6 Tips to Secure Top Talent for Your Startup

By Dan Scalco - May. 31, 2017
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Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Dan Scalo – Founder and Marketing Director at Digitalux. His opinions are his own.

If you’re reading this, chances are that it’s a pretty exciting time. Maybe you’ve just received a bunch of VC funding that promises to take your business to the next level. Maybe you’re already funded, and you’re trying to scale up to the next level of growth. Or maybe you’re just starting out with an idea that’s going to blow my mind once it gets to market.

No matter where a startup is at, it could be giving more attention to that mysterious and often overlooked ingredient to a successful startup: talent. For every business, talent is a major expense and needs to be carefully considered. But for startups, often with a precarious grip on limited capital, this is especially true. Of course, talent is a big subject, but let’s hone in on six ideas that could save a startup from poor recruiting.

1. Make recruiting a priority

The first tip is also the most obvious one. It’s a shame then, that it’s also often ignored. So let’s say it once more with feeling—recruiting is not an afterthought.

Sure, the product is a huge priority, and yes, a startup needs exquisite and innovative marketing campaigns to get what it’s selling out to the people who want to buy it. But a great team is just as fundamental to the needs of a business.

If you don’t have good people behind you, your great product and marketing will mean less than zilch. After all, who’s going to develop the product and test it? And who’s going to devise and implement those brilliant marketing campaigns? Obviously, you can’t do it all yourself. And even if you could, would you really want to? Isn’t it better to invest in people who have the specific abilities you need in a given area? If a startup builds a team of driven, inspiring specialists, you won’t need to worry about the small stuff—focus on the vision that inspired you to start your business in the first place.

It’s not that the product, the marketing, and everything else aren’t important. They are. Recruiting shouldn’t be the only priority. But it should be a major one, working harmoniously with all the others to propel business forward.

2. Court the talent like you would a client

If you were trying to close an account, would you dawdle in following up? Would your interactions be curt or rude? Obviously not, and yet, companies treat prospective talent like this all the time, despite the fact that they each represent a potentially huge value contribution to a company.

Giant and established companies can get away with these shenanigans (at least for a little while), but startups really can’t afford to mess around with their candidates this way. In an age where information is ubiquitous and quickly traded, if a startup treats its talent like crap, word will get around and nobody will want to work with it.

Remember: quality talent is in high demand. If a startup is looking at the right people, there’s a good chance other companies are competing for their interest. On top of that, it’s also important to keep in mind that startups are a risky proposition for top talent. They’re probably sacrificing some security and stability if they choose to get involved in a startup. This risk has to be worth their while, and the first step is showing respect and enthusiasm for what they have to offer.

3. Don’t be afraid to be picky

This doesn’t mean that a startup can’t afford to be picky. In fact, if it isn’t, it might be deadly to the business. Close to ninety-percent of all startups fail, and of that 90%, 23% reported that their failure was due to having assembled a bad team. What this means is that people should be chosen carefully, because the fate of the business might rest upon those choices.

The initial team for a startup is going to be small, so it’s even more important that everyone on board is pulling his or her weight. Picture a lean, scrappy stable of staff that can be relied upon. Don’t be afraid to say no to people who you don’t think you can count on. In fact, rejection, when handled properly, may actually contribute value to your brand.

The main takeaway here is that the first round of hiring is for the vanguard of the business. People like this are gems, and startups should keep digging for them until they find them.

4. Streamline the recruiting process

There’s a fairly reliable set of traits that apply to startup founders: they’re visionary, they think outside the box, and they can’t stand oppressive organizational structure. These traits are often why these founders start their own business to begin with. And that’s fine. But it’s no excuse for having inefficient and sloppy systems that don’t get the job done. This will shoot you in the foot everywhere, and recruiting is no exception.

Startups should implement a standardized process for talent that takes candidates efficiently from first contact to the final handshake. This standardization gives a more stable point of comparison for prospective talent, and allows the company to make decisions that aren’t merely based on vague impressions of a candidate.

Founders are going to be so busy getting their company off the ground that the last thing they’ll want is a bunch of snags and grey areas in the onboarding process. Once a startup starts needing people, it needs them quickly. Set up your recruiting process like a well-oiled machine, and then don’t worry about it.

5. Don’t recruit solely on the basis of skill

One pitfall when reviewing candidates is to choose somebody purely off the basis of skill. Naturally, skill has to come under consideration when making hiring decisions. Just keep in mind that it doesn’t tell the full story.

Maybe on paper, a candidate is a full-stack developer. But how have they proved it? Do they have the references to back it up? A startup recruiter needs to have journalistic instincts—you don’t just rely on your source’s testimony, you need it to be backed up by the facts. In some cases, this might mean soliciting work samples or setting up an exercise where the candidates can show what they’re capable of doing. And, in line with the second tip, a self-respecting startup should probably kick a little money their way for it.

6. Don’t recruit solely on the basis of experience

At the same time, it’s not just ability or even experience that will seal the deal either. As we discussed in the third point, the first round of talent is a business’ vanguard. These people will be in trenches, day in, day out, as you’re all working to establish the startup. Everybody needs to get along. There should be some sort of natural rapport, and an intuitive sense of trust.

While gut instinct is definitely not the only factor in making hiring decisions (see tip four), it is still very important. So, before bringing anybody on board, make sure you’ve met with them face to face, and that you feel good about the interaction.


Dan Scalco is the founder and marketing director at Digitalux, a digital marketing agency located in Hoboken, N.J. Throughout his career, he has helped hundreds of businesses save time, increase leads and maximize sales.


Dan Scalco

Dan Scalco is the founder and marketing director at Digitalux, a digital marketing agency located in Hoboken, N.J. Throughout his career, he has helped hundreds of businesses save time, increase leads and maximize sales.

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