The first few months of startup life can be a struggle. Without enough cash to hire employees and expand your team, it’s often up to you (and your fellow co-founders, if you have any) to take care of your company’s workload yourself. As growth begins to occur and cash starts to flow, however, your priorities begin to change. You start to take a top-down view of the company instead of a head-on one, and start searching for people to manage many of the systems you’ve developed.
This is the early hiring phase, and it’s one that every startup – from today’s gigantic tech companies like Google and Facebook to small but profitable businesses – has to go through.
Working out who to hire, what to offer them and how to qualify your early employee candidates can seem difficult, especially if you’ve never hired before. However, there are myriad ways to make the tough process of staffing your startup easier.
In this guide, we’ll share five startup hiring tips that you can use to build a fantastic team of people, avoid hiring non-performers and simplify your hiring process so no time is wasted on people who aren’t compatible with your business.
1. Build a team of people who share similar values.
Apple Inc. co-founder Steve Jobs frequently described the most important aspect of his company as its culture. Apple’s culture, he claimed, was that of a giant startup – an enterprise worth billions of dollars that operated much like a new company.
Building a team of highly qualified, capable people is great. However, no matter how highly qualified or competent your team is, your results will never be as fantastic as they could be if there are cultural clashes between your employees.
The key to achieving team cohesion is having a distinct company culture. In Apple’s case, it was what he described as “technology married with the liberal arts.” In your startup, it could be an obsession with perfection or a relentless focus on design.
Find a unifying characteristic that can define your company and hire people who’re not just qualified for the role, but true believers in it. This way, you’ll never struggle with interpersonal clashes or other issues that can ruin your productivity.
2. Short on cash? Offer equity to motivate top-performers.
People that value security and stability will rarely choose to work at an early-stage startup. As a result, the type of people you’re most likely to hire – and the type you want early in your company’s development – are risk takers.
These people tend to be motivated far less by the competitive salaries and benefits that big companies can offer, and far more motivated by the possibility of owning a part of the company they’re working for.
It’s never wise to give away equity as if it’s worthless, like slicing your company into a cake and handing it out to your staff. However, offering strategic equity to people who are vital to your success is a great way to assemble a capable team.
3. Be prepared to say “no” to most of your candidates.
Most of the people you interview, even with a strict filtering and application process, aren’t going to be the perfect fit for your company. Because of this, you’ll need to be prepared to say “no” often, even to people that seem to fit the bill.
Saying “no” frequently allows you to put aside the sense of urgency that often comes with hiring and instead of focusing on filling seats, start to focus on assembling your dream team. It’s saying “no” that eventually lets you say “yes” with total confidence.
Choosing the wrong person for the job – especially an important role that’s paid for in equity – can be an expensive mistake. Be prepared to say “no” to candidates that don’t feel right and you’ll feel much more confident when you finally say “yes.”
4. Create strict filters so you only interview the best.
Many startup founders mistakenly believe that the filter process begins with the job interview. They create job listings that call for a broad range of skills, targeted to an incredibly broad audience, and then wonder why their applicants just don’t fit.
The key to interviewing great people is to create strict filters that make sure only the most qualified, capable people get through. We’ve talked about the importance of saying “no” to interviewees – it’s also important to say “no” in your listings.
Be very specific about the type of person you’re interested in hiring. List specific skills and qualities in your job listings or to your recruiting firm. Be relentless in your pursuit of people that have these skills and filter out those who don’t.
5. Be honest about where your company is and where it’s going.
No one likes to be deceived into working for a company that’s far smaller than it’s made to appear. Many startups make the mistake of trying to look bigger than they really are when hiring instead of embracing the fact that they’re small.
The type of people that are interested in joining a startup – particularly a rapidly-growing one – often aren’t concerned about size. They’re often far more motivated by the chance to grow something big from something small than your current size.
Be honest about where your company is, where it’s going, and where your new hire will fit into the process. Being honest and transparent about your company’s status and goals will help you reach and connect with people who can help you get there.