How To Hire as a Startup – The Biggest Mistakes Startup Founders Make When Hiring

22nd May 2023

Ross Summers
Founder and CEO, We Are Adaptor

Ross is the founder of Adaptor, an in-house recruitment subscription model for startups and scaleups. He’s helped founders to successfully scale their businesses, by embedding their experienced talent acquisition teams into their company to and achieve goals from IPO’s to acquisitions and exits.

As a startup hiring is absolutely paramount and far more challenging than if you’re a well-known established business. Unfortunately you are not going to get lots of great talent coming to you and you will have to work harder to find them.

How to hire top talent as a startup.

You are running a million miles an hour, working long hours, weekends, and feeling stressed. You need to hire some new talent to help you grow the business. Many founders go to market looking for a hire without really thinking about what and who they need, how they will attract them, how they will assess them in an interview process, and what success looks like when they start with you.

You have to spend time preparing to hire. I know you don’t feel you have any time to do this, but if you make a wrong hire, your business could fail. Yes, one wrong hire could be the difference between success and failure! On average, a wrong hire will cost a business over £300k!

My biggest tip to you is to plan, plan and plan.

Why do you need to hire? If you don’t, what would be the impact on the business?

If the answer to this is to free up your time (which often is). What are you going to do with this time and how will that impact the business?

Related: Don’t Leave It Too Late to Raise Startup Investment

The steps to making a great hire

Step 1: Create a job description

When doing this, it’s a great idea to add a 2 mins video from you. People want to know what they are going to be expected to do and have a reference point. Things may change as they often do in a startup, but having a baseline to assess performance against is vital. The video adds a lot to the job spec and allows the candidate to “meet” you. If you are selling autonomy, flexibility, share options, carve your own career, think again. Every startup says the same. Why would someone join your businesses specifically, and why should they take the risk of leaving their role to come with you on the journey?

Step 2: Create a detailed interview process.

Do this before you start hiring. You need to know how you will assess candidates and what good looks like. You don’t want to be doing this mid-process as you won’t have the time and may lose the perfect candidate with a time delay. Also, assign roles for each interviewer. If 3 people interview a candidate, there’s no point in you all asking the same questions. You don’t find out what you need, and it’s a terrible candidate experience.

Assessing people is not easy, but make sure the process is the same for everyone. Write the questions you are asking at each stage and the ideal responses. Creating a rating scorecard is also a good idea to ensure that you are objectively assessing people.

Step 3: Go to market

Hiring tech talent is particularly challenging as you are unlikely to receive applicants from an advert. You have to go and find them. Use LinkedIn to map competitors or complimentary industries and headhunt the right talent yourself. Getting a message from the founder has a lot of weight. Do not send generic messages to 100’s of people, be specific and make the message personal.

Step 4: Understand the candidates

Understand your candidates’ motivations. You want to learn about the person you are hiring, not just their skills. Ask them what they want to get out of a move to your company. You need to be able to actually provide what this person wants in their career. They may be great, but you’re not looking to grow the area of particular interest to them. His person will leave.

Step 5: Hire the perfect employee

If everything works well and you have found your perfect person, act fast. Put together an offer that is strong and also addresses the candidate’s motivations. This is really important and goes back to why they should join. They are likely to have multiple offers, so make sure they choose you!

As a startup, you may not have the biggest salary and will be looking at a blend of salary and equity. The balance of this you need to discuss with your new hire early on. If your new hire has commitments, that means they need a certain salary they are not going to be able to drop. Don’t see this as a lack of commitment. All too often I hear founders say “if they are really interested and believe in this company they would take extra equity over salary”. Remember, this is your company. You took a huge leap in starting up, and it likely took you a long time to make that decision, months, if not years. No one is going to have the same commitment levels as you. So asking someone with a mortgage, 2 kids, and a raft of financial commitment to take a salary drop and trust you is a BIG request….

Lastly, don’t forget to meet them/be in regular contact through their notice period and resignation. If they are good, they will be getting multiple counter offers from their current employer to stay.


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    2024-03-01T12:14:56+00:00May 22nd, 2023|Categories: Pitching, Advice|