How to Recruit Top Talent for a Startup in 12 Easy Steps

Discover how to recruit top candidates to build a first-class team and grow your company today in 12 easy steps!

It comes as no surprise that team quality is one of the best predictors of success. With great talent come great results! That’s why hiring should always be taken seriously.  

The stakes can feel especially high when you’re recruiting at a startup. If the company is fairly new or small, hiring the wrong candidate can be detrimental. On the flip side, hiring a top performer in the early stages can launch your company to new heights. 

Let’s take a look at startup recruitment and how companies can build their best initial team or attract top talent to grow an existing one. 

What is startup recruitment?

Startup recruitment means building a pool of qualified applicants for a startup organization. While recruiters at larger companies are able to attract candidates using their company’s reputation, startups rely on things like the personal brands of founders and company values alone to recruit talent.

It’s important to note that startup recruitment is different from traditional recruitment because the stakes for startup companies are often higher. In a company’s earliest days, there may not be the funds to hire top talent or offer competitive salaries to new hires. Larger companies also have well-established cultures, company-wide goals, and set values, whereas a startup usually relies on its team to create these norms. 

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How to recruit for a startup 

1Search for skills that you can’t train

When recruiting for a startup, search for candidates with soft skills like creativity, adaptability, effective communication, and curiosity. During episode 78 of our Supermanagers podcast, author Hamish Thomson said,

“curiosity and willingness are greater than experience. When you recruit on that basis, it’s really good because it makes you seek out those who are incredibly curious. And as long as I’ve got a passion and a willingness to learn new things, often that can be actually more valuable than experience.”

He was right! When you hire candidates with a growth mindset, their belief that successes can improve with continued resilience, effort, and learning will help your team stay focused! 

Listen to the full episode here:

2Ask pre-interview questions 

Once you’ve sourced candidates, develop pre-interview questions that will help you get to know each individual. A preliminary conversation is a great way to get a first impression, learn about a person’s interpersonal skills, and go over the basic requirements of the role before conducting an extensive interview. The pre-interview can set the tone for the rest of the meeting and will give you a sense of whether or not you believe the individual would be a good fit for your team. 

3Leverage remote work to widen your talent pool

When you don’t limit where your candidates can work, you widen your talent pool! Hiring people from different geographical regions can give you the flexibility to attract a diverse group of employees with broad skill sets and perspectives. Flexible work is cost-effective and will help your company retain top talent. Additionally, offering remote work options shows prospective employees that the company you’re building is modern, flexible, and cares about its people.

4Ask the right questions 

The questions you ask candidates during their interviews are a direct reflection of your business. If you ask each applicant the same five generic questions that are unrelated to the role at hand, each candidate is bound to leave the interview underwhelmed and confused. Good interview questions should be open-ended and give you a good sense of whether this potential employee could be a successful member of your team. They should also offer insight into the company’s values and vision. For example, a good interview question to ask would be: “At company X, we care deeply about diversity and inclusion. Can you please tell me about a time you practiced inclusiveness at work and how you handled the situation?”.

5Build and communicate a strong company brand 

Hiring is marketing! Startups have to work hard to build a brand that is attractive to prospective employees. Luckily, even the youngest companies can use digital platforms to cheaply showcase why the company is a great place to work. You can attract ambitious candidates by the way that you market your product and communicate the problems you’re aiming to solve because many smart people want to solve interesting challenges! Market your mission, and you’ll be one step closer to having a team of individuals who want to investigate the same problems you do. 

6Encourage networking 

Networking is an investment in your business! Part of being an excellent leader is having the ability to build a quality network with reach. Remember that good people often know other good people. Some high-potential hires will be the ones to help grow the business in the long run. If you recruit individuals with an existing personal brand, they’ll serve as excellent ambassadors for the company. Once you secure a few talented employees who align well with your vision for the business, encourage them to attend events, spread the word about open positions, and help recruit new candidates. 

7Look for people who align with your company’s vision 

Search for candidates who will fit well with the culture you’re trying to build. This may seem challenging, but it comes down to factors like behaviour and mentality. For example, if your vision for your startup is to become the thought leader in the product management space, you should search for candidates who are go-getters and self-starters, and who are passionate about making the product management process simple and productive. Working towards a common goal is easier when you have a team that genuinely cares about the mission. 

8Write a complete job description

Most job ads are mediocre at best. If you want to attract quality candidates, you’ll need to include more in your job descriptions than the role requirements and responsibilities. Incorporate details like compensation, benefits, and perks to make your postings stand out from others on job boards. Candidates should relate to the description on a personal level. Aim to tell your startup’s story in the posting, so your ideal applicants feel excited at the prospect of working with your team. 

9Know what skills you need on your team

In addition to soft skills, look for candidates with the hard skills you’ll need to push your company forward! Develop a list of must-haves and nice-to-have requirements for each role. When you’re reviewing applications, see how well each candidate aligns with your set requirements. Keep an eye out for high-achievers who will go the extra mile in the company’s early days. Remember that successful startups often outgrow roles, so look for people who are willing to evolve rapidly alongside your business.

10Have strong onboarding 

Did you know that a strong onboarding can boost new hire productivity by 70 percent? Fellow explains that effective onboarding is crucial for any company’s long-term success. Keep in contact with every new team member as soon as they accept their offer. Make sure your team members are introduced to one another on the first day so teammates can build rapport from the get-go. Set clear expectations, introduce team etiquette, and ensure that each employee is aware of the workflow. Keep it simple by using Fellow’s onboarding checklist for new employees. Our guide includes all the necessary steps you’ll need to set up your new hires.

11Communicate your company culture

You may have a more difficult time defining your company culture with a small team, but it’s not impossible! As shown by a Glassdoor survey, 56 percent of adults agree that culture is more important to employee satisfaction than compensation. Startup culture often reflects the personalities and passions of team members. From the interview stage to the onboarding process and beyond, share all that your company has to offer employees—perhaps you have core values, use a cross-departmental buddy system, or put diversity and inclusion at the forefront of the company’s mission. Leverage your culture to recruit the best!

12Use meeting software for successful interviews

First impressions matter. If you’re conducting a remote interview, ensure that your video conferencing platform of choice is set up in advance so you don’t run into any issues. Use one of Fellow’s interview templates to host effective interviews and gain insight into each candidate’s background and expertise. You can also take notes before the interview using our collaborative meeting agenda so the interviewee becomes familiarized with the process before it begins.

Parting advice

As a startup, your recruitment strategy will look a bit different from other companies, and that is totally okay! Learn into the discomfort of the work. With a bit of tenacity, passion, and a recruitment plan in place, you’ll be attracting the best of the best. Before you know it, you’ll be glancing around the room, wondering how you managed to recruit such talent!

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About the author

Brier Cook

Brier Cook is a seasoned communications expert with a Bachelor's degree in Journalism from Carleton University. As an Engagement Strategy Advisor for Carleton University, she leverages creative marketing to address business challenges. Her multifaceted experiences enrich her content, making it both insightful and engaging.

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