Hiring is key to the success of any business, but it can especially critical for startups. Most founders appreciate the importance of making good hires; however, when a startup is scaling rapidly, process often gets left behind. In our experience, successful recruiting is a combination of process discipline and checks and balances. Here are three things every startup should implement in their recruiting process:
1. Really understand the candidate profile
The first thing to do is create a formal job description: what will the person do and what backgrounds are you are looking for. If you don’t take the time to define the job upfront, it’s going to be really hard to hire against a need.
Keep in mind that the job description will depend on the stage of your company. During the early stages, you are trying to hire athletes, not specialists. You should over-prioritize for smarts, work ethic, and ambition over experience. First hires should be like “swiss army knives,” able to take on multiple tasks at any stage and figure out how to solve problems. Your job description for hiring at this stage should focus on general capabilities.
At later stages, you start hiring for specialists. Now it is incredibly important to be very specific with the job description. For example, if you want to hire your first marketing person, it could be someone that is really good at demand generation marketing or somebody who is really good at product marketing. But those two require completely different backgrounds. It’s important to spend some time to really understand the required profile of a position and then you can better target your search and interview process.
And, no matter the stage, try to avoid cookie-cutter HR language in your descriptions. Instead, describe in plain English what the person is supposed to do, what success looks like, and what kind of background you’re looking for.
2. Hire an internal recruiter earlier than you think
Never wait for candidates to come to you; you need to actively build a pipeline. But too often with startups, there aren’t enough resources dedicated to that task.
We recommend to all of our portfolio companies to build up their in-house recruiting function as soon as they’re ready to hire at scale (usually after the A round). And while internal recruiters should do the bulk of the pipeline work, it makes sense to leverage external recruiters for VP-level positions and up. External recruiters are very expensive, but it’s usually a worthwhile investment for key hires.
3. Create checks and balances
Make sure you have a correcting function in the hiring process to protect against some common pitfalls. For examples, overloaded teams might be incentivized to hire as quickly as possible versus waiting for the best candidate. Or your interview teams might not have the deepest interviewing experience yet.
A “correcting function” could be a final interview with the CEO/founder. Or, when the company has scaled to the point where it would be impossible for the founder to meet with every candidate, you could implement a function like Amazon’s bar raiser program. Bar raisers are Amazon employees who are skilled evaluators and interview job candidates. They can veto any candidate, even for positions that are completely out of their area of expertise. This program helps the company make good hiring choices, since several diverse employees need to sign off on a candidate.
Remember that hiring is not luck; it’s a skill. You need to develop the right process to ensure success.