Why I Love Sharing Hiring Strategies With Tech Startups

By Paul Slezak - Aug. 12, 2015
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Perhaps it’s the wannabe talkshow or radio host trapped inside me, but I love hosting webinars. It’s the perfect opportunity to be able to talk about stuff that I know about (and perhaps more importantly that I am truly passionate about) to anyone at all who will listen!

A few weeks ago I hosted a webinar on hiring strategies for small businesses.

Then just last week, our friends at Lighter Capital invited me to talk about “How to Recruit for Your Growing Technology Company” – an amazing opportunity to talk to startup founders going through the exciting (albeit somewhat daunting) phase of building their teams.

Over the last 20 years I have been fortunate enough to have recruited for some of the world’s most recognisable brands … Disney, Philips, Shell, YSL, Citrix, Oracle, Cisco, Time Warner, Deloitte, Goldman Sachs … to name a few. Yet it was only when we launched RecruitLoop back in 2011, that I became truly immersed in the world of tech startups.

Talk about eye opening!

I can honestly say that there are certain tips and tactics that can be applied to building a team regardless of the size of the organisation – from a seed-stage startup all the way to the Fortune 500.

However over the last 4 years I have learned to appreciate that there are definitely some strategies that apply far more to tech startups – due to the fact that typically nobody in the founding team comes from a recruiting background. (I guess we’ve just been lucky on that front!).

Here are some of the strategies I shared during the webinar. Of course if you want the more fleshed out version, you can always listen to the recording below at any time.

1. Budget for your key hires

You can’t just plan for your first key hires (or for any hires for that matter).

Whether you have already received funding, or you’re still in search of that first real cash injection, you need to know exactly what you can afford in terms of the investment you will be making in the people that will ultimately help you get your idea and company off the ground.

Are you budgeting for an incremental hiring plan? Or perhaps more of an ‘explosive’ hiring strategy where you’re looking to bring on a whole team of developers or sales people at once?

Of course there is no right or wrong approach here. Just as long as you have run all the numbers before you start the hiring process … salaries, benefits, equity, incentives, equipment, etc.

2. Understand what you are really looking for

It isn’t good enough to say “We should probably bring on a CTO“, or “If we found someone from a decent sales and marketing background, we should be able afford to bring them on as our Head of Growth”, or “By month 6, we’d probably need a decent support team“.

If you plan to bring anyone new into your business (whether it be Employee #1 or your 10th SDR), you have do be able to define exactly what they will be doing.

If you rush into hiring without knowing what you’re really after, you will end up paying for it … literally. After all if someone leaves the business within the first 6 months, it will cost you 3 – 4 times what you paid them.

Try justifying that to your investors.

3. Separate skills from behaviour and values

When it comes to evaluating résumes or candidate portfolios, or simply screening candidates, too many startup founders will focus purely on a potential candidate’s skill set.

For example do they have a particular qualification? Are they familiar with a certain piece of software? Can they code using a particular language? Can they produce good content?

It’s far more important to decide what values you are looking for in your new team member.

Are you looking for a team player or someone who would prefer to just put on their noise cancelling headphones and work on their own? Do you want someone who will keep making comparisons to their last corporate job and adhere purely to their job descriptions, or someone who will be truly comfortable working in a startup environment? Do you need someone agile, ambitious, hungry and motivated or someone who would prefer to work on repetitive tasks?

Sure skills are important, but it’s actually someone’s values and attitude that will make them right for your startup. They are intrinsic within every individual employee.

Think about what behaviours and values you want all your team members to demonstrate. You can always train someone who might not quite possess all the necessary skills for a job, but behaviours, attributes and values and pretty much impossible to change.

4. Write an eye-catching job ad

When it comes to online job ads, it’s important that you target the right audience and attract high quality candidates as opposed to posting a job ad that will result in a tsunami of applications from the wrong candidates hitting your in-box.

Quality – not quantity.

You’ll find some quick tips to help you craft an engaging job advertisement here.

We’ve also produced an in-depth e-Book that will help you write job ads like a pro.

Job ads can’t be rushed and written at the last minute. Remember they are really the first impression a potential employee has not only about the job itself, but also about your startup.

5. Have a clearly thought out sourcing strategy

By using a toolbox of great resources, sourcing can be done with amazing efficiency online. Many tools can help you get closer to automating the sourcing process.

If you’re on the hunt for active candidates, the standard job listing still works for some roles. You can gain an edge of speed and efficacy by using a tool that will give you access to hundreds of job boards with one click.

If you’re sourcing passive candidates, you might find your work without the support of technology quite a bit more difficult.

6. Run a structured, results-based interview process

You may (or perhaps you may not) have come across terms like behavioural based interviewing, targeted selection based interviewing, and competency based interviewing.

Each of these techniques assesses a candidate’s past performance and focuses on results.

As tempting as it may be, you should never ask hypothetical questions (for example “how would you deal with a specific situation?”). The questions you ask a candidate during an interview must assess past behaviour since that is the best way to predict future performance.

Remember: You don’t just want the best applicant. You want to find the best person for the job.

This list of 75 behavioural based questions should come in handy.

When assessing your candidates’ responses, think of the word STAR and ensure that your candidates describe a specific Situation, the Task they were faced with, the Action they took, and the Result of their actions.

7. Think beyond the funding

I remember coming across some really interesting statistics a few years ago. I have no doubt that they would still apply today. The findings were part of survey conducted around employee engagement in startups.

  • 66% of those surveyed felt a lack of career progression was the main factor in deciding to leave;
  • 12% said more money would influence their decision to look for something new;
  • 85% believed a clearly articulated plan for future professional development was the main reason to stay; and
  • 72% believed a strong team culture was another reason to stay.

So you need to think beyond just allocating the funding to attractive base salaries.

Sure it’s important that you can utilise your funding to attract the best talent. But you must also focus on building a culture where your key hires will want to stay.

8. Ask RecruitLoop for help!

Come on … how could I not?

If it still seems all too difficult, we’ve published a list of 88 hiring hacks specifically for startups that might give you the inspiration you’re looking for.

Believe me from experience we know that hiring for a startup is damn hard. We even published a post about how we made our first two hires.

Please understand that if you’re a Founder CEO, with the responsibility of building the team resting solely on your shoulders, it’s OK to ask for help!

Cofounder and CEO at RecruitLoop. I've been a hands on recruiter, manager, trainer, coach, mentor, and regular speaker for the recruitment industry for nearly 25 years.


Paul Slezak

Cofounder and CEO at RecruitLoop. I've been a hands on recruiter, manager, trainer, coach, mentor, and regular speaker for the recruitment industry for nearly 25 years.

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