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10 hiring hacks for start-ups

Finding people who can help build and grow your business is invaluable, but it can be painful. Follow these tips and tricks to help you hire superstars…

Last week, editor Lucy Wayment was at the world famous 4YFN conference in Barcelona (the start-up focused sister of the Mobile World Congress). In this post from a speaker talk on hiring hacks, she hears how your start-up can ensure it makes the right decision when taking on staff…

There are hundreds of stats out there that can terrify you about hiring. Apparently it can take 10,000 interviews to get just 180 really good hires. And as a start-up, it can be even harder to recruit, as you don’t necessarily have the time or resource to indulge in a massive recruitment drive.

Speaking at 4YFN, Leon Mueller, ex-headhunter and now co-founder of intelligent talent network Squelo, shares 10 hiring hacks that can help you avoid hiring headaches – and employ the superstars your business deserves.

1. Hiring starts with you

Think of every person within a business as a LEGO block, and you need to make sure that before you hire, you have the right team and foundations in place to build upon. Does the team you have now fit together well? What parts are you missing?

2. Look for A players

As Steve Jobs once said: “A players hire A players, B players hire C players.” And you can’t underestimate the damage hiring a C player could do to your start-up. C players destroy company cultures – it’s easy to get caught up in needing to hire someone quickly but some people can actually deny more than they bring. Cultural fit is so crucial.

So, how do you define an A player? Well, it can be broken down into three further As.

Aptitude: Are they a good cultural fit?
Attitude: Do they love their job?
Ability: Are they successful at their job?

All three are important, but aptitude and attitude are key in the beginning. It’s better to hire for attitude and train for skill (than the other way around). Going all out with the A theme, there’s three more As it’s also worth considering.

Aware: How self-aware are they? This is all about emotional intelligence. Can they admit weakness?
Athletic: Can they jump in any time? Are they flexible, adaptable and agile?
Authentic: Are they real and honest? Do they have the right work ethic?

While it can be hard to tell all of these traits from an interview, these are the qualities you should be on the hunt for – and gear questions and aptitude tests towards.

3. Culture, culture, culture

Passion is especially important in start-ups. If you don’t get the culture right from day one you could lose core members of your team. And if there’s only five of you to begin with, losing one person means losing 20% of your company.

Companies with the right culture outperform everyone else – and just to be clear that doesn’t just mean beanbags and free drinks, it’s about instilling values across your whole team.

4. Choose people who fit with your goals

The first thing you should find out about any potential hire is what gets them out of bed in the morning. What inspires and drives them? And then ask yourself if their personal path is aligned to your business one.

5. Always be hiring and involve everyone in hiring

You never know when you might come across the perfect person for your business so always be open to hiring.

These days a third of people aren’t looking at all, but one-third is looking actively and one third is looking passively so there’s a large talent pool out there potentially on the hunt for a new role. Our generation doesn’t stick to a company forever – they’re always looking for the next step, so even if you don’t have a position, for the right person you might need to create one.

And use the resources that you have within your team to help you hire. Engineers know engineers, designers know designers and so forth. Not only will they know the right places to look for their peers but they’ll also be a good judge of their level of skill.

6. Think of hiring like dating

Let’s face it, recruitment is a people business – and it’s all about building relationships. If you’re interested in a prospective employee, start a conversation and show you’re keen.

Like looking for a mate, it’s all about having the right mindset. You constantly need to be on the hunt. There’s also some rules you need to follow. You shouldn’t approach for more than 30 seconds on the phone. Try to always send a direct email. And save yourself time by talking money early.

7. Start with your network

Always start with your connections. Don’t waste time on job descriptions if you might have the right person in front of you.

Mention that you’re hiring on your social network platforms, Facebook, Twitter etc. Go on Slack and join other relevant groups. There’s also a number of tools you can use to help you find contact details for someone to make that all-important direct approach:

8. Be creative

Recruitment is competitive. Make sure you stand out by getting creative with job descriptions. Think about who you’re hiring and tailor your recruitment. If you’re looking for a PR person, think about writing a press release. Or, if you’re hiring a coder, write the advert in code. There’s lots of ways to mix things up. And always use positive language.

9. Watch out for red flags

When you’re hiring, you want to make sure people are joining your business for the right reasons. Try to think not just why you want someone, but why they might choose a certain job in return.

Here’s a few ‘types’ to look out for.

The glory hunter

If prospective employees ask any of the following questions you should be suspicious:

  • What’s the company’s latest valuation?
  • Does it have unicorn potential?
  • Has it been covered in TechCrunch
  • What are the prospects like for the next round of funding?
  • Who are your investors?

Junior engineer with an inflated ego

The great thing about working in start-ups is that you can have a lot of responsibility early on in your career. However, sometimes this can lead to delusions of grandeur. If a junior engineer thinks his next role should be CTO – he’s probably not right.

The newly minted MBA

It’s not just about finding the next Harvard grad – experience is just as important.

10. Treat candidates like customers

Finally, whether the people you interview turn out to be right for the job or not – always remember that the hiring process is part of your marketing. Be careful that you’re giving out the right message. The start-up world is very small in many ways and everyone knows each other.


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