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Recruiting for Your Startup - some considerations

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by Startacus Admin

recruiting for your startupAs your startup grows and scales, you will inevitably reach the point where hiring employees is necessary. You may only need one extra pair of hands to start with, however as with every other aspect of building a startup, there’s a lot to think about. Indeed, there is a reason why larger organisations have HR departments handling their recruitment - it isn’t as simple a task as it might first appear! With that in mind, here are some things to think about when recruiting for your startup.

Finding people

A startup will rarely be able to offer the same salary as an established company (unless it has had considerable seed investment) and there is of course a perception of higher risk. Therefore it’s essential that you ensure that your startup attracts people and makes them feel safe, whilst also providing potentially more challenges and excitement than they would get at a larger company. This ought to be integral when you are marketing your company. After all - people have to want to be hired by you.

Make it clear that you are hiring, make it clear how to go about applying, spread the word around your network.

If you’ve succeeded in making your startup desirable, you want people to know they might actually be able to work in it. But don’t sit back and wait for applications - proactively look for candidates.

Follow up with people who interest you as potential hires, and connect with people who might be able to connect you with other people - this is part of building a network anyway. Word of mouth, when recruiting, can work wonders and if you are based in a city with an established startup ecosystem, you might find that available talent will cluster around the same spaces and places as those that work in and for startups.

recruitment for a startup

Some roles - especially those that are more niche or technical, may on the whole be harder to fill. However, if you are based in a city with a growing or thriving startup scene, you might find that specialist job sites or recruitment fairs exist with a specific focus on the startup sector. For example in London - admittedly a city with a bigger startup ecosystem than most, you may find that sites like Work in Startups or Unicorn Hunt can work wonders for finding your next employee. Likewise, generalist graduate job fairs or careers & tech networking events such as Expand London can be a good place to find and recruit your first or next employee. You might also find that in both big and small startup ecosytems and communities, there will also be a dedicated Facebook group for that startup city - & putting a call out for talent on a page like this, might also be quite fruitful. 

For some specialist roles, you may need to avail of a recruitment agency’s support. However do ensure that you negotiate and agree on the recruiter’s terms and fees from the off. Depending on where you are based, standard terms of business can vary considerably. Also, whilst the recruitment industry is certainly not as maverick as some make out - the quality of service can still vary, so you may need to shop around a little to find both the talent you are looking for and the recruitment agency that can deliver.

Of course one of the benefits of working with a recruitment agency, is that they should be 100% savvy with regards to current employment laws and legislations. However, whether you are using a recruitment agency or not, (and often it will be a ‘not’), it’s important to ensure that you also are fully au fait and adhere to any legal recruitment requirements.

This previous article on how to attract talent in an SME might also be a good article to read.

startup recruiting

Finding THE people

Assuming your startup is now a shining beacon of recruitment and you are inundated with applications, how are you going to go about narrowing these down to the right people? Knowing the job you are hiring for is a good start, but it isn’t everything. So here are some key aspects to use to create a smaller special interest applicants’ pile (though of course there are some things you won’t get just from their application):

  • Founder qualities - A good employee is a good employee, but a budding ‘founder’ can be a great employee. The best startup employees, may often have the qualities of a founder themselves, sharing your passion, drive, and creativity (and, ideally, multiple skills!). However, many people who who not make natural entrepreneurs may still thrive as employees in a startup. Sure, you may lose them down the line when they are ready to take the wealth of experience you have given them and apply it elsewhere, but think what they could have helped you do with your business in the meantime.( Incidentally, we’ve written previously about why entrepreneurship might not be for you).

  • Experience - This is obvious, but you are looking for more than just experience in the job you are hiring for. Do they have prior startup experience? This is quite different to working at a larger company, and might not be right for them. Failing that, do they at least have experience in a small business?

  • Social media - This is one of the last things you may want to do (or, even do fullstop), however it may prove worthwhile. Have a look through their social media (it’s not stalking!) and personal websites or blogs. For obvious reasons, you may learn a lot about the person through these mediums, where they aren’t tailoring their every word to impress you or just even that they are as good at blog writing or using social media as they say they are! 

  • Current situation - Are they currently employed? If not, why and for how long? Are they working on their own projects? Many intelligent, creative people - particularly those in possession of entrepreneurial qualities may find it hard to settle in a normal job and therefore jump around a bit, however too much of that could be a bad sign.

  • Creativity - A well constructed CV is all well and good, but one with a splash of creativity shows...well, creativity, which is one of those key entrepreneurial qualities, and one a startup employee should have. So perhaps encouraging them to do something interesting with their application is a start.

Recruiting for a startup


Having put an applicant’s CV into your ‘interested’ pile, the next step could be simply arranging a chat over the phone (i.e. a screening call). You don’t want to waste your time or the applicant’s by bringing them in for a face-to-face interview when they could be scratched off your list during a half-hour phone call. Use this call to see if you get along well on a personal level, whether they fully understand the role and your business, and how much they may have exaggerated their CV.

Lying is bad. We know this, so should they. A little exaggeration on a CV may be expected, but if you catch them in an outright lie, you may want to end the call right there. Select bits of their CV at random to ask about - skills, roles, specific companies, etc. You’ll also want to find out things like how much research they have done on your startup, your specific industry and market, see how they talk about previous employers and colleagues, and what they feel is their ideal work environment.

If they get through the screening call, it’s on to the face-to-face.

The last thing you want is to have an applicant leave your interview and you realise you forgot to ask something important. Winging it is fine to some degree, but plan to wing it at a certain point of the interview. Put together a plan for your interview, covering the basic and important questions and allow that to lead into a more casual chat. Both parts of this will provide invaluable information.

Take note of how you are around them as well as vice versa - if you get carried away talking to them, it could be a very good sign that you will work well together. This interview will be similar to the screening, but you are looking for the personal connection, the passion and dedication, the knowledge, etc. All these things take on a new light in person. You will also, of course, want technical questions regarding the role they are applying for.

After this, you may want to give any other team members a chance to meet the candidate, to see how they will all get on together. That of course will be entirely based on how your startup works (and whether you actually have a team)!

Finally, depending on the position you are trying to fill, a practical exam of sorts might be worthwhile. There is no point giving suggestions here, as a practical for a programmer wouldn’t be quite the same as a practical for a marketing assistant, however nothing will give you an idea of the candidate’s ability like having them actually do the job.

After all this, you will know who to hire. You might regret it - it’s not an entirely foolproof process - but that’s business. It is a difficult part of building a startup, but a necessary one, and a potentially very rewarding one, so we hope these basic tips help you get your perfect first employee.


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Published on: 8th May 2017

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