Busting Myths About Startup Success in Attracting Talent

If you’re hiring, there’s a big chance you’re screwing it up. Yep, you heard that right. I work with countless startups and see where they consistently fall short when it comes to hiring. Everyone starts off with the best intentions, but companies underestimate the time and dedication needed to hire just one person, so they fall into the trap of being sloppy — and candidates notice.

Here are the most common missteps I see, along with a few suggestions on better ways for early-stage companies to handle hiring.

Myth: A quick job listing is primarily about describing the job and finding candidates.

Reality: Job listings market the company first and the job second.

Many companies use the same bare-bones descriptions to promote every job opening. The job description is a candidate’s first impression of a company, and a lackluster one can instantly diminish the company’s appeal. There are hundreds of interesting startups out there competing for the same talent. You want them to love the company first. This is a great opportunity to showcase your company’s mission, culture, and values to help prospective candidates envision themselves there.

Myth: People want to work here because we’re a hot, venture-backed startup. That cool factor will bring us candidates.

Reality: A great product, team, culture, and category do more than your VC’s brand.

A small percentage of startups have this “cool” factor and hiring tailwind. The rest have to work much harder by simply being more interesting. This requires you to create separation and challenge yourself and your team to develop a clear idea of why a candidate would want to come work for you. Build your company’s narrative so that everyone on the team speaks the same lingo on mission, culture, and values. Candidates are looking for more than the cool factor. They want a strong team with an amazing product they can stand behind.

Myth: We’re a busy startup so the candidate will understand when we keep canceling our interviews.

Reality: Rescheduling and long response times give candidates the impression that their time is not valued.

If you’re not treating hiring as a priority, your candidate will know it. Candidates have to take time off from work or hide somewhere in the building to take your call. Don’t leave them hanging and expect them to be waiting for you. This includes response time, (re)scheduling, providing feedback, and over-communicating with your internal talent teams and any outside agencies. Awareness of what it’s like to be a candidate interviewing with your company will pay dividends.

Myth: The best candidates for the job are like me and the other two recent hires. I can hire diverse candidates later.

Reality: Diverse teams outperform homogeneous ones and waiting to do that makes it much harder in the long run.

Often, hiring managers look for themselves: same school, sports background, companies, etc. We’re missing the opportunity to bring different perspectives around the table. After surveying 366 public companies, McKinsey found that those in the top quartile for ethnic and racial diversity in management were 35% more likely to have financial returns above their industry mean. Those in the top quartile for gender diversity were 15% more likely to have returns above the industry mean. This is a great opportunity to be thoughtful and deliberate about your next hire.

Myth: We were thorough in our interview process and my star candidate got the job. They’ll have no problem ramping up and being successful in their role.

Reality: Every employee needs onboarding and a clear path to success.

Yes, they should hit the ground running, but an onboarding process is an essential step for ensuring your new hire feels comfortable and empowered enough to be productive right away. For example, consider putting together a 30-, 60-, 90-day plan; planning a welcome lunch with the team; and creating objectives and key results (OKRs). A thoughtful approach to onboarding new hires pays huge dividends in the long term. Figure out what the path to success is so your new hire can feel reassured that they’re headed in the right direction.

As a young startup, we’ll always have competing priorities when we don’t have enough people to delegate tasks. Don’t bump recruiting off the top of your list. Employees leave, they get promoted, they move to another org, but no matter what the case may be, you will always be hiring. It’s never something you complete. Having a process in place that’s repeatable, thoughtful and, of course, grounded in reality will help you be a top contender for those prospective candidates.