family friendly,” then leaders at every level should understand family-friendly policy and decision making—and follow through.

  1. Social Media

Ironically, when it comes to recruitment, even social media startups tend to use social media as a mere extension of the Help Wanted ads. Don’t fall into that trap. Even if you aren’t yet hiring, this is the right moment to begin building a circle of potential recruits. Get interactive. Post and comment. Attend and host events, including cyber ones. Find out who the best recruits are before you even need them—and before they know they’re ready for their own next challenge. Use social media to establish and reinforce your employer brand.



Reprinted by permission

Image credit: CC by Dita Margarita

About the author: Dave Carvajal

Dave Carvajal built HotJobs (650 employees, IPO & $1.2B market cap then sold to Yahoo!) as Co-founder & TheLadders (400 employees, $80M revs) where he focused on attracting, retaining and developing all employees. These days he’s asked by top VCs and CEOs of high-growth startups to build their Boards and leadership teams with the top 1% of A+ executive talent. He is an Ironman and lives in NJ with his wife where he is co-founder of twin boys and a pup named Clover.

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