Startups, Be Transparent When Hiring

Startups, Be Transparent When Hiring


With the level of competition for talent in today’s tech world, early stage companies must work hard to attract the talent critical to their success. Companies put hundreds of hours into hiring, spending thousands of dollars to attract and retain the right people, with good reason; the right hires make a direct impact on a company’s success and growth. But all of this time, effort and money may be spent in vain if companies are not honest with the candidates they hire about work, expectations and the company’s state of affairs. Understandably, companies want to paint an attractive picture for talented candidates because, well, they want to attract them. But as important as attracting candidates is, being transparent with them is key.

It Creates The Right Expectations

Working for startup companies is difficult enough as it is. Working for one without clear expectations, cloudy roadmaps and unknown or unanticipated structural issues can be a recipe for failure. It’s understandable that a company would want to make the right impression in an effort to attract top candidates, but expectations are powerful and setting the wrong ones early on can result in a difficult onboarding, a poor work experience and a shorter tenure for employees. Be clear and accurate when describing to potential employees the state of company affairs and expectations for performance.

It Attracts People Who Can Handle It

An accurate picture of the work, expectations for employees and a clear view of the company’s state of affairs may indeed scare off some of your potential hires. To that, I say, good. Employees who can’t handle the realities of your company and flee from accountability are the last thing any early stage venture needs. Anyone worth hiring should know going in that startups are no picnic. The flip side to this is painting a rosy, less than accurate picture of things, and anyone worth hiring should know better.

It Opens The Door For Improvement

Setting clear expectations and being open and upfront when hiring can actually help to address issues and problems you are facing. Issues cannot be addressed unless they are known and acknowledged. Being upfront with candidates can result in finding great hires who may know how to navigate issues, and can even help address and overcome obstacles.

It can be uncomfortable for founders and managers to set clear expectations for candidates for fear of losing out on good people. But in the long run, a transparent approach to hiring will yield happier, more prepared and more productive hires.

It’s Not Always The Best You Need

It’s Not Always The Best You Need


Let start right off the bat by saying, Yes, you do need good people. What you, your company and most other startups out there do not need is the very best people. Most founders know this idea to be true, but can fall into the trap of trying to hire as if it’s false. You interview one person who sounds good, followed by another who is slightly different but also a good fit. You do that enough times, and you start raising your standards too high. Looking for the best can turn into a slippery slope of raising the bar, setting too high of standards and trying for more than your need. This is not always the case, but if so, it is not difficult to get out of this mindset. Because really, what is ‘The Best?’

The Best is Unrealistic
Of the tens of thousands of tech startups in operation right now, the reality is that only a few end up with what we consider the best tech talent. This does not mean that you shouldn’t aim for A-players, but looking for perfection early on can lead you down a bitter, lonely and employee-less road. Realism is crucial for startups, especially when it comes to getting talent.

The Best is Picky
Ok, they aren’t necessarily picky; they can just afford to be. When you have that kind of experience, expertise and caliber of skill, you also have the attention of every Tom, Dick and Harry (startup, tech company and recruiter, I guess). Naturally, top talent gets to pick from a very large pile, of which your company is an option out of thousands. So even if your company is great, if you’re not the most interesting, you’re going to have to pay for it.

The Best is Expensive
The cream of the crop, the top of the top and the best of the best come with a price tag, one with which they can find a job within 5 minutes. It’s a simple supply-demand equation that most bootstrapped startup have difficulty overcoming. In reality, the most well-funded and interesting startups and tech companies can nab the elite of the industry. They can afford this mindset, but many cannot.

The Best is Unnecessary
You may be thinking, ‘Well, we will just have to allocate a higher budget towards our employees then.’ Touche, perhaps, but the truth is that, for most startup organizations, the best of the best is simply more than they need. There are too many articles and blog posts out there shouting how if you don’t get the absolute best people, your company will either get set back two years or crash and burn at the earliest inconvenience. Such is more inexperienced recruiter sales pitch and less startup reality. Yes, you still need good people, but more importantly, you need the right people and team.

The Best is Not Always The Right
Cultural fit is the most important aspect of your hires. For a phrase like that to be borderline cliche, and let’s be honest in that it already is, you know that its truth rings loud and clear. What you never hear is a founder or manager saying ‘We need the very best person, even if our entire team hates them.’ The point being, just because a candidate is great at what they do, does not mean they are great for what your team does.

