Hiring is one of the most difficult aspects of running a startup. With teams of less than a handful of people, each new hire could make or break your company’s future.
Unfortunately, hiring for startups is anything but easy. With financial instability, large workloads and unpredictable working conditions, it’s understandable why many job applicants steer clear from startups.
On the other hand, startups offer incredible potential for growth, a chance to learn new skills, collaborate with experts and build an entrepreneurial spirit – all of which makes them the perfect job opportunity, for the right candidate.
Here’s how to find, hire and keep great employees for your startup.
Know the position you’re hiring for
The job of a startup founder is one that requires significant investments in time, large portions of which should go to hiring. As most startup CEOs can’t afford recruiters and HR managers, the bulk of the recruitment workload falls on the founders, including screening, testing, interviews, and onboarding.
There’s only one issue – founders have to know what they’re looking for. As we’ve written before, it’s not an easy job hiring a developer without knowing how to code. How can a startup founder hire a designer without knowing anything about design?
In order to hire the best person for your startup, you should be familiar to some extent with what the position entails, i.e. know if the person is good at their job or not. As Benji Hyam remarks, only marketers should hire marketers. In other words, you can only know if someone’s a good fit if you have some idea of what a job well-done looks like.
In my personal experience, startup founders looking to hire for content marketing roles usually have a very limited understanding of what a content marketing expert does. It’s not uncommon for CEOs to think that content, SEO and social media can effectively be done by one person working part-time, with visible results in a matter of weeks.
Make your startup a great place to work
Let’s get the hard truths out of the way. For most people, startups aren’t very high on the list of places they want to work, and there are multiple reasons for it.
First off, 90% of launched startups end up failing. If an employee accepts your offer, they’re making a really unfavorable bet on your startup succeeding. On the other hand, companies that have a long track record are much more interesting employers. On the bright side, there are about 100 million startups launched every year, which means that there’s still a good 10 million that are profitable and running annually.
What this means is that the already difficult hiring process is even harder for startups – you have to convince applicants that your startup is a great place to work.
You can do this by offering perks that other, bigger companies don’t have. For example, having unlimited vacation days is quite common in startups nowadays. Moreover, there are companies offering mental health days, which is a great initiative for preventing burnout.
Another way to get someone to truly commit to your startup is to offer them a stake in your business. Many startup owners offer equity to their employers, which you can see on startup job platforms such as Angel.
In this way, you can compensate for having a lower starting salary for your applicants. What’s more, they will be more motivated to stick around and see their investment through.
Besides these, there are some more traditional perks, such as reimbursements for transportation, wellness, equipment, education, as well as flexible work hours and a relaxed dress code. Speaking of which…
We’ve already written extensively about remote working and why it’s a great concept. Luckily, we’re not alone and there are thousands of startups embracing the remote way of working, following the likes of Toggl, Zapier, and Buffer.
If you want to hire employees for your startup, being remote has several benefits. First and foremost, just the ability to work remotely is bound to attract more candidates – about 1,500 per position, according to Toggl.
Second, you’ll be able to get better talent. You no longer have to suffice with someone just because they live within driving range from your office. You can now hire a developer from Kazakhstan or a designer from Morocco – because they were the best person for the job.
Finally, perhaps the most convincing reason, the cost. As most startups are bootstrapped and struggling for cash, CEOs find themselves pinching pennies quite often. As a remote company, you’ll be able to save on expenses such as rent, utilities, office equipment, and many others.
Finally, some companies use remote working as a way to outsource their labor to countries with lower living standards and save additional cash.
If you really need your office for in-person collaboration, you can offer remote work at certain days of the week only, or demand only some team members to be present in the office.
Make yourself known
Hiring is a two-way street. As much as applicants need to sweep you off your feet, you need to impress your potential candidates as well. Needless to say, this is much easier to pull off if you already have a background and several years in the business.
Luckily, you can leverage some of your own background. If you’ve already worked in a company/startup/industry, you should have some contacts you can use. Let your network know what you’re launching and that you’re hiring for new talent.
Besides this, use any opportunity you can to market yourself and your startup as a great place to work. You can use traditional marketing channels, meetups, conferences, LinkedIn or even Facebook groups. For example, groups such as SaaS Growth Hacks allow startup owners to start discussions on startup growth ideas and even hiring.
Don’t sit and wait – be proactive
As already mentioned, getting great applicants is harder for startups than companies doing business for years and decades. Luckily, there are lots of passive candidates who are motivated by challenges and making an impact and who would love to work in a promising startup company.
You won’t be able to attract candidates like these by posting on a job board and praying they apply. Instead, go and reach out to those candidates, asking if they’re looking for a change in their career.
Start out by looking at the best performers for a certain position and sending out a custom, personalized message. Tell them what you’re building, what’s in it for them and ask if they’d be willing to consider working for you.
Inevitably, you will run into some closed doors, but there will also be candidates who are open for a chat. Even if they’re not interested, ask them to recommend someone they think would be a great fit.
If you do get someone who’s really interested, be prepared for questions, lots of them. Forget about interviewing the candidate, you are the one being interviewed. As you’re trying to persuade someone to come on board, you should be able to sell them your idea and future plans for growth.
Hire someone who isn’t afraid to get their hands dirty
In reading a fair share of job ads for positions in startups, there are a couple of phrases that often get repeated, such as:
You don’t say “It’s not my job“
Wear many hats
In small and focused teams such as startups, there is not enough budget to hire entire departments and often, one person is forced to tackle tasks that go beyond their job description. As a writer, I was often tasked with helping out with design, marketing, and project management.
While you can teach employees to do tasks outside of their area of expertise, you cannot teach grit and attitude. In other words, ensure that your candidate is ready to think outside the box and willing to take up new duties, instead of blindly sticking to what they know and what they’re good at.
Moreover, your ideal employee needs to be ready to grow. As startups can quickly scale due to the increase in demand or new rounds of funding, the duties of a single employee grow as well. If you hired a sales representative, they may need to step up and manage several employees under them in a short amount of time.
Working in a startup is definitely not for everyone, and if your new employee can’t handle tasks outside of their comfort zone and grow with the position, they’re not the right hire. Make sure to clearly lay down your expectations in the job ad so that applicants know their workload from the very start.
Even though startup founders and CEOs have it harder from the start, it’s not impossible to hire great employees for your startup. As long as you work on building your brand, actively seek out for candidates and offer perks that traditional companies don’t, you’ll find your purple squirrel in no time.