How to recruit for a startup

When you first start to hire employees, you may feel like you’ve finally made it. Your startup is getting off to a great start, and now you’re ready to fill out your team with talented employees. The people whom you choose to hire can have a major impact on the ultimate success of your business. As Steve Jobs once famously said, “When you’re in a startup, the first 10 people will determine whether the company succeeds or not.”

That might seem like a lot of pressure. After all, you’ll have to sift through countless resumes as you try to determine who would be the best fit for your company. Don’t panic, though. A focused recruitment strategy can be a huge first step in making sure you don’t offer a job to anyone who isn’t perfect for your team. Here are five tips to help you find the people who are going to take your company to the next level.

Culture comes first

A person can have university degrees coming out of their ears, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be a good fit for your company. Hard skills are important, but most managers and experienced entrepreneurs will tell you that personality is even more so. It is a person’s outlook and soft skills that determine whether he or she will help your company or cause unhealthy conflicts.

Hiring someone who fits in your company culture requires that you are able to define that culture. Here are some aspects of a winning company culture:

  • Open communication. You want people who can respect others’ opinions and who feel comfortable expressing their own ideas. At the same time, the person should be humble enough to accept honest feedback.
  • Flexibility. In a startup, your team members may at times be called upon to do a job that they didn’t sign up for.
  • Caring. This might sound a bit mushy, but having empathetic team members can go a long way toward making sure your company functions well as a whole.
  • Shared values and mission. What is your company’s goal, and what values does it stand on? When you can clearly define these things, you’ll be better able to judge whether a candidate will move your business forward or unwittingly hold it back.

It’s difficult to tell from a piece of paper whether someone will fit in with your company’s culture. The interview is the time to consider this. Try to make the atmosphere relaxed, so you can get a real feel for the candidate’s conduct.

Factor in the characteristics of partners

What are you good at? Which of your skills could use some improvement? Before you decide whom to hire, make an honest evaluation of yourself and your business partners. Strive to hire people who will offset your deficiencies and who would not duplicate the skills that you already have in abundance.

Don’t feel intimidated by people who have expertise in an area where you have none. They could present you with the perfect opportunity to learn and grow, so seriously consider how they might add value to your startup. Learn from the example of Sara Blakely, founder of the Spanx clothing company. She is well-known for her eagerness to hire for one’s blind spots. She once told Richard Branson, “the smartest thing I ever did in the early going was to hire my weaknesses.”

If you have limited experience, you might not yet have a good idea of what your strengths and weaknesses are. Answering some of these questions about yourself might reveal quite a lot:

  • Am I detail-oriented, or do I tend to look at the big picture?
  • Am I well-organized?
  • How am I about following through on projects I start?
  • What hard skills do I lack that my business might be able to benefit from?
  • Am I a creative problem solver, or do I need someone on my side who will encourage me to think outside of the box?

Create custom roles

Conventional corporate roles might not be the best for your business. Don’t let yourself be shackled by traditional job descriptions. When you box yourself in with someone else’s idea of how a business should be organized, you limit your startup’s potential.

For example, you might forgo having a full-time, in-house sales agent. Might a direct sales approach, with a team of independent business owners underneath you, be better? You can mix things up in other ways, as well. A graphic designer with a flair for writing might be a huge help to your marketing efforts.

When you’re viewing resumes, consider how each candidate’s skills might make him or her a fit for a unique role within your business. Don’t be afraid to utilize all of a person’s skills instead of just a few.

Think down the line

What does your business plan have you doing one year from now? Five years from now? Ten years from now? Always take your goals into account when you’re hiring. Hire people who could run your future company.

To keep your talented team for your future success, you need to have a plan in place to retain these hard-to-find individuals. These days, employees want more than good pay, although that certainly matters. Here are some other forms of compensation that can attract and keep good workers:

  • Opportunities for learning and advancement. No one wants to feel trapped in a career that has grown stagnant. Create goals for your employees and help them to reach those goals.
  • Benefits. Small companies aren’t required by law to offer health insurance, but is that something you can afford not to offer your valuable employees in the long term? Think about other benefits, too, such as a retirement plan and dental coverage. Because benefits can be expensive, it’s best to shop around at a range of benefits providers.
  • Perks. Perks are added touches that make your employees happy. Depending on the demographics of your employees, they might fall head over heels for items like these:
    • Flexible hours and the opportunity to occasionally work at home
    • Casual dress days
    • Free food and coffee
    • Social gatherings
    • Small prizes and rewards for a job well done

If you’re at a loss for what to offer, look to companies like Google and Yahoo; they’re famous for offering stellar perks to employees. You might not be able to afford some of the things they give to their workers, but it’s possible that you could offer similar perks and benefits on a smaller scale.

Get a little help from your friends

Sure, you can post ads in every corner of the internet, and you can even resort to newspapers and other printed means to spread the word about your open positions, but the best place to look for talent is often a little closer to you. Use your business network to recruit new team members. Your friends and colleagues know your personality, and they know your goals; they are better equipped to recommend people than a generic staffing agency.

If your network is looking a little lean these days, take the time to beef it up. You might not establish a lot of connections before your first round of hiring, but you’ll be glad you took the time to network as your company grows and you hire more people. Here are some ways to build your network:

  • Attend conferences and social gatherings, especially if you know that leaders in your industry will be attending.
  • Make use of social media, particularly sites like LinkedIn that are geared toward professionals.
  • Put yourself out there. Write guest blog posts for other companies, be liberal in handing out your business cards, and practice the art of casual conversation when you’re in a professional environment. You might be surprised by whom you meet!
  • Keep in touch with the connections you make. An occasional email or business lunch can keep connections alive and strong.

When it comes to how to hire for your startup, there are many things you need to consider before you send out your first offer letters. You need to define your company culture, evaluate yourself, create an organizational structure that allows for custom roles, think about the future, and know where to look for candidates.

Every business may suffer from its share of less-than-ideal employees, but when you’re careful about the hiring process, you’re more likely to pick just the right people.

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