The Best is a Distraction
The time you spent looking for the unattainable, unaffordable, unnecessary or unconformable could have been spent looking for the right people at a lower cost using the right, albeit still high, standards. Look for employees with startup or small business experience, ambition, motivation, integrity and the skills and knowledge that you need right now. Find like minded people with similar passions and a belief in your vision. And don’t worry if they aren’t the ultimate rock stars of their profession.

You don’t need the best people. You just need really good people.

Craft Company Narratives, Not Job Descriptions

Craft Company Narratives, Not Job Descriptions


“Hello Dan. I wanted to reach out regarding an opportunity for a senior web analyst position in your area. This person needs to have experience with Google Analytics as well as MySQL and SAS, and a strong understanding of SEO and Paid Search initiatives to drive leads and customer acquisition. The company is a small SaaS startup, and needs someone who is a self starter with an entrepreneurial mindset and passion. Can you tell me more about yourself and your experience?”

Well, thank you. You sound like the other 5 recruiters that called me this week looking for the same thing, describing skill sets and needs about which you have little understanding. Not to mention you have almost no detail regarding the company, what they do, how they’re growing, what the team does, and so on. You then proceed to send me a “more detailed” job description, which essentially regurgitates the bland information presented to me on the phone. In most cases, after probing further about the company and the situation, I am left with little pertinent information

Now consider if I had been approached with the following conversation:

“Hello Dan. I am reaching out regarding an opportunity with an early stage company in the media space. The company is a 2 year old VC-funded team of 15 led by two successful founders with backgrounds in enterprise software. They currently have a product coming out of beta testing and are 6 months into a strong push towards user acquisition while continuing to improve the product. They have established a few partnerships for lead generation with modest success, and are engaged in paid advertising, but have struggled to drive the volume needed. They have reached a level of growth that requires a person with experience in customer acquisition using a data-focused marketing approach to step in and direct their efforts. Does this sound like an opportunity that aligns with your background and your career goals?”

Umm, yes please. Let me tell you about my experience working with small companies to drive lead acquisition through digital channels, or about the several cases in which I consulted with early stage startups to define their web analytics strategy, measure performance and identify opportunities to alter experiences and messaging that resulted in lead increases. Let me tell you how those experiences would align with your needs to help your company move forward.

What’s the difference? As evidenced by the first example, most recruiters hand me a job description with a laundry list of skill sets and requirements for years of experience, while expecting me to tell them a story that verifies all boxes in that checklist are met; all before I really know anything about what I’m getting into. The latter example tells a story. It paints a picture of reality, offering a near tangible look into what a job with this company would require, and whether I would have an interest.

When hiring, good recruiters and hiring managers stop giving job descriptions, and start crafting company narratives.

The typical job description simply gets lost in a massive ocean of open positions. So you need a software engineer? That’s cool, who doesn’t? And that’s what it looks like. Furthermore, presenting a laundry list of skill sets, required experiences and generic responsibilities does little to inform me of the life of the job, nor the company that would employ me. It does, however, give me a checklist that I could easily use to eliminate myself from consideration, even if I am the right person for their needs.

Deviating from the job description in pursuit of a crafted narrative does several things, the first of which is delivering a unique experience. Most startups will tell you that a significant challenge in hiring early on is the lack of brand reach and its impact on attracting talent. Telling the story of the company, team and role delivers a unique experience to the potential candidate, making the role relatable to actual experience. It conveys the excitement of entrepreneurship, growth and innovation, which will be unique to each and every company. Best of all, company narratives allow your candidates to place themselves within the story and invest emotionally in the idea of being a part of it.

Job descriptions present boxes to check off regarding a generic experience. Narratives allow us to insert ourselves in a company’s story and share in that dream of success. And for an early stage company, hiring dreamers is a must.

Hire Great Candidates Faster; Here’s How

Hire Great Candidates Faster; Here’s How


The dynamic of the hiring relationship between companies and candidates is shifting. Unemployment is down, wages are increasing, the tech industry continues to grow and more talent is opting to start a company rather than join one. So when a great candidate comes across your desk, acting with speed to qualify, interview and hire them is more critical than ever. With offers coming from every which way, keeping candidates engaged is difficult; something that can be improved with a more timely process. This presents many challenges to companies, where the norm has been widespread sourcing, longer interview processes and lengthier negotiations. Optimizing these processes while maintaining the quality of hires is an undertaking, but not impossible. Below are several ways to increase your hiring speed and keep candidates engaged while maintaining talent standards.

