Startups face incredible hiring challenges. Most founders don’t have much experience with the hiring process, and many of the best candidates may feel reluctant to exchange security for long hours and an uncertain future.
Still, these challenges are surmountable. Here’s how you can give yourself the best chances at getting the candidates who will give you the highest odds of taking your startup to the next level.
Keep Culture Front & Center
Get crystal clear about the culture you want to build, then hire people who embody that culture. Building culture is an intentional exercise, and startups have an advantage over more established companies who never thought to create one, or have been lazy in their efforts to permeate a consistent, attractive one throughout their organization. You have to decide early and clearly what’s going to be important to your company and thus what kind of character will need to be exemplified by those who work there.
As Netflix notes, culture isn’t just a bunch of values posted on the wall; it’s the behaviors that will be rewarded and promoted. This calls for a thorough evaluation of your own strengths and values too—you won’t be able to create a culture that you, yourself, do not personify, and you won’t be able to attract the stars if they don’t buy into your personal commitment.
Once you’ve nailed down these behaviors and values you can start looking for people who will define the future or a cohesive, enthusiastic company.
Get Really Good At Sharing Your Vision
People who love working at startups tend to be people who love solving big, sticky problems. They also tend to be people who love solving those problems with a shared sense of purpose. Don’t shy away from sharing the sorts of challenges you’re hoping your new employees will solve for you and, at a higher level, what you know to be possible when they’re solved.
Excitement about your vision is also what is going to help your employees put up with longer hours and lower pay (which is pretty common at startups). Tell your story with enthusiasm to help them see the rewards that are waiting for them down the often long and bumpy road.
Learn & Respect The Candidate’s Own Vision
Many of the best startup employees want to launch companies of their own someday. Find out if you’re dealing with a candidate who has similar dreams.
While it’s nice to think you’re hiring people who will be with you forever, the truth is that many startups require a very specific personality type until the point when their companies become a little more secure and stable. Looking for future entrepreneurs eager for a chance to learn how to create a successful startup on on someone else’s dime may be the “hook” you need to get passionate A-players on your side.
Furthermore, knowing the candidate’s vision for his or her own future will allow you to show you how to appeal to that vision and intelligently integrate it with your own. You should always be honest about what you have to offer (reality will, after all, assert itself almost immediately) but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t put effort into aligning your goals with a prospective employee’s goals to generate both excitement and explore broader opportunities for all those involved.
Define The Role Really, Really, Really Well
Define every part of the role. Write a full job description. The startup world may drive an entrepreneurial spirit and a future sometimes characterized by improvisation and uncertainty, but that doesn’t mean you should leave any ambiguity in the functional expectations of all the contributors.
Especially at the start, payroll is always going to be one of your biggest expenses. Writing the job description ensures you think through the requirements for the new hire in detail and get your money’s worth in terms of skills this person will bring to your team. Combine the job description with your cultural needs and a crystal clear picture of a successful candidate (for that specific role) starts to emerge—one that you can easily describe. This picture will give you a benchmark that you can use to identify and evaluate all your potential candidates.
Work With Recruiters Who Specialize In Your Industry
Yes, it will cost you more money. However, you’ll get an immediate benefit: you’ll be working with professionals who do have some experience at evaluating candidates for your context. You’ll also work with someone who has been sourcing candidates far longer than you have, and who can likely tap into a broad network of people. It could take you years to build similar candidate pools.
Because you’ll have done the initial work of pinpointing the cultural qualities and tactical qualifications for which you are looking, you’ll be able to communicate your needs and challenges precisely, allowing search professionals to ensure you hit the nail on the head. You’ll also gain an ally who can help you sell the position to a passive candidate.
When you work with a recruiter, you can focus on interviewing a pre-screened short list of candidates instead of diving through hundreds of resumes from unqualified applications. The very best recruiters are even using tech-savvy predictive tools to help them determine which candidates are going to thrive in your emerging workplace. Many founders tend to overlook this resource because of costs, but at the end of the day, with some up-front investment, the returns are overwhelming in their favor.