Hiring on fire: a six-step guide to excellent recruiting for startups

When you open the doors of your organisation to new hires, you want to make sure you're welcoming the right crowd. Benjamin Salisbury breaks down how to perfect the recruitment process.

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Recruiting new employees successfully is crucial for a startup. With a smaller team, one mistake in hiring can have a disproportionately negative impact on business operations, making recruitment one of the most important HR functions to focus on.

Hiring can be a major financial burden for startups. The Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD) revealed the median cost of recruiting a typical employee increased from £1,000 in 2021 to £1,500 in 2022.

Finding the right candidate who complements your existing staff, improves your business and shares your vision is pivotal to the growth and development of a startup.

Recruitment technology can reduce costs and improve efficiency. This article will cover six key recruitment steps from creating an initial job description to supporting new hires.

Creating a job description

Getting this right helps attract the right candidates for the role. A vague, undefined job description leads to applications from unsuitable candidates.

Analyse the role before recruiting. What does it involve? How will it develop? What skills and experience are required? Then write a succinct, clear job description incorporating your analysis and including salary and benefit details.

Be accurate about qualifications and job location. If a degree is not required or working from home or a hybrid arrangement is possible, say so. Otherwise, you will repel potentially excellent candidates. Try and broaden the range of candidates who apply. Recent research from the CIPD found 4 million UK workers have changed careers due to a lack of flexibility at work.

Increasingly, artificial intelligence (AI), generative AI and Chat GPT are being used to create job descriptions automatically, based on information entered about the job. ChatGPT can be used to create a job description template, job title suggestions and to provide lists of job responsibilities based on a job overview.

It’s not just employers using the new technology either. CV-Library found almost half of UK job seekers intend to use ChatGPT in their next job search.

Advertising and social media

The days of spending thousands on classified adverts in the local press are gone. Nowadays there are many options for sourcing candidates. Job boards offer various deals, including paying by CPA (cost per application) or CPC (cost per click).

Some HR software comes with multiple job board integrations allowing employers to manage all job postings using a single dashboard. This reduces costs by not having to subscribe to each job board.

The major UK recruitment platforms are Indeed, Total Jobs, CV-Library and Reed. They attract many candidates and offer job advert packages that cost less for multiple roles.

Startup’s recruit individually, so smaller, niche recruitment marketplaces can be cheaper and more effective. CV-Library run several, including for medical and retail job sectors. Industry publications and websites are good options. Referral schemes like inhouserecruitment.co.uk can help lower costs.

Social media is another low-cost way to reach candidates. People who follow you or like your posts may want to work for you. Customers can recommend your business and share your posts, enabling roles to reach a wider audience.

Recruiting through social media can be quicker than alternative sources and attract interns who may become staff members later, after both parties decide they are a good fit.

Screening candidates

Hopefully your strategy leads to many applications, but this creates another challenge. Screening candidates is time-consuming and involves sifting through CVs, reading covering letters and checking qualifications.

At this stage, you should know what to look for in a candidate. Put suitable candidates on a shortlist for review. Prioritise which attributes are most important for the role and weigh up previous experience and to what extent this improves their application.

Again, technology can filter out unsuitable candidates and whittle down high numbers of applications to a manageable number for interviews. Applicant tracking systems (ATS’s) can be integrated with other software such as psychometric testing and profiling tools and background checking apps to screen and filter out candidates.

HR software is useful for startups that cannot employ a dedicated HR manager. It automates routine but critical tasks like candidate sourcing, CV screening and interview scheduling. There are many options available, including ones that allow startups to post jobs for free on platforms like LinkedIn.


A successful interview should be a two-way conversation, allowing the employer and candidate to find out about each other and establish a potential working relationship.

Decide which questions to ask, how long the interview should be, where it should take place and whether to include tests or other assessments.

The interview should draw out candidates’ skills to show they can perform the role. It should reveal how a candidate would tackle a challenging situation within the role, teamwork and, potentially, how they would manage other employees.

Recruitment technology has launched new interview options in recent years. The pandemic was a catalyst for these developments, driving changes in work. Most meetings now take place using video conferencing tools and more employees work from home.