Prioritize Hiring

Every company worth their weight in gold places talent acquisition as one the the highest priorities. Make it higher. For early stage companies, every hire is critical and has a make or break impact. So cancel meetings, adjust your schedule and push everything else aside when great candidates come across your desk. Talent might understand that you are busy, but that doesn’t mean they will wait around or ignore other opportunities.

Focus On What You Really Need

Laundry lists of skills and requirements can kill your hiring process, much less prolong it. Narrow down your requirements to the core, put all of your focus on those needs, and leave everything else alone. Sure, there are nice-to-have resume items, but if your candidates are the right caliber of talent for your company, chances are they can handle acquiring additional skill sets. This not only helps with the speed of your process, but will lessen the chance of alienating quality people that otherwise might have passed.

Engage Quickly

There’s no secret sauce to this one. The faster you engage candidates, the sooner the process can begin. A quick response can also decrease your candidate drop off rate, keeping more people in the process from the start.

Be Responsive

Nothing speeds up the process like being on the ball with communications. This is a simple fix as well, and logically pretty straightforward, but of course easier said than done. Yet ask any professional recruiter with a successful track record, and they will tell you that timely communications, even if just to say ‘message received, will respond soon’, is not only critical to keeping relationships moving but to keeping communications fresh and process moving.

Get the Team Engaged Early

Culture and team fit should carry a lot of weight when hiring, so it makes sense to get good candidates in front of your team quickly and early on. Should they not mesh well with the team, then you can end the process quickly. On the other hand, if there is cohesion between your team and candidates, then you will have strong signals early on.

Be Transparent

People are smart enough to know when they are being strung along, especially when it comes to interviewing. Keep candidates informed about what’s going on, where they stand in the hiring process and what you need from them to move forward.

Give a Real Offer Sooner

Lengthy compensation negotiations can kill a deal more easily today. On top of being a frustration for some candidates (though not all),  lengthy negotiations also allow candidates to continue other conversations, giving them time to negotiate with others as well. This is not to say that you should throw realism to the wind. But the lower you start from the end figure, the longer the road to get there, leaving the window open for other factors to come into play.

When it comes to recruiting and hiring, we simply cannot overstate the importance of moving quickly. In our history as a search firm, we have seen perfect matches break down simply because things were moving too slow. Whether another offer came to the table, a better position opened up elsewhere or candidates simply lost interest, time too often kills deals.

Don’t Hire Top Talent; Build A Top Team

Don’t Hire Top Talent; Build A Top Team


Too much thought and focus goes towards finding cream of the crop talent in the high-tech industry. Tech startups need passionate and skilled people on their teams, yes, but many companies take this notion too far, passing over talented individuals in their pursuit for the perfect people. Perfect people don’t exist. Near perfect professionals are hard to find, expensive, generally employed and receive job offers on a regular basis. Passionate, skilled and capable talent is easier found, more affordable and eager to join the right team. And in reality, the team built from the latter group can take your company far if you target the right people.

The Full Stack Rockstar Is No More

No, I don’t mean that LAMP professionals are extinct, but rather that LAMP is no longer the full stack. Getting tech to an MVP level in today’s landscape requires more disciplines than one professional can learn and master. Furthermore, I can’t think of a company in today’s tech world that has built a product with a team of one. To develop products in a reasonable timeframe, companies require a team of people collaborating and working together in a cohesive unit. For this reason, building the right team means building the right culture, which should take priority over acquiring a singular talent resource.

A Team Of 10 Produces More Than 10 People

Finding people who can do the work is easy. The real challenge is finding the right people for your team, culture and company. Overcoming that challenge pays huge dividends for a startup, and most successful companies know this. Evidence supporting the idea that happier employees are more productive is overwhelming. A significant part of that equation is building a team of people who work together well and enjoy each other in close quarters. This makes the cultural analysis a more important component of the hiring process than other aspects. In a well-thought-out team, per employee output should be a multiple of what a single employee could accomplish alone. A dysfunctional team, on the other hand, leads to fractional per employee output.

Focus On The Team Puts Focus On Hiring For The Right Things

When hiring objectives shift from finding the best in the industry to finding the best for your team, companies begin looking for traits more valuable than just accomplishments and skill sets. Qualities like passion, integrity, wisdom and creativity become a higher priority, all of which are difficult if not impossible to teach or train, but necessary and invaluable. Technologies, languages and industries can be taught and learned, but character and aptitude are almost always constants.
There is no question that top industry talent is a scarce commodity and something worth capturing. But should your company have the opportunity to hire industry leading talent, make sure they fit your team, culture and company first. To start building your team the right way, get in touch with us today!

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