Growth

Building a great team: Six tips for recruiting talent into your startup

Ben Sharp /

People, let’s talk about people!

If there’s one thing I’m passionate about more than anything else, it’s building great teams. And this doesn’t happen by accident. It’s the people you attract and retain, irrespective of the size for your startup, that will give you the best chance of success. However, in an early-stage startup, it’s your first couple of hires that will set the foundation, influencing how well you execute against your business plan.

Recruiting people is hard. Really hard. But it’s really worth investing the time and effort into how you’re going to attract and retain staff.

The following steps should help you set up your recruitment process and make this less of a daunting task.

Clearly articulate your values, vision and culture

You’ve launched your startup because you know a lot about the industry. You have a passion for solving an important problem and you see a great opportunity to build a successful startup around this. You have a purpose!  Use this as a recruitment tool.

We all love being connected to something that has meaning and this is the first step to think about when recruiting. Investors and clients want to hear the passion and focus for your startup, but potential candidates love this even more. It’s what will motivate them to leave their current job and get excited about helping you build your startup.

The best places I’ve worked have been clear about what their values were and how this was connected to their vision. These have a direct influence on the culture of a startup, and should be something easy to explain that also motivates you to jump out of bed and rush to your desk each morning. It’s infectious, and will not only help attract great talent but also keep them with you for years.

Have a job description

Everyone needs clear direction at work and this should be centred around what the job actually is. Building a job description will help both your future hire, but more importantly, help you identify what skill gaps your attempting to solve for.

Start off by describing the job, what tasks you would like someone to do, how important these are and what the expectations are for someone in this role. Clearly outline the background, experience and skills you’re looking for and the value they’ll help deliver.

Start your job description by selling your business — mention both your purpose and values, and also the exciting growth challenges the successful candidate will be solving with you and the rest of your awesome team.

Spread the word, everywhere

This is where you really need to use your best networking, marketing and sales skills.

I’ve always found my network is the absolute best source of talent for any role I’ve been attempting to fill.

Having been to a number of startup pitch nights over the past couple of years, I’ve also found these to be great places to meet talent. It makes sense — if someone’s interested in getting involved in a startup there’s every chance they’re hanging out in the same places as startup founders.

Using your social channels is equally important. Once you’re starting to promote your business, use LinkedIn and Facebook to let your connections know about the role you’re recruiting for.

Advertising might also be something to consider. But if you do this, ensure it’s targeted to the right audience. Use the trade websites in your industry. Look up university careers websites if you’re looking for a graduate. You can also use Seek, but ensure your ad is highly targeted and clearly describes exactly what you’re looking for to avoid being overwhelmed with applications.

Interview best practice

Interviews can be difficult for everyone. As the interviewer, being prepared can ensure you get the most out of your interview time and allow you to compare different candidates you meet. Here is my advice for best practice interviewing.

  • When you first speak to a candidate to organise an interview, try and get an understanding of their salary expectations to make sure it aligns with what you have planned and what you can afford to pay. It’ll save you a lot of time and frustration later in the process.
  • Clearly outline for the candidate in advance the time, location and length of the interview — and always stick to the allotted time.
  • Make sure you’ve done your research on the candidate before they turn up. Read their CV, application and check them out on LinkedIn.
  • When you first meet a candidate, pleasantly introduce yourself, your business and how you like to conduct the interview. This will confirm you’ll be meeting for the agreed time and you hope it’ll be a conversation rather than an interrogation.
  • Have a standard set of questions for all interviews. These should be designed to allow you to understand the great qualities, experience and motivation your candidate possesses. Forget the ‘trick’ questions. Your questions should allow a conversation and allow you to investigate the functional, industry and cognitive abilities of everyone you meet. I do have a ‘go-to’ question that I ask every candidate I meet with (especially for sales roles), and it’s the answer to this question that gives me an insight into their skill and natural understanding of the sales process.
  • Allow time for your candidate to ask questions. It’s often the quality of their questions and the way they engage you in a conversation that tells you a lot about how well you’ll work together.
  • When you conclude the interview, explain what your timing and plan is in terms of follow-up.

Closing your candidate

You’ve interviewed a bunch of candidates and have chosen someone that is ideal.

This is my absolute favourite thing to do at work. I love offering roles to new hires as it’s the first step in building a great working relationship and sharing the excitement of someone joining your team.

When doing the ‘offer call’, there’s a couple of things I suggest.

  • Ask them for feedback on the interview process and ask whether they’re excited to join your business.
  • Explain the values and culture of the business you’re building and why you believe they’ll make a great addition to your team.
  • Reconfirm what the role is, the job title and expectations.
  • Clearly explain the salary and compensation package in terms of annual base salary, superannuation, and any bonus, commission or equity allocation that will be also included. If you have other benefits that you’ll be offering to your staff, also explain what they are and how they’re included.
  • Have a contract and offer letter ready to send so you can email it to your candidate as soon as possible after your call.
  • If you need to negotiate, do this carefully. You should already understand the salary expectations of your candidate from the conversation you had at the start of the process. If you need to negotiate, ask your candidate for some consideration time and what adjustment you would need to make to ensure they accept your role.

Your new recruit’s first day on the job

Having invested all this time and effort into finding your ideal candidate you want to set a great first impression. There are too many stories of candidates leaving roles in their first couple of months which causes disruption for everyone.

Here’s a checklist of what you can do to give your new staff member a great introduction and onboarding experience — which actually starts well before their first day!

  • Introduce them to your team via email, and hopefully in person, once you’ve received their signed contract, explaining what role they’ll be doing and when they’ll be starting.
  • Confirm what date they’ll be starting, what time you want them to turn up on day one, and what they can expect to be doing on their first day. Build their onboarding and training schedule and share it with everyone.
  • Ask them in advance what laptop or computer they’d like to use if you have different options available and have this setup and ready to go when they arrive.
  • On the first morning, introduce your new candidate to your team. I like to do this as a welcome breakfast or lunch so everyone gets a chance to know each other in more of a social setting.
  • If you haven’t done it already, this is a great time to discuss your working styles, how you like to manage staff, set expectations and what regular weekly meetings you’ll have to check-in on work performance and progress. This is your opportunity to set the platform for how you’ll work and build your business together.

NOW READ: Cash is your oxygen: A guide to funding your early-stage startup

NOW READ: My favourite startups (or should I say children)

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Ben Sharp

Ben, or Sharpie as he's typically referred to, has extensive experience in starting, scaling and managing disruptive Australian technology businesses. He co-founded digital publisher Allure Media, launched ad technology platform AdRoll into Australia, currently works as head of revenue and operations at Pureprofile, and has invested into a range of Australian technology businesses, including Conversant Media, Audience Republic, Brandollo and First Rung.

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