How to find & hire the best startup employees in 3 simple steps
If you’re a startup founder, chances are you’re not an HR expert.
Maybe your “thing” is product, or marketing, or maybe design. But it’s (probably) not HR.
You don’t have to be an HR ninja by any means, but working on a time crunch and a limited budget means you do have to be smart.
The good news is, it doesn’t take a whole lot of time or money to do this right.
Over the last 3+ years, I’ve hired 9 full and part-time employees for my startups (way more if you count every freelancer and VA), and I’ve boiled down my process into 3 simple steps you can take to find & hire the right folks.
3 steps to find & hire the right person for your startup
1. Create a job post that’s raw & real
I write pretty unorthodox job postings.
More than simply list requirements and tasks, I want my job posting to reflect the culture of my company — something that really stands out and catches the attention of the right kind of person.
How do I do that?
I actually write each job posting as a letter.
This is something I picked up from Danielle Morrill, CEO of Mattermark (here’s the post that inspired me).
The idea is to be totally real and authentic.
Lay out exactly what you’re looking for, and paint the picture of what it’s actually like to work with you.
For the candidate, it’s a chance to instantly decide whether or not you and your company may be a good cultural fit. It’s like they’re talking with their future boss.
Here are a few things I include in every job posting:
- High level outline of responsibilities (vs. listing out each and every task)
- How the team works
- What our culture looks like
- What it’s like to work with me
This last part is really important. I actually survey my team to make sure I’m presenting myself accurately. Ask your team “what’s it like to work with me?” and encourage them to be completely, totally honest.
Here’s a look at what one of my “job letters” looks like
2. Hire people you know
This actually gets a lot easier the longer you’ve been running your startup. Once you’ve developed a solid network, you can crowdsource the job search to find highly qualified candidates.
If you can’t find someone that you know, though, don’t panic! Do these 3 things instead:
Share the job posting with your email list
Once you’ve got your letter written (see Step #1 above), send an email to your audience. I’ve gotten good results sharing open positions with my list because they already know the business and are fans of the brand.
I usually include a “day in the life” picture of what the job looks like. Breaking down a typical day hour-by-hour is an easy way to illustrate key responsibilities as well as company culture and values.
Have fun with it. I usually throw a GIF in there to keep it entertaining.
Also, be sure to ask folks to forward the posting to anyone they think might be qualified + interested.
Promote the position on social media
Next, take that email and adapt it for sharing on your social channels. Go where your audience is most active. For me, that’s primarily Instagram, but I also share open positions on Facebook and Twitter.
Go into Canva and create an eye-catching graphic for your posts.
Here’s a post I shared on Instagram:
Post the job on AngelList
AngelList is like LinkedIn for startups. I’ve had a lot of luck finding high-qualified talent here.
You don’t have to be a sexy tech company to use AngelList, but if you’re looking to hire people who are tech-savvy or kinda scrappy (important traits for most startups), this is a good place to start.
You can be really specific on AngelList.
Potential candidates can use search filters to sort jobs by type (full-time or contract), compensation (salary and/or equity) and role.
AngelList also makes it easy to designate specific jobs as remote, which is helpful if you’re like me and building a distributed team.
I just have interested AngelList users email me directly, but you can also set it up so candidates apply directly through the platform.
Of the 3 places we promote our positions (email, social media, AngelList), this one consistently gets us the best results. Typically within 24 hours of posting a job, I’ve got an inbox full of (mostly) qualified candidates.
3. Hire with a 3-part process
If you’ve written a killer job description and you’re leveraging your network / promoting the position properly, your posting will quickly draw a lot of responses.
Next it’s time to narrow the field!
I follow a 3-part process for this:
Part 1: The First Interview
I schedule a quick 15 minute phone call with the top applicants. Try and keep this manageable — a first round of 5-10 candidates is probably good.
The first interview is all about figuring out two things:
- Does the person know their sh#t?
