Mining your LinkedIn for potential hires

As an early-stage startup, filling your hiring funnel is your single hardest task. The solution might be closer than you think.

Prepare to spend some quality time with LinkedIn and some spreadsheets — this is going to be fun!

Throughout your career, you’ve probably met a lot of incredibly talented people — co-workers, partners, service providers, freelancers, people you interviewed for jobs but who somehow didn’t work out. Hopefully you had the foresight to add them on LinkedIn at the time — because that’s where we’re going to be looking for them.

The magic ingredient to digging into your network is LinkedIn search. For example, I recently helped one of our portfolio companies figuring out how to fill the funnel for a Sr Product Manager role.

Step 1: Mine your network

LinkedIn’s People Search is your friend here. Do a search for people, for a keyword that’s relevant to the role you’re hiring for. “Product” would make sense for product managers, “Engineer” or “developer” or “software” for engineering, etc. You get the picture.

Filter the results down to only your 1st degree connections, world-wide:

Everyone in my 1st-degree network with ‘product’ in their job title

Copy each of the candidates to a spreadsheet (Google Sheets is great here; it’ll become clear why in just a moment) — you can even use a tool like LinkedIn Search Export to automate that step further. From there, add any notes about how you know them, whether you’ve worked with them before, and a priority score. 10 for the perfect person, 1 for ‘oh god, I’d rather shut down this company than work with this asshole for a single second’.

The second search is to filter your results down to 2nd degree connections only, and restrict the search to a more local area. Do the same thing again; put all the promising and ‘maybe’ candidates into the spreadsheet. Take a note of to who your 1st degree connections are (i.e. the people you have in common).

A 2nd-degree search constrained to location is a powerful way of tapping your friends-of-friends network. How effective this is depends on how well curated your list of LinkedIn connections is: If you have 10,000+ connections that you barely remember, these searches are going to be extraordinarily noisy.
No need to over-think things for the spreadsheet — just collect the information you need in order to get to the next step.

Once you have your spreadsheet, figure out who you need introductions from, and prepare an email to these people. Something like this works great:

“Hey Charles, good to see you at the party the other day, how’s life at BigCo? I see you know Maria Terburg; she seems like she might be a good match for the senior product manager role we are hiring for at NewCo. Here’s the job listing: [link]. Have you worked with Maria? Do you think she’d be a good match? Also, can you think of anybody else who springs to mind who might be a good fit with NewCo? Any help would be greatly appreciated.”

This accomplishes two things: You get the intros you want, but you also tap into your deeper second-degree networks; who knows, perhaps the perfect hire is someone who didn’t turn up in your search.

Step 2: Mine your company’s network

Send your coworkers the link to this article, and ask them to do the same thing you just did; Dig into their 1st and 2nd degree networks, and put all the leads into the same spreadsheet. Remember to ask them to add the same notes you did: how do you know them, have you worked with them before, etc.

Step 3: Filtering

Now that you have a long-list, it’s time to start filtering. At this point, only remove the people you know are a definite ‘no’ — either because they are unavailable, not good, or actively nasty people. In my experience, the ‘maybe’ candidates have a tremendous power to surprise you.

This is the point where I would move your candidates from the spreadsheet into an applicant tracking system (ATS). I’m a big fan of Breezy, but you can use whatever you usually use. Create a separate status for ‘outbound from network’, and a workflow for how you’re going to approach your hiring process. This ties into your usual hiring process (you do have a hiring process, right? Because if not, you’ve got some work to do that goes beyond the scope of this blog post…)

Step 4: Phone filtering

Depending on the size of your team (and their enthusiasm for LinkedIn and helping you filling your hiring funnel) — You probably have 200+ names on your list by now. I like to filter that list down further by spending some quality phone time; and I like to follow the following pattern:

  • Tell them a short version of what your company does, for whom, why, and the stage you’re at.
  • Tell me briefly about your experience as a [job title you’re hiring for].
  • What do you know about [the space / sector you’re in]?
  • How happy are you in your current job?
  • If not you, does anyone spring to mind who would be perfect for this role?

The answers you get will help decide whether or not you should do a more in-depth phone screen, go straight to an in-person meeting (informal over coffee works well), or whether your candidate goes to the ‘no’ list.

From here onwards, you follow your usual hiring process — but at least you’re starting with a well-stocked list of people to talk to.


Haje is the Director of Portfolio at Bolt, a pre-seed and seed VC firm investing at the intersection of hardware and software.