Hiring for your Startup: 6 steps to find the right talent and grow your team

Sparrow Ventures
Aug 13, 2020 · 7 min read
Picture by Tim Mossholder

Hiring the right people for your startup, especially in an early stage, is arguably the most essential element on its overall road to success. But where do you start, what do you have to look for and what process can you follow in order to do so?

Start with thinking about employee happiness

With regard to people and peoples’ overall happiness, a good source for inspiration to get started is Deci and Ryan’s self-determination theory, stating that the needs for competence, autonomy, and relatedness are what is fundamental and universal.

Based on this, when considering candidates for the long term success of our work together, we should be assessing the ability, motivation and culture fit of the person as well as ensuring that we are providing the autonomy that they need in order to succeed in their job.

Knowing this, as a startup, you need to be able to offer candidates a clear and transparent picture of who you are and where you want to head to, within a set-up that enables you to get this message across, right from the beginning of your hiring process.

But how to do this? Based on our own experience at Sparrow Ventures and having supported startups in our portfolio in growing their teams during the early stages, we share with you 6 steps:

6 steps to growing your Startup Team

1. Self-check, is your startup ready to hire?

Should you not have them yet, the first thing to begin with as a startup is to define your values: What do you stand for? What is the set of beliefs, philosophies, and principles that guide your business, the way you operate, and the way that you behave both within your company and with external stakeholders? All of this will lay the foundations of your startup’s culture, helping you connect with the people who believe the same things that you do and ultimately differentiating you from the competition. They are your USP.

Next, when assessing hiring needs, ask yourself: why do you need a new team member and what should they be focusing on to contribute towards achieving your goals?

At the same time, this is also a good time to assess what your budget is for hiring. From there, draw your compensation and benefits: are you offering an all base salary or would you like to add a bonus scheme? Don’t leave this to the last moment, gaps in salary expectations could lead to disappointment and often, inequity.

Lastly, make sure you have basic policies in place: do you offer home office? What are the weekly work hours? What does your holiday policy look like? All these questions are likely to pop up during the interview process and the earlier you have discussed it, the more smooth and successful will be your hiring process.

2. Take your time writing job descriptions

Take your time to write down a well thought out job description for the positions you want to hire for. Within the job description, make sure that you emphasize what your culture is in order to attract the attention of the right target group.

When writing down requirements for the roles, break them down into competencies - the knowledge, ability, and skills expected to perform well in the position. The advantage of defining a job description competency-based allows not only for a deeper analysis of what the function entails beyond “proficiency in google analytics”, but it will also serve as a base to create a framework for behavioural interview questions, performance management, and the learning and development initiatives that you launch within your startup.

3. Actively search for your future employees

Needless to say, you should not just publish your job ad on job boards and hope for the right fit to knock on your door. The majority of the workforce at any given time consists of passive candidates, meaning those who are currently not looking for a new opportunity.

My personal tip: In order to actively search for the right match, and if you want to bypass the LinkedIn recruiter license you can do so through a well-calculated Google X-ray search. Make sure however when you write your boolean search strings, that you are keeping track of them in a document and go from longer, more accurate ones to shorter, more generic ones to cover a sizable section of the candidate market.

However, active sourcing and job boards are not the only paths you can take towards finding the right candidate. You can ask for referrals from current employees, attend or even host meetups for your target group of candidates. Building a presence on social media can also be beneficial. Candidates typically look the company up before they decide to apply. In order to attract the right talent post updates, pictures, and relevant information that reflect the vision, mission, and culture of your startup.

4. Have an evidence-based interview process:

Research has shown that structured interviews combined with a scoring system are a strong predictor of job performance. They also allow you to compare “apples to apples” and to not fall into biases that can cloud your judgment. An example of bias is for instance the similarity effect, where you might interview a candidate who has similar interests to you and because of it, judge the interview more positively than you otherwise would.

For the highest predictor on on-the-job-performance, include behavioural interview questions to identify competencies. Do not be afraid of the candidate identifying the assessment criteria: interestingly enough, their ability to do so has been linked through studies to their ability to perform on the job later on.

In addition, situational interview questions and more relevantly, a case interview, can help you observe how a candidate would respond to specific challenges that they would face at work. In our opinion, it is a must-have to understand, for both sides, whether the ability or job fit, is the right one.

Overall, the priority throughout the interview process should be given to culture fit and to whether the candidate is intrinsically motivated to join your startup. Do they feel comfortable in a non-hierarchical organisation? Are they switching to your startup because they can have a fancy job title or because they truly want to build something from scratch?

However, in the end, what counts is that you can connect with the candidate who, remember, still needs to make a decision of whether they want to work with you. Which brings me to my next point:

5. Ask for feedback and analyse your numbers

What did the candidates think of your interview process? Always consider, they might be potential customers or ambassadors for your brand, even if they don’t end up working for you.

Here, numbers can be your friend when it comes to analysing your interview process: what is your time to hire? What is your offer acceptance rate? What sourcing channel worked best? What is your Net Promoter Score? Hiring is a continuous learning process and knowing these kinds of statistics will help you optimize hiring for the next round.

6. Keep your onboarding simple and employee focused

The interview has been successful on both ends and you have a match, the person has started and so has the probation period. This is a crucial time for both parties to find out whether the right choice has been made.

Here, you have the chance to do your part by creating a great onboarding experience. Keep it simple and focused on the new starter: consider what organisational, social, and technical aspects the new team member will need both prior to starting at your startup and during the first couple of months. Using this structure, create a checklist with tasks falling under those pillars and assign an owner for each of those tasks to ensure the follow-up.

This will be the time for you to brainstorm on and define things such as: who sends the offer? What information do you need from the candidate prior to their start? Who orders the IT equipment? Who will be introducing them to the mission, vision, and culture of your company? Would you like to do a welcome lunch?

And Finally

From job specification down to interviewing, hiring, and onboarding: be transparent.

One of your greatest strengths is that as a startup, you have no politics and can be extremely clear not just about the good but also about things that might be work in progress within your organisation. Candidates appreciate it, it makes them feel trusted and valued and working towards a common goal. Also, it is a two-way street. Just as you expect your candidates to be transparent, you should give the same back.

Of course, a successful hire is only the beginning of the journey. Make sure that once onboarded, you offer your employees the trust and autonomy to perform on their job, try out new things, and grow.

Ultimately, nothing is static. At Sparrow Ventures, we are always adapting our processes whilst learning and growing. So much so that, if I would write this post this time next year, it would probably have some differences based on the learnings that I will go through. Therefore, always stay open for feedback, read up, and gain inspiration from other sources for growing your team. Happy hiring!

This blog post was written by Elisa, who is a Talent Manager in our team.

Sparrow Ventures

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