New entrepreneurs may not always anticipate the challenges of recruitment until they're faced with the task of hiring employees for their startup. As the founder and CEO of a global recruiting company for startups, Ray Gibson has learned many valuable lessons throughout his journey. Here, he shares his five pearls of wisdom for recruiting a successful startup team.
1. Your candidate pitch should match your investor pitch
In the initial stages of a startup, it's easy for founders to become consumed with product development and overlook the importance of building a strong employer brand. But Gibson advises to start thinking about employer branding from day one. “Your candidate pitch should be as good as your investor pitch. And yes, you need to practice your candidate pitch as if you were trying to win millions of dollars in funding, because THAT is how much each great hire is worth to you." says Gibson. "Post to Linkedin, your own careers page and blog every week NOW. Not heads down for months, only building product."
Gibson’s advice is clear: don’t underestimate the power of employer branding. This type of engagement can create a pool of potential candidates who are aligned with your mission and excited about the opportunity to contribute long before a job description is ever published. Equally, savvy candidates will check you out online if you try to headhunt them. You just won’t get a reply form them if your business and team is not telling a coherent story.
2. Be realistic about what each new hire should achieve
One of the pitfalls Gibson warns against in the startup hiring process is the temptation to seek multi-hyphenate hires – individuals expected to wear multiple hats, often to an unrealistic degree. This approach can lead to job descriptions that are not just ambitious but impractical.
“I need a sales and marketing person who can do market research, run focus groups, make lists, do cold calls to small businesses, and also visit enterprise customers. Oh, and also design the sales deck and marketing materials for events, etc. I can spend $45k a year," Gibson shares, highlighting the absurdity of some expectations he has encountered.
He advises startups to be realistic and clear about the roles they need to fill. Splitting complex roles into more manageable and specialized positions can lead to better hiring outcomes. This clarity benefits not only the startup by attracting the right talent but also candidates, who can better understand the expectations and assess their fit for the role.
Gibson stresses the importance of a transparent dialogue with candidates about what the role entails and the expectations attached to it. This conversation should include discussions about growth opportunities, the kind of challenges they'll face, and how their success will be measured. It's about setting up both the hire and the company for success by assessing alignment from the start.
3. There’s no time to learn on the job
When it comes to the hunt for talent, there's a premium on high performance and a proven track record. As Gibson highlights, there is no one available to teach new candidates. This means startups must look for candidates who can hit the ground running.
When it comes to sales roles, Gibson advises extra caution. He suggests a thorough examination of a candidate's sales track record to verify their claims. “Be especially careful to clarify sales track records – how did deals start, who made first contact, meetings, closing – were these deals supported by a huge lead gen machine?” This level of scrutiny is essential because, according to Gibson, sales candidates are some of the best people at selling themselves, sometimes more than they can actually deliver.
And for technical roles, such as product and engineering, he recommends verifying the candidate’s experience with several product iterations or build cycles. Gibson's approach is to aim for the best, not just the best of those who apply.
4. Develop Your Own Sense for "Startup DNA" and Cultural Fit
Cultivating the right team dynamics starts with identifying candidates who possess that essential "startup DNA" – those who are prepared, show initiative, are self-starting, and self-motivating. Gibson explains that startups need people who bring that energy to the table, and observing their behavior during the recruitment and interview process is key. What questions do they ask? Do they appear prepared? Do they take the initiative to follow up? These are some of the factors to consider when evaluating a candidate's fit for your startup culture.
As Gibson says, those early hires will have a significant influence on the future of your business. They will establish the norms, behaviors, and attitudes that will permeate throughout the organization as it grows. "Your first 10 hires will likely come from your network and hustle, the next 10 will shape your culture for years to come," Gibson shares, stressing the importance of getting it right from the beginning.
5. Leverage Speed as Your Hiring Advantage
For startups, agility is one of your most powerful assets, especially in the context of hiring. And in the race to attract top talent, speed is one of the biggest advantages a startup has over larger, more bureaucratic organizations. The ability to move quickly and decisively can often mean the difference between securing a coveted candidate and losing them to the competition.
To capitalize on this advantage, Gibson says it's important for startups to maintain short feedback cycles. This means promptly reviewing applications, swiftly providing feedback after interviews, and making decisions in a timely manner. The longer a candidate has to wait for a response, the more likely they are to move on to other opportunities.
Similarly, keeping interview stages close together can help to maintain candidate interest and engagement. Protracted hiring processes with long gaps between stages can be frustrating for candidates and can lead to a loss of momentum in the recruitment process.
If startups can harness their inherent nimbleness, they stand a better chance of making that first good offer and having it accepted. This ultimately helps win the race for top talent.
Bonus Point - Don't Underestimate “Onboarding”
For startups, the onboarding process can sometimes be an afterthought, but Gibson insists it should be anything but. He explains that a well-executed onboarding process is critical for integrating new hires into the company culture and workflow, setting them up for success. Essentially, it lays the foundation for every employee's journey within your company.
Gibson emphasizes that even small teams cannot afford to overlook this step. Allowing new hires to wander in without a plan on their first day is not just rude, it’s also unwise.
A comprehensive onboarding program can significantly enhance employee retention and productivity. The effort put into a structured onboarding experience pays dividends by avoiding the costs and disruption of rehiring. Gibson explains, “One of Funded.club’s early customers, WeTravel, were always careful to ensure a new starter’s desk was set up in advance and included a welcome gift - usually a book they were sure would interest the new hire based on their interview conversations.”
He suggests that the onboarding process should be lean and continuously improved based on feedback from both the team and new hires. This iterative approach means that the onboarding process evolves in tandem with the company, always aiming to meet the needs of the employees and the organization. A thorough onboarding strategy, according to Gibson, will not only attract top talent but also maintain and nurture it.
Commit to the Right Recruitment Help
Gibson's final piece of advice for startups is to find the best recruiting assistance and fully commit to that partnership. Startups have the option to pay as they go, using fixed fees for specific hiring needs, or to opt for embedded recruiting, which involves a set fee per month. Both models have their benefits, but the key is commitment and consistency.
Rather than spreading efforts thin across multiple recruiting agencies and trying to manage a flood of CVs, startups are better served by giving the responsibility for hiring to a dedicated person or agency. Startups may be tempted to use multiple agencies if they see plenty of CVs coming in, but in the long run, this scattergun approach is less likely to yield good results.
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Funded.club stands behind their service with guaranteed results, so that your investment in talent acquisition is met with the same high standards that you set for your startup.
Book a call with our recruiting experts here.