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Startup Recruitment Essentials: Navigating Your First Hires Effectively
November 30, 2023

Along with making your first sale or landing your first customer or client, one of the most exciting milestones for a new startup is making your first hire. Finally, someone other than the original founders will be joining you, helping to make the dream of your future success a reality by putting in the hours and hard work to realize your goals. However, the importance of investing time in this process should not be underestimated. If you thought you’d just place a job ad and sit back and choose from the applicants flooding your inbox, think again.

Arguably, the first hires a startup makes are among the most important, because depending on their success, these will be the people to lay the foundations for further hires in the future and allow you to continue to grow and scale your business. So, when you’re in a position to start interviewing, make sure you’ve given the following key factors sufficient consideration to give yourself the best chance of a successful hire.

Scope the role properly

No one knows the jobs you need doing more than you, because most likely up to this point it’s been you who’s been doing them. One of the great things about starting your own business is that you get to see how every aspect of the business works, from sales and marketing to finance and legal. How well you are able to perform or manage each and every one of these functions, though, is questionable. You therefore need to decide which areas you need the most support with as well as asking yourself, “Will appointing someone to this role help my business grow, or is it a ‘nice to have’?” The first hires you will want to make in your startup will be people who can ease your workload, and at the same time drive the business forward. Remember, you’re working towards the goal of having a business that functions even when you’re not there, so perhaps hiring a barista at this stage over a sales or marketing executive is not the right move.

Once you’ve decided on the function that this person will be responsible for, you then need to scope the role properly, and in the process produce a job description. Start by listing all the responsibilities that would fall within this position. Include everything relevant, but don’t just add in everything that needs doing in the business. Remember, you may be happy to work every waking hour of your day to get your business off the ground, but that doesn’t mean your employees will want to give up their lives to do the same. If your job description is too varied and tries to cover too many bases, you’re setting yourself up to fail in finding the right person.

For example, if you’re hiring a sales person, don’t expect them to be equally involved in hands-on product development. You’re looking for someone with experience or a skillset that will perform one of your functions really well, you’re not unicorn farming. Once you’ve put together a clearly defined job description ask yourself, “does this person exist?” You can always sanity check with a few keyword searches in LinkedIn and look at a couple profiles to see if there are people out there doing what you need them to do.

Map out the future

Now that you know what you’re looking for, think about where this person can go within your business. It may seem really attractive to new employees to join your business right now, but will these individuals still be with you in 12 months? Three years? Five years? Just as you most likely have a roadmap and business plan for the future, employees also like to know where their jobs can take them, so don’t overlook this stage. Think through the logical career progress of your new roles and map out a career path. You don’t need to get bogged down in the details of each point at which a promotion would take place, but it’s a good idea to have an idea of the responsibilities of each future progression so that it’s clear from the start what goals your new employees need to be aiming for.

Prepare to interview and be interviewed

Once you’ve got your shortlist of applicants, you now need to be prepared to interview and select the right person. Don’t think you can just wing it over a quick coffee, you need to present your business as a professional organization that someone who doesn’t have your same emotional attachment would want to join. Just being an “exciting startup” won’t cut it anymore–there are exciting startups on every corner these days–so think about what makes you unique and how you set yourself apart from your competition. Imagine that your closest competition will also interview the same individuals, how are you going to sell your opportunity over any other companies that your candidates may speak to?

If you’ve already written a job description and scoped the career development for this role, you’re halfway there. Now you have to think how to succinctly get your company values and culture across to someone you’ve never met before in a way that would make them want to get onboard with you and commit the next few years of their career to helping you grow. As much as you’ll be interviewing candidates, they’re going to be interviewing you, so be sure to provide an excellent candidate experience, so that even if they’re not successful at getting the job, they’ll leave telling family and friends what an exciting and promising startup your business is.

Make the right choice and execute it well

Once you’ve conducted your interviews, had the candidates meet other team members, a co-founder or you simply met them a second time yourself to sanity check your impressions, you now need to decide whether to make an offer.

The key things to consider in deciding if someone is the right hire come down to a couple factors. Firstly, their ability to perform the role: are you hiring raw talent with potential that you’ll need to train, or someone with proven experience that can “hit the ground running”? One thing’s for sure, you can’t teach work ethic, so make sure they possess this in abundance. Secondly, cultural fit is very important. Even if it’s just you at this stage as the founder, think about the company culture and values you want your employees to embody and be sure your new hires see eye-to-eye with you on this.

Finally, you want someone with passion and enthusiasm for your business and brand, so in the final interview, ask them if they can sell the opportunity back to you. This will quickly expose whether someone has a genuine interest in joining your business. If they come across as passionate, keen and knowledgeable about your business (based on what they know so far), then you’ve found yourself a great first hire. Just be sure to have the employment contract ready to send out within 24 hours–don’t risk losing a star employee to the competition just because you forgot about this fundamental step.

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