Magdalena Pawłowska

Hiring at a startup

How to hire the right people for the right jobs

Building a team and consciously sculpting company culture at a startup have one crucial thing in common – they are challenging. It is worth keeping in mind that the people we employ should help us achieve specific goals, positively impact the growth of our business, and slot right into the ‘team spirit’ we’ve been nurturing thus far. However, the onus is on us – the employers – to ensure the atmosphere is right and the projects and development opportunities are plentiful so that our people can really express themselves and flourish.

Recruitment is one of the most demanding processes for every young company. Why is that? Well, think about it this way: hiring the wrong person, particularly at the early stage when the organization is only a few people strong, will really impact its development moving forward. Additionally, startups often recruit under a lot of time pressure which often results in taking shortcuts and making many mistakes along that (shorter) way.

So, what rules should you follow in order for the recruitment process to actually enable you to hire the right person for the right job?

Treat hiring the same way you treat sales

Contrary to popular belief, these two areas have a lot in common and the rules governing sales can be successfully applied to recruitment. Market analysis, building buyer personas, adjusting the solution, offering the customer a specific value proposition supporting them in delivering their targets – these steps are equally important for sales and recruitment, so do not skip over them when you’re looking for a new employee.

Analysis is king

Analysis of our short- and long-term business goals and development plans should kick things off. Combined with identification of specific recruitment needs, this exercise will allow you to determine who are you really looking for at this particular juncture.

It’s very important to define the role this person will have within the company and determine their main tasks, which will feed into creating their desired employee profile consisting of:

  • the expected set of hard and soft competences,
  • area under their supervision,
  • their place within the larger structure, responsibilities, and scope of decision-making power,
  • appraisal rules and ways of assessing success,
  • resources indispensable to delivering set objectives,
  • operational budget,
  • salary budget.

Close second – build a candidate persona

Moving forward you’ll need to come up with a candidate persona. Apart from desired competences, it should also describe the personality, character traits, and values of the person we’re looking for. Ideally, these will add up to elevate that person from being merely an effective employee to one that is a perfect fit with the rest of the team. We should also take into account demographic data, culture, the generation our candidates are coming from, as well as all the relevant industry-specific issues.
A persona should also allow us to figure out the way in which they are looking for a job (or how to appeal to them when dealing with passive candidates) and how exactly are we going to reach them –  and then adapt the recruitment strategy accordingly.

Third – A Value Proposition

Top candidates do not reach their decisions based exclusively on remuneration, title, all that fresh-fruit-at-work malarkey or the claims of ‘good atmosphere’ being bandied about. In order to get their attention, have them start working with you, and then retain them at the company – you’ll need to offer them something extra.

Having defined the candidate persona in the previous step, you can move on to designing the Candidate / Employee Value Proposition. What do I mean by that? It’s all about the values ​​that build the employer's unique offer. Let’s not get this mixed up with various slogans, benefits talk or just bigging the company up; C/EVP should reflect what we genuinely believe in as a company and how is the team or the direct supervisor going to treat candidates once they become full-time employees.

In order to create a C/EVP:

  • You may refer to your company identity. Look into your mission, vision, values, ​​and aspirations. Always rely on the status quo, which describes the genuine, ‘as-is’ state of affairs.
  • Ask yourself 3 basic questions and contrast the answers with the candidate persona:
    1. Why should I join the company?
    2. What makes working for this company worthwhile?
    3. Why should I carry on working for this company?

Remember that a C/EVP can’t be confined to the realm of advertising – otherwise every candidate will learn what’s it really like during their first couple of months at the company. And trust me, the discrepancy between expectations and reality is one of the major buzzkills for employees.

And when a candidate makes it to the interview stage…

When assessing a candidate you should not limit yourself to checking whether they tick off all the ‘hard skill’ boxes. It is extremely important – during both the search stage and the actual hiring process – to genuinely look at the candidate from as many angles as possible. In doing so, we should ask ourselves some questions going to the very core of why are we hiring in the first place. Will their competences, experience, and a general attitude and outlook on life make them an effective addition to our team? Will they be able to quickly adapt to changes in an organization as agile as a startup? What motivates them and are we able to provide it? Will this person fit into how we work and spend time outside of work? Will they add diversity to the team? If you are satisfied with the answers to those questions, then it makes sense to ask that person for their references – often underestimated, they’re crucial when you want to verify a candidate.

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