Diary of an entrepreneur: What I’ve learnt from making several hires in six months

Floom's Lana Elie returns as Startups' columnist. Read her insights on dealing with recruiters and how to hire employees for a start-up with a low budget...

Having taken a break from blogging for Startups.co.uk to focus on her fast-growing start-up Floom, female entrepreneur Lana Elie takes the reins again as our monthly columnist. So, what has she been up to over the past six months? Hiring, hiring, and more hiring. Here, she shares the lessons she’s learnt in creating interview questions, developing a recruitment strategy that works and her positive – and not so positive – encounters with recruiters…

Welcome back to my monthly column… six months later.

That’s right, the last time I wrote a column for Startups’ was, embarrassingly, back in April.

This prompted me to look back and think; what have I achieved in the past six months? A lot, but never enough, is the answer to that.

There has been one key ‘thing’ that’s really stood out in my start-up journey over the past six months though.

It’s taken a lot of time, I’ve made several wrong decisions around it, it’s often left me feeling frustrated and confused, and it has forced me into some difficult situations, but has ultimately been one of the biggest implications of our growth to date…

That ‘thing’ is hiring.

Building a team is one of the single most important things for any business and figuring out how to hire, and how to hire well, is no easy task.

Here’s what I’ve learnt from building my team over the past six months…

Putting the person on paper, aka writing a job description

Writing job descriptions can be difficult when you’re hiring for a role that isn’t around a skill of your own.

My best advice would be to go to the career pages of companies that are similar to yours, but bigger/have been trading for longer and see what they’ve noted as requirements for that role.

My thinking is that there’s nothing wrong with copying someone who knows what they’re doing!

Digging for gold dealing with recruiters

The job description is really the easiest part of sourcing a new hire for your start-up.

You know what your business needs are, you’ve identified it and shaped it into a role, and now you need the right candidates to find it but you don’t want just anyone to fill the vacancy, you want the best person for the job.

I found this process really difficult as the minute you promote a job vacancy, about 50% of my emails and calls become recruiters.

You might think that having several helping hands is useful make a new hire but speaking to the wrong recruiters will ultimately be a huge waste of time.

It’s very easy to end up in long conversations and meetings with recruitment agencies who just don’t understand what you’re after, what your culture requirements are, or potentially don’t even have the right network to find the right person for your business. As a result, they often send you the wrong candidates.

If you can, only use recruiters who have hired for these roles before at companies you know have high standards in finding candidates – then check that their recruitment claims are true.

Even better, try and get recommendations directly from those companies that have used the recruitment agency. For example, I feel much more confident with recruiters who have hired for fast-growth start-ups such as Trouva, Onefinestay, Deliveroo, etc.

If you’re going to go digging for gold yourself because you don’t have the budget to pay a recruiter an extortionate amount of money to help you find talent, make a list of similar companies you know will have good candidates, and try to steal from them (seemingly this is becoming my answer for everything!).

The interview process

A good friend of mine works at Stripe. Being curious about companies of that size whose success is largely determined by team, I asked him what Stripe’s hiring process was like. He said that each candidate got the same set of pre-defined questions, and I found that quite surprising.

I’ve been through the recruitment process before at Burberry and I didn’t think being asked how I dealt with my last “difficult” situation was the right way to determine if i was right for the job.

I found it impersonal and it was easy for answers to be rehearsed and calculated (something I did do before interviewing for the job!).

As a result my personal recruitment style is very different and it’s much more relaxed. I want people to feel comfortable enough to show their skills, and not let predefined questions and an “interview” structure get to their nerves.

I have chats and I have a feel for personality, culture fit, drive.

But did this approach to recruitment work for me in the early days? We went on to hire three people, two of which we had to ask to leave. Given the time dedicated to recruiting these hires, those odds aren’t good.

What I rapidly realised at this stage was that I really had no clue how to interview. Not because those candidates weren’t great – they were – but because I had been so focused on the wrong things, and excited to have them be excited by the business that I had built that neither I or the candidates could see they were being sold in to roles that weren’t the right fit for them.

We have now tried a few new things that have proven successful and, while I can’t say I have the answer to hiring people 100% right just yet, I have come up with four simple steps to help you find the right candidates…

4 steps to hire employees for a start-up

  1. I can’t believe I’m saying this – having been against this approach in the past – but ask the same questions at interview. Check out the site Workable as it’s a great tool to help you define what these interview questions should be (Disclaimer: I’ve not personally used this tool but plan to use for my next hire and it comes highly recommended).
  2. Write down your thoughts on the candidate immediately after you interview them. It’s important to be able to review those thoughts at a later date, especially when you’re running several interviews a day.
  3. After first interviews, set the successful candidates the same hypothetical project to see how they think, present those thoughts, and form strategies.
  4. Don’t try to oversell your business, if the reality isn’t exciting enough then you’ll find it hard to keep them. According to this podcast called “hiring A players” that might mean that you, the founder, might not be the right person to do the hiring.

The next steps for Floom’s recruitment strategy

We now have an incredible team of eight employees who are all impressive within their areas.

My next task as a founder is learning how to keep my team happy, driven, inspired, and feeling as if they’re growing to the best of their abilities.

See you next month (or six… just kidding!) with my findings.

Want more tips and advice on hiring staff? Check out these guides to take on staff and learn hiring hacks for your start-up.