What Are The Key Questions To Consider In a Startup Hiring Process

Recruitment at the early stages of a company’s lifecycle is exceptionally risky. Hiring top talent can be the sole reason behind a company’s success but just the same, hiring the wrong one can be the downfall of your business. HR and recruiting is not an exact science and there is no fool-proof process to ensure that a negative scenario does not happen.

I would love to tell you that in this article you will find a “magic pill” for your recruitment problems, but this would be a lie. There is no straightforward answer on how to hire for your startup. What I can promise though, is that the contents of this article will hugely improve the statistics for success when applied in real life to your early-stage startup.

Keep on reading if you would like to find out

If employer branding is important at the start of your venture?

How to set up the recruitment process

Who to hire and where to find them

How to screen and interview candidates candidates

Why a recruiting mindset is important

Establishing an employer brand at startups.

We all know that big corporations fighting for talent at scale have a huge focus on employer branding, hoping to get an edge over the competitors in the labor market. But what about startups? Is it truly something you should focus on? 

Most people have an idea of what a startup culture looks like. Fast-paced, dynamic, young, and all the other adjectives we see constantly on job ads. In reality, startups are stressful and it’s up to the founders to manage that stress. That’s why EB at startups should be considered more as Founder Branding. In the early stages, the founders set up the culture and it grows from that starting point. The funders set the tone for what they would like to be important within the freshly established organization. So EB is equal to the founders’ management style and company’s mission.

In my opinion, the bright identity element shouldn’t be neglected at the same time shouldn’t consume our time and budget. There are more important operational elements at play from the very beginning. That said, the candidates need to know what they sign up for and that needs to be clear from the start. 

Key takeaway: It’s up to you as a founder to decide what direction would you like the company culture to flow. But it’s up to the team to establish this culture. Start building brand identity. Discuss with the funding team what kind of company would you like to be…but also, if not more importantly, what company you don’t want to become.

Which people should you hire initially?

The toughest and most complex question to answer, and probably the only reason you decided to keep on reading.  I’ll try to provide some perspective by breaking it up into smaller pieces, to help with the early hires puzzle.

The A team for your startup

A good “rule of thumb” for first hires for your startup is to establish what department will have the most impact on growing revenue and therefore your scaling potential. If building out new features and customer support is what you need to keep your clients satisfied, be sure to have enough engineers on board. If the product you deliver requires a lot of new leads and the process relies on automation focus on the marketing department. If your clients have a lot of questions and need a push to get on board be sure to hire the right salespeople. 

For example. If you offer a SaaS with a low CLTV (customer lifetime value) hiring an experienced marketing automation specialist will be a much better choice than hiring a business development representative. The key to success is establishing the right strategy and hiring the talent that has the skillset but also extensive experience in following a similar strategy in the past.

So yet again, there is no singular right answer here. I like to think that following a rule of having enough people to keep your clients happy is a good benchmark. The success of startups lies in positive word-of-mouth.

Key takeaway: Every startup founder or founders need to establish themselves which roles are key to their organization’s success and build a strong foundation. So whether it’s sales and marketing vs sales or marketing, it’s up to the funding members to decide which job openings to fill first.

Who should you avoid hiring?

Do not hire executives, you probably can’t afford it. You do not need a VP of sales, You do not need a CMO when your company is less than 10 people. You need hard-working grinders that are filled with energy and grit. Each person needs to contribute directly to a positive outcome. That also includes the funding team. If you need help with establishing a particular department strategy it’s best to talk to mentors who can help you set up an optimized process.

Who should you be cautious about hiring?

Don’t get hyped up when you see a CV containing ex-Big Tech or ex-Big consulting, treat this as you would any other previous experience. Big names in resumes do not mean a thing in themselves and most definitely are not any guarantee of competence. Very often, it’s the other way around. In big companies, it’s much easier to hide in the shadows. A candidate’s portfolio says more than the resume.

Seeking Diversity

Let’s mention the importance of your network because a lot of first hires will be people you know. But be careful, you need diversity so do not build a team that relies only on friends. You will need different perspectives to avoid biases that are established within your closest circle. I would recommend keeping it 50/50 at the beginning. On one hand, you will have confirmed to be skilled and trustworthy people you already know how will operate, on the other, you will open the door to new insight, knowledge, and experience. Hiring someone like that might act as an upskilling engine for everyone and fill any existing gaps in knowledge.

Do you need department managers?

Not really, but look for those types of candidates that can become managers in time. At the same time, startups also need people who can help you build the specific department’s strategy and then keep things organized and on track. Look for outside consultants to set up the tactics and then establish who within the team is responsible for following them. Those employees will become natural successors in time so this will be a good test of their capabilities. Managers need a team that they can manage.

What qualities should we seek in potential candidates?

Outside of the obvious: skill, experience, and alignment of character. Ask yourself one question when hiring, and let this be your benchmark. “Would I allow this person to take a one-on-one call with a client”. In the early stages, it’s almost certain that each member of your team will need to talk directly to a client at some point. Even the engineers, there is a good chance they will need to resolve a technical issue a client is facing. I’m not saying that each person needs to be a salesman, but having confidence in your team will take loads of stress off your shoulders. 

