Start-up hiring for dummies: how to build a team

Start-up hiring for dummies: how to build a team

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Decide what you need, sell everything about where you work, choose where to advertise and remember the five commandments of hiring for a startup displayed at the end of this article.

So, you’ve moved from consultancy to a start up. You’ve ditched the suit, cut up your tie and invested heavily in t-shirts and sandals. Things are going well, 9 months pass and suddenly it’s time to build out your own team. Pretty daunting right? This is the MOST important part of growing your business. Bringing in multiple people makes a considerable change from consultancy, where you might have been managing a structured group of high performers. Where do you start?

Decide what you need

Roles in start-ups can be incredibly flexible, and often I get asked by hiring managers where I think they should hire. In reality, they already know, because they’ve just told me. What you need is a clear idea of what needs to be done and what skills or experiences are needed for success. The clearer you are able to be on this from the start the easier (and quicker) your hiring process will be. If you’re stuck at two profiles and think either could work; keep an open mind and double the size of the pool you’re looking for. Ultimately, start-up hires depend quite a lot on cultural fit.

Sell EVERYTHING about where you work

You’re probably pretty awesome, right? Tell people.  Tell them about your background and help them understand who they will be working with. Love the ownership you get in your role and think the learning environment rocks? Put it in the job description! Equally, good marketing is being able to say the thing the other side can’t.  Have a think about what’s really different from your last role and the bits you really love now. The more you can flesh out what your team, mission and progression look like the more top candidates will engage.

Where to play

Frankly, if you turn all the sourcing taps on at once you won’t be able to handle the volume. You work in a start-up, which is an unbelievably hot industry for (ex)consultants. 43% of the Movemeon community are looking for growth stage start-up opportunities; so clearly demand is vast. In addition, you have a day job to crack on with and things are in all likelihood very busy if you are looking to hire.

At this point I suggest you play smart:

  1. Low hanging fruit
    There is a reasonable chance that someone in your network knows the right person for your opportunity, so reach out to them. Make sure no one in your team (or former team) can do the job and see if anyone in your network can make a recommendation. I would give this about a week to see if there is any low hanging & cost effective fruit you can tuck into.
  2. Escalation
    Sadly, sometimes the answer isn’t sitting right there in front of you. Now comes the time to get some help. I think of this as the most dangerous time for a recruitment process, there is a thin line between turning on the tap and smashing the faucet and drowning the hiring team. If you’re doing the recruiting this is a nightmare; if you’re not it’s a disaster as your team can be incapacitated and good applicants can be lost in your flooded basement (I promise I’ll stop with the analogy now).
    The answer to this is staggered timing. By turning on taps one by one you create a more manageable flow and you give yourself time to evaluate the strength of each source. Being able to take a more considered approach means you can stop using (and avoid in future) avenues that aren’t producing and you can put watertight candidate processes in place (okay I’m actually stopping now).

How do you decide how to stagger external help? The key to a successful search is engaging several of the ‘right’ applicants; things can easily go wrong when you only have one person you like in your pipeline. Movemeon is built around engagement, and born out of frustration, so its very design centers on an enjoyable and engaging candidate experience. As such, the best candidates are already on the site actively searching and you aren’t relying on an agency to chase people in a limited network and sell them one of them on the role. Cheaper tech-enabled options, like Movemeon, can actually be quicker than traditional search so there is an additional twin benefit to exploring this option first (Movemeon looks to provide a first shortlist in two weeks whereas some search companies can take over two months). If you don’t have initial success with a tap and you’ve given it two or three weeks there’s no harm on turning on the next source, but managing flow is a must.

The Five Commandments

Not one to ever miss a chance to cast myself as a biblical figure I think the above can be boiled down to 5 take homes (I’ve spent a while trying to work ‘set in stone’ into this but it’s just too much (Ed. Agreed!)).

  1. Spend time up front working out what the role is and what a good candidate will have to display.
  2. Work out how to market it (not describe it).
  3. Start with your network.
  4. Know its limitations; prioritise based on the most effective ways to reach the type of candidates you want to hear from.
  5. Don’t go out to too many channels at once!


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