How to hire the right people and boss recruitment

Rhiannon Jones
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A team of tech startup employees sit around a desk

23% of startups fail because the team of employees didn’t have the skills to meet expectations. Building a successful startup is tough enough without being hamstrung by a team that can’t execute (or challenge) your vision. Recruitment is essential. But young companies have to compete with larger tech companies and other startups for talent. So, how do you approach recruitment in the right way?

We talked to our People Operations Lead, Sofie Bull, about the essentials of startup recruitment – from start to finish.

Before you start

Is recruitment different for a startup than for an established company?

“It is completely different. One thing in particular changes the entire process – brand recognition. In an established company, the good candidates still need to sell themselves in the hope of being invited for an interview.

In a startup, it’s almost the opposite way around – the company is selling their vision, culture and potential to the candidate.

Another big difference is the length of the recruitment process. At an established company, there’s normally more hierarchy and therefore a lot of people who need to sign-off on a hire.

In a startup, there’s room to move more quickly. Our fastest hire was one day! That doesn’t mean everything moves that quickly, but fewer layers normally means fewer interviews.”

Should you profile all company positions or hire on an ad hoc basis?

“I would recommend starting to nurture relationships with potential candidates for positions you think your company will need soon. But actually preparing job profiles, job adverts, etc. should not be a priority if it holds you back.

Things change quickly in a startup and a need for a sales role with a B2B focus, for example, could be quickly turned into a role with B2C focus.

Or you might think you need a lot of DevOps employees in the future. But then your product changes, so you don’t need that many servers anymore.

However, I would definitely recommend that you start thinking about the positions you need in the future. If you think you will need a senior python developer in 1-3 months, you should have time for a long and thorough internal discussion about your mid-level python developers before you start looking for an external candidate.”

How important is the careers section of a website?

The career page is vital, especially for a young company. This is where you showcase your culture – all the reasons why someone would want to join your company. Importantly for startups, it is free, unlike commercials on Facebook, Instagram, etc. (as long as you have someone in-house to design it).

If your career site is terrible and can’t be changed soon, I would recommend closing it and using Instagram or LinkedIn instead – make a great profile and refer to that when you post jobs.”

Screenshot of 90s-style, very basic website.

If your website looks a bit like this, maybe you should direct your candidates to your Instagram page instead…

The actual process

The interview: what are your suggestions?

“That is a huge subject – it could take up several books. One thing I really recommend is making sure to structure your interviews, whatever stage of growth you’re at. Have an objective interview process, rather than going with your gut feeling. And make sure that candidates are asked at least some of the same questions.

A great website for interview inspiration is resources.workable.com/interview-questions – I use this a lot.”

Which qualities are more important for hires than in an established company?

“This will, of course, change from company to company but I think flexibility is very important. For example, if you are the third person to join the company and, even though your core skill is accounting, there might not be someone to take care of investor reporting – so the task will end up at your desk. Your flexibility will decide whether you can live with this kind of work or not.

Besides that, you probably need risk takers. Not all companies are well-funded when they start (in fact, most are not) so a new joiner needs to be aware that this job might not be forever.”

A paraglider soaring above the Italian Alps.

You will probably need to hire candidates who are willing to take risks.

Is skillset or personality more important?

“Skills vs. personality is definitely a question of balance, especially in a young company. You don’t want someone too set in their ways because things can change quickly in the first couple of years.

But, on the other hand, the company might not have the resources to train someone who has a great attitude but not the skills required.

I think you need to be slightly larger to be able to hire someone based on their potential. You need to have resources (people/money) as well as a clear vision about future needs before hiring someone based on potential can add value to your company.”

At the end of the day

How do you approach compensation packages?

“I think it’s important to look at the business you are in as well as the country or even city you’re working in. If the majority of your employees are used to having stock options at their former jobs, you might want to consider a stock option program.

If you are in a country with certain rules and regulations, you need to take that into account too. For example, in Denmark, we have Funktionærloven, which means that all of our full-time employees are entitled to 25 days of vacation.

In addition, there can be expectations based on culture. In Ukraine, for example, we didn’t know when we opened an office there that a company (especially in the IT community) is expected to have at least one getaway with family each year.

These kinds of benefits & perks need to be taken into account when deciding on a compensation package. As always: do your research!”

Lastly, what would your advice be for a startup without an HR department who needed to make some hires?

“Buy the cheap LinkedIn recruiter tool for you to be able to reach out to relevant candidates during the recruitment process, and be sure to think about where you post the job advert. Using services like Jobindex or Glassdoor might be tempting, but if all the best candidates for your position are on niche websites, it won’t help you.

And, to repeat myself, make sure to structure your recruitment process. You might not have a fancy recruitment system but that doesn’t mean that you can’t prepare rejection templates, email folders, etc. to keep track on your applicants. Your brand is important to you. A candidate could easily be a customer in the future so treat them well.”


Do you have questions we haven’t covered? Or maybe you disagree with some of our advice? Get in touch below and let us know.

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