- Is the person a good cultural fit?
Don’t get too nitty gritty here. You’ll know whether they check the boxes within a few minutes.
Use a Hiring Scorecard
With 10+ candidates to interview in the first round, keeping track of everyone’s strengths and weaknesses is tough. Make it easier on yourself by using a Hiring Scorecard.
Here’s a scorecard I used recently:
(You can actually make a copy of this & use it yourself)
I got this idea from Greg McKeown. He wrote a super great book called Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. My friend Thomas said it was awesome, and it totally was.
Seriously, go read that!
It’s all about the importance of boiling down your business to what’s most important.
Which is exactly the point of the Hiring Scorecard.
How to Create a Hiring Scorecard
- List out the “essentials” that your new hire must have. These can be skill-based traits (e.g. “Analytical”), super specific task-based requirements (e.g. “Ability to get and land the meeting with Heather McGough”), or more general essentials like “cultural fit.”
- Create a spreadsheet in Google Sheets. These “essentials” should be your rows. Your candidates are your columns.
- Fill in the scorecard as you do the first round of interviews, ranking candidates’ ability to meet each “essential” on a scale of 1-10.
- At the end of the first interviews, average your scores and advance the high-scoring candidates to the next round. I typically advance anyone that averages an 8 or higher.
Part 2: Case Study
This part is super important. This is your top candidates’ chance to show what they’ve got.
Once you’ve completed the first interview and the hiring scorecard, send your finalists a case study.
***NOTE: Some people will weed themselves out simply by not doing this. That’s valuable by itself!
The case study should be something super relevant to what this person would be doing if they came onboard.
Here’s an example case study I recently used:
Note that there aren’t any response format requirements. I like to see how candidates respond. Sometimes it’s a super polished deck, other times it’s a simple email reply.
Also important — when I put together a case study, I always give folks more information than they need.
In startup life, you’ve got to be able to sort through the clutter and figure out what’s actually important, so this is a good way to ensure your applicants have this skill.
Part 3: The Final Interview
Once you’ve reviewed the case studies, narrow the field to 2-3 finalists and schedule a final interview.
This should be longer and more in-depth than the first interview, and you should draw upon their case study to evaluate the candidate’s experience and understanding.
By this point, it should be clear who you need to hire.
Now you’ve got to make the offer!
For early stage startups, this part is critical. Over time, I’ve learned a few lessons (some the hard way) and now follow a few important rules.
Rules for hiring a new employee for your startup
Hire on a 3-month contract
I always hire new employees on a 3-month contract to start.
This “trial” period gives both sides an opportunity to see if it’s a good fit.
By the end of 3 months, you should easily know whether or not it’s working.
If it is working, awesome! Extend the contract or bring them on full-time.
If it’s not, bummer, but not the end of the world. Pulling the plug at the end of a short-term contract is way less messy than it otherwise could be.
Start new hires as independent contractors
Regardless whether you plan to make the role full-time in the future, it is way easier (and much cheaper) to start folks as independent contractors and then go from there.
Bringing on a contractor vs. a regular employee will save you a TON of money in taxes, benefits etc. — which is critical because you’re not even sure if this is a long-term thing.
Onboarding a new hire is EXPENSIVE!
Don’t make a bigger investment until you know it’s going to work.
Start everyone at the same flat rate
I hire everyone at the same flat amount. It used to be $2000/mo. and now it’s $3500. I don’t budge on this. Once a new hire hits 3 months, there’s some flexibility, but this way everyone starts on a level playing field and you can quickly determine how committed (or not) they are to the company.
I’m very transparent about this policy. Everyone knows what new hires are making, and everyone’s been there before themselves.
This builds trust and eliminates any question of unfairness.
Start at a 30hr/wk contract
Whenever I bring on a new hire, I start the contract at 30hrs/wk.
