Startup Hiring

I’ve been helping a few startups with hiring, have hired large teams and have been a candidate on the other side. Labor is getting more and more competitive and the best candidates have lots of options so it’s important to have a good process.

To hire the best people you need to see a lot of good people (top of funnel), select the best and win them over the other options they may have.

Here is how I recommend you run your interview process regardless of the role:

  • Leverage networks: The best way to get quality candidates is to leverage your network of investors, advisors and existing employees. Good brands (team/investors), good PR and good written content can also attract candidates.
  • Screen: Arrange a screening call with someone on your team who is directly responsible for running the recruiting process. This could be the hiring manager or a recruiter/HR lead depending on the size of your company. If you’re going to scale quickly, then someone who can lead recruiting and HR is a very good investment and takes pressure off the operators. Skip this step if the candidate comes from a trusted source or you need to move fast.
  • Clarity: Once candidates pass the initial screen (skills, fit) then provide clarity on the recruiting process. What skills are you testing for? Who will the candidate meet on the team? I suggest doing this via a templated message with a bit of character. It displays organization, transparency and builds trust.
  • Skills: Decide what skills are important for the role and explicitly agree (in writing) on them as a team . Each interviewer should know what skills they are assessing and multiple interviewers should assess the same skill (to find disagreements). Look for candidates that have at least one “A” skill. “ABC” candidates are better than “BBB” candidates because it’s often easier to build complementary teams than move someone from a B to an A. You should bias towards candidates with a “high ceiling” over relevant experience especially if you’re doing something new – experience becomes outdated faster than you think.
  • Questions: Pick questions that test for the explicit skills you are looking for and ask the same set of questions to each candidate (reduces systematic bias, and helps calibrate). Don’t be afraid to ask challenging questions. The best candidates will enjoy this process and it will help with closing if candidates feel they will learn from and enjoy working with their colleagues.
  • References: Use references (backchannel or formal) as a confirmatory signal. Ask more open ended questions (gauge depth of relationship, strengths, areas for development) but also understand the candidate’s percentile relative to others in a similar role and if the referencer would work with the candidate again.
  • Offer: You have 5 levers to use when making an offer: title, salary, equity, responsibility, and one-off payments (e.g. signing bonus or relocation). Ask candidates what they value and why before making a specific offer, as it’s another opportunity to build trust and tailor the offer for the candidate. Title is a cheap lever unless you are recruiting for a “head of” position, as it’s harder to hire above this person. I prefer candidates who pick equity and responsibility over anything else as it aligns long term incentives but also understand that everyone’s circumstance is different.
  • Winning: When a candidate has multiple offers winning can be challenging. If you have a organized, transparent process with smart, kind interviewers it’s a great way to build a trusting two-way relationship even before the candidate joins your company. You should leverage your network of advisors and investors to close candidates, but this is not a replacement for running a really great recruiting process.

This was designed to be a general recruiting post, but read this post for more detail on hiring product managers, if you’re interested.

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