How To

November 1, 2019

Hiring for startups: five expert tips on how to hire the right people

The biggest challenge most startups face is hiring the right people. We asked the experts for their top five tips on what to consider when setting out to hire people.

The biggest challenge many startups face is hiring the right people. Hiring can be quite a minefield and many startups fail because they are unable to attract and hire the right people — or because they lack the knowledge to do so.

Every business leader knows that building a team of talented people — who are right for their particular business — is vital for the company's success. Sure, there will always be other challenges, but without the right people they'll be hard to overcome. Plus, making the wrong hire has the potential to cost you a lot of time and money — something you may not have to begin with — so you need to get the right people in from the start.

And yet, despite hiring being a crucial part of startup life, so many startups get it wrong, over and over again.


Hiring the right people is all about fit

Unsurprisingly hiring people for your business starts with writing a good job spec; it may be the first encounter a candidate has with your company.

But what does a good job spec look like? Couldn’t you just write a bunch of text and be done with it?

Not quite.

👉 Read: How to nail the hiring process as a startup

When you're hiring it’s easy to jump at the first person that comes along, or choose someone that — on paper — seems to have all the skills you've asked for. But, finding and hiring the right person for your business requires a bit more than being first, or having a great CV.

While there’s no magic formula for effective startup recruitment, we wanted to understand why a lot of startups fail in their hiring attempts. So we called up the experts — from the tech and operations managers working for startups to professional recruiters — to pick their brains and learn what they do to help the startups they work for hire the right people.

Here are the five tips from the experts on how to hire the right people for your startup.

1. Write a good job spec – but watch out for biases

Think of the job spec as your shop window — it needs to be enticing, sincere and clear. You want to have an introduction to the job role, a list of requirements for the right candidate and a overview of your company and what you're about.

You also want your job spec to be clear of biases. Job adverts often contain unintended gender biases in style or language — after all, we're only human. But these biases can negatively impact your ability to hire the right person.

If you don't know if your spec contains hiring biases put it through a gender decoder. 

You want candidates to feel engaged from the first paragraph, so if you can craft a job spec that gets them excited at the prospect of working for you, while clearly stating what the role involves, you’re good.

For further reading on gender biases check out our story on how artificial intelligence can help take human bias out of hiring and how you can hire for diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

What the expert says:

“To get great hires you need to put in a lot of effort to reach enough interested people… spend time writing a great job spec — make it exciting, representative of the role and appealing to a wide range of people (e.g. check gender bias by putting it through a gender decoder).”

– Tom Rogers, cofounder and chief product and technology officer at Farewill

2. Ask the right questions in the interview

This might be an obvious one, but you shouldn’t underestimate the importance of asking the right questions during the interview process. 


What you want to do is think about the job role and the person you're looking for and ask questions that lets you get to know the person. You need to assess whether they will fit in your team or not and whether the person has the skills to grow with the company. Certain job skills can be taught but there will be skills or characteristics that you can't teach and this is what you want to discover when interviewing the candidate.

So, rather than having the candidate talk through their experience or their portfolio, use behavioural interview questions, exercises and pre-interview assignments to reveal their depth of a candidate and demonstrate they have the skills that can’t be taught.

For further reading and advice on finding the right fit between candidates and your company culture check out how TravelPerk avoids hiring cultural misfits. And if you're running out of ideas of interview questions to ask, check out the best interview questions to ask, brought to you by First Round.

What the expert says:

“We send the candidates a technical case study to work through in advance... we want to hire smart and engaging people so discussing the candidate’s approach to the task, offering a challenge, bouncing ideas around helps us find recruits who are energised by solving problems in a collaborative way.”

– Alex Helmer, cofounder of JungleAI

3. Look for future potential rather than past experience

When it comes to the interview process what you're looking for in a candidate is future potential. 

It's easy to dwell on past experiences when looking through someone's CV or during an interview, but don't forget that the past is the past and doesn't necessarily say anything about a candidate's future potential, fit with your company or the job role advertised.

With a small team and – you’d hope – rapid growth on the horizon you want to look for the potential in candidates.

Ask yourself these questions: does this candidate have the potential to grow beyond their experience? Will they be a good fit for your culture? Is the potential there for a future leadership role?

Startups are constantly evolving and you’ll need a team that can evolve with it.

For further reading and advice on how to find the right people, rather than filling job roles, read what Kiana Sharifi, head of talent at European venture capital firm Balderton Capital, thinks about European startups not investing enough in people.

What the expert says:

“Look for candidates who want to be part of your journey, who have an entrepreneurial mindset and understand what it means to build a plane while flying it. Not all leaders out there are ready for such a challenge.”

– Anna Stenberg, founder of executive recruitment agency WES

4. Draw on existing resources to support your hiring

Before you start the hiring process know that no hiring manager is an island. There are numerous apps, plug-ins and tools out there that are built to make the hiring process easier for you to manage. There are hiring tools that can spot candidates with specific attributes, check for biases and help you manage your communications.

Here are a few tools that our experts recommend:

  • Workable as the main applicant tracking system
  • Calendly to keep track of interviews
  • Applied to check your job spec 
  • Recruitee for reviewing applicants, keeping track of the pipeline and sharing recruitment resources between your team

What the expert says:

“We’ve adopted the social hiring methodology [using social media platforms to source and attract talent]... this is a way to humanise recruitment, which is often seen as just another sales pitch to candidates.”

– Sophie Theen, head of human resources and talent at 11:FS

5. Hiring is just the start – onboarding is just as important

Onboarding is just as important a part of startup hiring as the recruitment process itself. Once a candidate is in-role you need to set them up for success.

The good thing is you don’t have to wait until you’ve hired someone to think about the onboarding process. Ideally you should have one in place before they are hired. That way you have time to think through what introductions to make, which people a new hire should meet and how to make them feel welcome and included in the team.

Try putting together a clearly defined roadmap before you even start interviewing and don't shy away from asking existing employees or peers for ideas or feedback. Most people will have had some type of onboarding experience so you don't need to be an expert recruiter to think about or gather feedback on what matters to people when they're new in a job.

Just remember, onboarding is not solely about giving someone a laptop, hosting a team lunch, getting them acquainted with the IT team etc., but equally about catching up with the person you've hired to make sure that they've understood your company and their role in the team.

What the expert says:

“[Onboarding is] the crucial final step of the process — which is often neglected… the key is ensuring that the new team member understands who we are as a firm, our goals, how their role impacts the achievement of these goals and their key deliverables for that first quarter.”

– Keji Mustapha, head of network and operations at Connect Ventures

Want more tips on hiring the right people for your startup?

Hiring the right people for your startup is crucial for your future success, but it doesn't have to be a difficult task. If you want to read the full expert interview we did with the people mentioned in this article check out our story on how to build a brilliant team. You may also want to check out how to attract and keep great talent, to learn what matters to employees working in a startup and how you can retain people once you've hired them.

If you are looking to hire people but don't know where to start or how to get your job advert in front of the right people check out our Jobs Board. We can help you reach new talent! And if you're interested in other job boards we suggest AngelList, Escape The City and Work In Startups.

If you've got the help you need to hire great talent for your startup why not check out a few of our other how-to guides