I do this for a couple reasons:
- The person who is really motivated is going to turn this into 40hrs/wk anyway 🙌
- This gives folks some wiggle room to maybe take on another contract while they’re not making as much
Two things I’ve learned
I’ve learned a LOT hiring employees for my startups. I’ve tried to share as many of those lessons as possible in this post.
Recently, though, two things stand out:
1. I do less hiring via AngelList and other job boards now & instead hire people I know
This is a lot easier now because I’ve worked with lots of people and have a pretty big network to call upon.
2. There’s a lot of opportunity to get people to join your team w/o paying a lot
This is something I wish I realized earlier. But quite frankly, there are lots of ways to get high-quality talent for free (or close to it).
Beyond hiring an intern (another good option), a lot of companies now are creating fellowship or apprenticeship programs.
I highly recommend doing this.
Fellows / apprentices are your “superfans” — they’re typically your best customers, and they’re thrilled to join the team for way less than most folks would demand.
I actually launched a fellowship program for Apps Without Code last year.
I do pay my fellows, but they’re all alumni of my Bootcamp program and work on my Education team. For 5-10 hours per week, our fellows lead workshops and support our students in exchange for a $5000 stipend which they can invest in their own startups. I also offer our fellows free 1:1 coaching, as well as access to my network for referrals, PR opportunities etc.
(You can actually check out the “job letter” I use for my Fellows program over here)
The point is, there are all sorts of ways you can do this.
One of my favorite brands, Travel Noire has a super successful fellows program, and I took cues from its founder, Zim Ugochukwu, in setting up our own program.
Basically, Zim made me realize that as a startup founder, people are inspired by your story and super excited about your brand (it can get a little cult-ish lol). You can (and should) leverage that excitement with a low-cost, high-impact fellowship or apprenticeship program.
What’s your secret?
Are you a startup founder? What’s working — and what’s not — when it comes to finding and hiring qualified employees? I’d love to hear what you’re doing in the comments!
TaraReed_ View All
Hi there- My name is Tara Reed & I’m the founder of Kollecto. I'm a non-technical founder building software without writing any code.I’m also a first-time entrepreneur who swore I'd never become an entrepreneur…Oh well, sh*t happens! :) Follow my journey as I build a cool art startup...
I don’t know if you’ll see this reply but this blog post is REALLY great.
I am sharing it with Team mwseq™ member Thomas (“Jack”) Foote. Jack is among the most reliable, capable, scrappy and responsive individuals on Team mwseq™. He has been a tremendous help in terms of improvising as our HR Specialist. He fakes as an our talent on-boarding go-to person EXCEPTIONALLY well haha. Neither Jack nor I really know a d@mn thing about HR lol. Thanks again for sharing this.
*R. Darryl (“rev”) Thomas* Chief Executive Artrepreneur™, 1871: mwseq™ [image: photo] Phone: 844.336.9737 | 844.33mwseq | f 855.617.5781 Email: email@example.com Skype: r.darryl.thomas Website: mwseq.com Address: 222 W Merchandise Mart Ste1212 Chicago IL 60654 Get your own email signature ᐧ
On Tue, Jun 20, 2017 at 1:30 PM, Apps Without Code Blog wrote:
> TaraReed_ posted: “If you’re a startup founder, chances are you’re not an > HR expert. Maybe your “thing” is product, or marketing, or maybe design. > But it’s (probably) not HR. That’s OK! You don’t have to be an HR ninja by > any means, but working on a time crunch and a l” >
I second your idea to hire new people on a 3 month trial contract as independent contractors. I’ve done that in every case except one when hiring virtual assistants, and it’s worked very well for me. So far I haven’t had to actually let anyone go in their first 3 months, but since they know that option is there, my VA’s start out their tenure with 3 solid months of putting their best effort into the work, which then becomes a habit and makes things go much smoother later.
Next time I’m going to try experimenting with communicating company culture through “a day in the life”. Thanks for sharing!
I absolutely loved reading this blog and It gave me such great insught in my next steps for hiring someone.