Four Rules for Start-Up Recruiting

Four Rules for Start-Up Recruiting

Recruitment is a big deal for any company, but it’s a huge deal for the start-up. After juggling every conceivable task for months, from attending client meetings right down to watering office plants, you, the founder, are finally ready to recruit. The fledgling is strong enough to stand. It’s time for the next level of growth.

But it’s not as easy as it sounds. Mistakes are costly in these early stages. While established companies have the resources to deal with a recruitment blunder or two, start-ups have less room to manoeuvre.

Lost time, lost cash, lost resources—these add up quickly. Plus, many founders have little or no experience in recruitment. The to-do list isn’t getting any smaller, and recruitment becomes another item to be crossed off.

Every company and every role are different. These four rules may not cover every aspect of start-up recruiting, but they will certainly lead you down the right path.

1. Be formal and meticulous 

21st century start-ups are known for their campuses, ping pong tables, arcade machines, daycare and personal flexibility. 

Recruiting, however, is one area where it pays to do things by the book—especially since there are more channels, more data, more candidates today than ever before. Startups are prone to a slipshod recruiting approach, and must guard against this. It pays to take a patient, objective view of the skills and qualities you need in a team member, then create a formal recruitment strategy with clear goals and record-keeping.

Of course, it’s good to think outside the box and stay open (like this company did in a recruitment campaign modelled after Game of Thrones). But most outlandish recruitment efforts are even more carefully cultivated than traditional ones. Point being: If you leave recruitment to chance, or to instinct, or to haphazard online efforts, you’re less likely to come away with solid results.


2. Push things aside

The feeling that there aren’t enough hours in the day takes on new meaning when you’re a start-up. Anyone who has pushed a business through the earliest stages of growth knows how hectic things can become. How can you focus on recruitment when the phone is ringing off the hook, when there are a million other things to do?

Recruitment is a Catch-22. It’s a solution to the very problems that make it difficult. By this logic, it’s worth clearing space to make a focussed effort. In gardening terms, pruning leaves is important but planting new seeds is vital. Blocks of recruitment time—whether you’re in planning stages or actively screening candidates—should take precedence.

3. Network

Too much emphasis is placed on the fact that candidates compete for jobs. What about the very real competition amongst jobs for top talent? Start-ups should take this to heart before putting all their eggs in the online basket. LinkedIn and other online tools are a crucial way to attract talent, but start-ups in particular can benefit from plugging into offline business networks—the kind forged with old-fashioned diaries and contact lists. Your company’s founders/investors are a good place to start, as they have a vested interest in making a good hire. Talking to influential friends and colleagues is another way. Professional consultants can also bring key contacts into your sphere.

4. Understand the pros and cons

From the candidate’s perspective, there are pros and cons to working for your start-up. Understanding these pros and cons allows you to address them in conversation and play to your strengths.

Professionals naturally gravitate towards established brands. Why? Because established brands strengthen individual brands. There is also a perception (more justified in some cases than in others) of increased financial stability and job security. These pros of working for established brands might well be worth the cons: A big impersonal company, a boring work culture or even an unfriendly manager.

On the other hand, professionals gravitate toward companies that listen to them, give them creative influence, and provide access to the company’s leaders. Your brand may not be established, but it holds potential for limitless growth. Association with a successful startup could be worth more than association with established brands—both financially and professionally. 

On top of that, startups are free from rigid company policies. That malleability—an opportunity to shape work culture rather than be subject to it— is an important selling point for any startup. There are ways in which your startup is (or could be) uniquely progressive. Figure out what these ways are, and communicate them to talented candidates.


Reaching the point where you’re ready to recruit is a milestone for any start-up. When the moment arrives, it pays to connect to meaningful recruitment principles, use personal channels, and understand things from the candidate’s perspective. Even if you can’t offer ping-pong tables and Fridays off, your startup does have something to sell. Knowing what that is allows you to reach candidates who truly will help the fledgling grow.

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