Examples include conversational AI hiring tools and ‘instant interviews’ allowing workers in the gig economy to create short videos to showcase their skills to gain short-term work.

Selecting a candidate

You should now have a shortlist of suitable, qualified candidates to select from. You may need a second interview to finalise your choice. If so, approach this to draw out skills and aptitude to help make the right choice.

Decide what to prioritise to choose between two well-matched candidates. Are skills more important than experience? What balance between the two will enable the role to be performed effectively? Is there one element of a candidate’s application, qualifications, experience or interview performance that tips the balance?

Decide whether to offer the role for a trial period and what type of contract to offer. Most roles include a probation period and this may be enough to decide whether the selected candidate should be offered a permanent position.

Post hiring support and employee wellbeing

This part of recruitment has become more important recently, particularly in the existing candidate-driven market. Once you have hired successfully, you want to retain staff.

Successful onboarding of new staff is important. It helps them feel welcome, integrated into the company and ready to make their mark.

There is lots of data and research outlining what candidates – whether they be Gen X, Z or millennials – want. One clear trend is flexibility, particularly an option to work from home or in a hybrid role. A recent survey from employee performance platform Weekly 10 found Google searches for ‘work from home’ increased by 197% in August 2023.

Whether this is viable depends on the job, but candidates are prioritising flexibility over other benefits, even salary.

There are many specialist service companies that help small employees outsource elements of employee wellbeing to create a happy, vibrant workforce. One example is Oliva, a platform offering specialist, on-demand mental health and wellbeing support to employees.

Employee wellbeing and successful onboarding can be easier for startups. The close working relationships required support employee satisfaction as workers feel more connected, knowing they have a crucial part to play within a startup business.


Recruitment is crucial for building a startup business. It can be expensive and with fewer resources it’s vital not to make mistakes. This takes planning to support each step of the hiring process. Technology reduces costs and makes the recruitment cycle more efficient. There are many options for startups to buy in services if they don’t have an in-house HR team.

Case study - Gigged.AI

This Glasgow-headquartered startup, founded in 2021, should be able to recruit effectively as it sells AI-powered recruitment software that matches technology candidates to relevant hiring companies. It aims to prevent companies from making bad hiring decisions by reviewing clients’ own staff rosters.

It has tapped into the post-pandemic trend for more flexible working and 70% of candidates on its talent platform have second jobs. This helped it raise £1.6 million in seed funding in a funding round led by Par Equity. The funds will be used in part to expand its own team remotely alongside the staff that work in its Glasgow and London offices. It has grown staff numbers from two to 12 and counting since its inception.

Six examples of new recruitment tools to help startups hire more effectively

US-based recruitment technology company Sapia.ai has launched a tool that detects and flags responses sourced by generative AI, like ChatGPT, in real time. This can stop candidates using generative AI tools to respond to prompts in online interviews. Candidates are alerted so they can change their responses before submitting answers.

Bountiful, a new HR technology company, has launched a referral service platform, to streamline the recruitment process. Employees can refer potential candidates from their own networks through the platform.

In June, Equifax introduced a pre-employment verification product for recruiting, retaining and engaging an hourly workforce. Called Talent Report, it provides a view of an applicant’s work experience to help employers make better hiring decisions.

Borderless, a UK-based startup is aiming to tackle the shortage of care workers. It offers care providers automated vetting and sourcing, one-click visa processing, and streamlined relocation management services.

LinkedIn has been developing a new tool to enable users to generate AI posts. LinkedIn’s AI update assistant prompts users to share ideas in the composer. It then provides suggestions for a ‘first draft’ of a post.

London-based Beamery has launched new features to help employers understand the skills required for any role. Named Dynamic Job Architecture, it tracks a company’s skills needs by comparing its hiring to external data, so managers can make more informed hiring decisions.

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Benjamin Salisbury - business journalist

Benjamin Salisbury is an experienced writer, editor and journalist who has worked for national newspapers, leading consumer websites like This Is Money and MoneySavingExpert.com, business analysts including Environment Analyst, AIM Group and written articles for professional bodies and financial companies. He covers news, personal finance, business, startups and property.

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