5 tips for recruiting in startups

by Brodie O'Carroll, Apr 15, 2019

Last week I was part of the "Lessons Learnt: Recruiting for startups" panel discussion hosted by the Office of the Queensland Chief Entrepreneur. The panel featured Sandra Kelly, head of People and Culture at Go1; Allan Morris, ex Penny Skateboards and CEO of Uppercut Deluxe; and Julia Poloai, head of Talent and Culture at Clipchamp.

The panel focused on values-driven recruitment, and choosing the right people for your business.

Company values-driven recruitment

Your company values will be the foundation of your recruitment efforts. They should be a few short, clear statements that describe the behaviours and traits your team should exhibit.

A team that shares a common set of values will work more productively and harmoniously toward shared goals. You can empower your team to become more invested in your values and mission by giving them ownership where possible. With an invested team, a strong culture will manifest itself.

This blog shares 5 key tips for recruiting as a startup.

1. Keep your job descriptions light

Advertisements on recruitment websites can result in an influx of applications, the majority of which will be unsuitable. Sifting through candidates can be extremely time consuming, and many businesses fall into the trap of making very specific job descriptions in an attempt to discourage unsuitable candidates from applying.

Unfortunately, overly specific job descriptions have an adverse effect, scaring away qualified candidates. Listing the specific skills a job requires can be discouraging for qualified candidates, who are unclear on the level of expected expertise, and often deem themselves unqualified without applying.

Rather, you should focus on the unique value proposition your business offers. Job advertisements are an opportunity to emotionally connect with potential candidates by getting them hyped up about your vision, your mission, and your values. You should describe the potential for the role and learning and development opportunities, but keep specifics open-ended. Passionate job descriptions entice passionate people.

2. Prioritise values over skills

Finding a candidate with an impressive list of skills and experience can be exciting; however, if an extremely qualified candidate does not align with your values, they are unlikely to become invested in your mission. They may perform at a suboptimal level, and leave when an opportunity they feel passionate about arises.

A candidate with less experience who is passionate about your vision and values has the potential to become an exceptional champion for your brand.

3. Identify gaps and recruit for them

Maybe you identify as a logic-minded, science-driven introvert, who wants to be part of improving how something works.

Maybe you're a people-focused extrovert, who is passionate about helping others.

We can't be experts at everything, and something that seems like common sense to us, may be completely uncharted territory for someone else. When recruiting for your team, it is crucial to identify the current skills you (or your team) have, and the skills you need to move your business forward to the next level.

Start by identifying the problems and blockers your team faces. Whatever they may be,  you should search for someone who can bridge this gap.

4. Don't take shortcuts

There will be times when you urgently need new employees, and instigating the full recruitment process may seem prohibitive. While you may be tempted to skip steps in your recruitment process, i.e. a values interview, Julia Poloai summarized the outcome you will likely face, "hire fast, suffer slow."

Sandra Kelly insisted that taking the time to go through the entire process is important; when you rush, you'll likely hire the wrong person, and this mistake will be more costly to your business than taking extra time to find the right person would be.

Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts when you are recruiting for your business. Invest the time now, or pay the price later.

5. Experiment. Observe. Iterate. Repeat.

Allan Morris compared hiring to dating. You meet with someone for an hour and a half, talk to their friends (check their references) to learn more about them, and maybe do a social media profile assessment. In a short period of time, you have to make a decision as to whether you want to commit to spending eight hours a day, five days a week with a person, for an unspecified but potentially long term business relationship.

The reality in recruiting for startups, as with everything else in business, is that you are going to make mistakes.

At Codebots, we think of everything we do as an experiment, from recruitment, to our way of working, to our culture. We hypothesise, we plan expected outcomes, we run an experiment, then we collect results and do pulse checks with our team that determine the experiment's success, and future action.

Things that work exceptionally well for some businesses might be complete disasters, or completely ineffective for others. The only way to find out what is best for you, is through trial and error of adjusted variables.

Your team will be your success, or your detriment. Choose wisely.

The first people that join your team are the first champions of your brand. They are people that have jumped on the roller coaster with you, because they believe in what you are doing, and they want to be part of the innovation.

"Idea stealing" is a common concern of many new founders when recruiting. Coming up with a good idea is a start, but your execution will determine your success. If you have early concerns about sharing your idea, focus on sharing your mission and vision instead.

Codebots' mission is to build better software, and our vision is a future where humans and bots work together. That tells you what we do and why, but not how we do it.

People who are engaged with your vision and invested in the execution are people who will play a crucial role in your idea's success. Some people will leave, and that's okay. Early employees that move on are potential champions for your external community. If retention is an ongoing struggle, you likely haven't found the right people for your internal community yet. Take a step back, identify patterns and refine your recruitment processes until you start building the team that can execute your dream.