Key takeaways: Be sure to hire people with the right energy and willingness to fight. If you lack insight into a particular area seek mentorships. Hire slowly so that you won’t need to fire fast. Each member needs to understand how vital they are to the company.

Is hiring a jack-of-all-trades a good idea?

It can be a good idea to hire a jack-of-all-trades, especially in small businesses or startups where employees may need to wear multiple hats and handle a variety of tasks. A jack-of-all-trades can be versatile, adaptable, and able to take on different responsibilities as needed. However, it is important to ensure that they are truly competent in the various skills they claim to have and that they can effectively prioritize and manage their workload. Additionally, in some specialized industries or roles, it may be more beneficial to hire experts or specialists in specific areas. Ultimately, the decision to hire a jack-of-all-trades will depend on the specific needs and goals of the organization. 

Establishing a hiring procedure

I know this will sound strange coming from someone who makes his living out of recruitment. But in the business’s infancy stage, conduct the hiring internally without the help of recruiters. Again this is partially a matter of budget, but more importantly, it’s a matter of close alignment with the first hires. It’s up to you to set up and understand your hiring strategy for sourcing the best startup employees.

Look for the low-hanging fruit which is your network. You might know or have worked in the past with people you saw yourself to be experts in their fields and know their characters enough to put trust in them. 

Create an Ideal Candidate Profile for your future startup employees. Establish exactly who would you like to hire and what traits should they represent. Create a framework that will serve as your guideline for first-stage interviews.

As for talent acquisition outside of your network, you have a few free options at hand. You can try and source candidates yourself, having an ICP will help you set the right filters on Linked In. LinkedIn also allows you to create free job postings so take advantage of that. But if you have some budget to spend look for specialized job boards, these are a great source for finding quality resumes.

Use AI tools to save time screening all the resumes that come in. Only if needed of course, if you have a couple of resumes incoming daily it’s easy to check them out yourself. But if the numbers go beyond 20, assist yourself because after a month the CV stockpile will exceed 500.

Use an ATS. Depending on your country of residence there are such versions available. Use them to be sure you didn’t ghost any candidates and keep your recruitment process optimized. An ATS can save you lots of time if the volume of resumes starts to grow.

Build talent pipelines from the very start. These talent pools later on will help you out hugely with future hiring. 

Key takeaway: Be closely involved with hiring but establish such a process that won’t take a lot of your time but at the same time will allow you to get organized. Create a framework ICP to help with the scanning. Processes and systems are a good thing, but you have to keep them simple.

The process of evaluating candidates and conducting interviews for potential hires.

There are a lot of articles and interview questions on the internet made by people much smarter than myself, so if you hope to find them here, sorry to disappoint again.

In this paragraph, I want to highlight your responsibilities towards the candidates. Following them is in the best interest of you both. You do not want candidates to terminate the contract after two months due to misunderstandings. This can ruin your game plan and, cause huge amounts of stress.

  1. Do not oversell your job posting, even when you think that you really need someone like this particular candidate. Be realistic with how it will look and do not sugarcoat anything. Your onboarding process starts with the first interview, so let it realistically represent your company. A new employee should know your business needs and day-to-day operations just the way they are.
  2. Explain exactly what you need from the candidates and what you are hoping for. This is important both for you and them. Make sure that you hire people who will Know how to do the job you ask them to do, especially when it involves startup roles like product manager or marketing manager. You will need people who can do their job without a long learning curve. When you explain the requirements thoroughly you set yourself and the candidate for success and future growth.

Key takeaway: Just because people lie on their resumes, doesn’t mean that you have to lie to them back. Honesty is crucial when describing what to expect from a potential partnership. Do not allow for employee retention to become an issue.

Adapting a hiring mindset.

Always be on the lookout for talent and be willing to hire even if you don’t have open positions at the time being. True talent input is immeasurable and can be the sole factor for your success. 

If you encounter real talent on your journey don’t be afraid to ask if they would like to work with you, If anyone is recommended your way, check them out on a brief discovery call. ”, Keep the door open even if all your needs for startup roles have been fulfilled. A great marketer or a great salesperson can easily pay for themselves and much more given 3 months to adapt. A great engineer can quickly solve a problem that’s been bugging the team or find more efficient ways of implementing solutions that lead to time and budget savings. 

Be positive about recruits coming your way. It’s often a sign that YOU and the team are doing a good job and the markets notice.

Closing remarks

In the unpredictable world of startup hiring, there’s no magic solution, no easy fix. But with the tips shared here, you can make smarter choices. Whether you’re shaping your company’s image, picking your first team members, or sorting through resumes, these insights can guide you. 

Remember, it’s not just about finding people to fill seats; it’s about building a team that believes in what you’re doing. So, keep these ideas in mind as you move forward. They’ll help you find the right people to join your startup adventure.

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Lukasz Wybieralski

Lukasz Wybieralski

Founder and Chief Executive Officer at RemoDevs

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