How to Create a High-growth Hiring Plan for Startup Success – Part 2

Creating a talent strategy for long term growth

Startups must be creative when hiring talented associates to come aboard.

There’s nothing more important than attracting and signing up the right team. Seek associates who are aligned with the culture you are building and have the functional expertise as well as the personal character and beliefs to help shape the business you want.

For current or future positions, be intentional and define a talent strategy at least 90 days before you plan to start your search.

Where to Look First

Whether you subscribe to the theory of Six Degrees of Separation—or not, networks are the best place to start searching for that next perfect hire.

Start with personal networks—acquaintances, trusted advisors, board, friends, associates from university, professional, or social organizations. Your goal is to uncover active as well as passive job seekers.

Take advantage of digital tools ranging from broad business audiences to specific roles or industries. Invest time to develop an excellent posting, and then modify it depending on the site you are using. Think outside the box. You might find a programmer or systems design expert from a jobsite, such as HigherEdJobs®, that attracts teaching assistants or professors in computer science.

LinkedIn is the ultimate extended networking tool. Join groups, use conversation and follow companies that are in your industry. Take advantage of as many filters as you can, including keywords, location, and connections. For example, if you want to do a national search to identify “boomerang” candidates who might want to return to Ohio, use the school filter.

Concrete keywords—words that individuals typically list on LinkedIn profiles—will help identify desired experience, competencies, or skills. Focus on hard skills—Java or Ruby—instead of soft skills—creativity or teamwork.

Keywords can refer to desired experience (programming) or levels (director or manager). Plug in company names in the “company” or “current company” field to identify individuals who work there. For additional fees, LinkedIn offers more advanced filters.

There are at least a dozen excellent online networking sites you can use to activate your talent stategy; don’t limit yourself to LinkedIn. Experiment. You may select a different tool, depending on the role you are trying to fill.

  • Indeed™ – Aggregator of postings/with over 200 million unique visitors every month from over 60 countries, there is a post-free option and multiple ways (free and fee), including a company page, to ramp up your listings and increase response.
  • Glassdoor – Free tools to promote employer brand and target specific recruits. Has millions of company reviews and more information about each company.
  • Rev1 Jobs Board – This is an excellent place for Rev1 clients and portfolio companies to post open positions here in the Columbus area. We attract local candidates as well as folks from the larger Great Lakes region and beyond.

Search Partners

Once you exhaust networking and online options, consider a professional search partner. However, hiring a firm is costly, so it is best to reserve this option for high-impact, high urgency positions, and for functional experts with skills that are in short supply. Often, a search firm will have an industry or vertical focus that aligns with your talent strategy.

Be sure to understand the fee structure and process that the firm will follow. What are the metrics for the search? What do you pay for and when? Is there a refund provision if the candidate doesn’t work out?

The Interview

Create an interview process that is consistent across your organization and consistent across candidates and roles being filled. A standard interview scorecard will help interviewers compare candidates fairly and choose the best fit.

Interviewing is a two-way street: You are evaluating the applicant, and they are evaluating you. Functional needs and culture expectations must match for the relationship to succeed.

Prepare for the interview. Use the requirements, values, skills, and responsibilities outlined in your job description to develop interview questions. Document every interview immediately after you finish the discussion.

Start the interview on time. Be respectful. Beware of implicit bias; it can be easy to confuse culture with “looks and acts like me.” Best practices include:

  • Even with early hires, be intentional about diversifying your team. Companies that have a diverse organization outperform companies that don’t.
  • Adhere to a standardized interview process.
  • Utilize the scorecards; include qualitative notes that get at the cultural fit (or not).
  • Strive to include diverse candidates in every round of interviews for every position.
  • Get diversity training for yourself and your management team.

The interview team should comprise of yourself, any co-founders, cross-functional teammates, advisors, board members, and significant business partners. Include two to three people in first-round interviews; later interview rounds are ideal for panel or group interviews. Be sure that candidates meet with their potential boss one-on-one.

Suggested Interview Questions

Your interview team will undoubtedly have questions that are specific to your business and the candidate. These are useful, regardless of the person or the job.

  • Give me a brief overview of your career.
  • Tell us about your skills.
  • What do you better than anyone else?
  • What are two or three achievements that you are most proud of?
  • Tell me about a time when you failed. How did you overcome the failure?
  • If I asked your current boss, or co-worker something that you could improve about yourself, what would they say?
  • Why are you considering changing jobs?
  • What are your priorities in your search?
  • What attracted you to this company? This position?
  • Do you know anyone who works here or perhaps someone who is a customer of ours?
  • Describe a problem that you solved.
  • What are your compensation expectations? Your availability?

How to Decide

Take the time to complete a thorough background check.  If at any point a candidate told you something that isn’t true, move on. Talk through any red flags with the full interview team.

Keep these three truths top of mind:

  • A company is more likely to make a bad hire on culture misalignment than on lack of skill.
  • The cost of a bad hire will always be more than the cost of making the right hire in the first place.
  • When a bad hire doesn’t do the job he or she was hired to do, it drags the entire organization down.

Hiring takes time. Hiring the right way will add another 20 percent at least to the workload of the founding team. The wrong way will negatively impact everything else the company tries to do.


Additional resources:

How to Build Culture that Lasts

How Morale Changes as a Startup Grows

Atlassian Boosted its Female Technical Hires by 80% – Here’s How

The Best Way to Build Company Culture

About Denise Kestner

Denise holds a Master’s in Labor & Human Resources from The Ohio State University and a Master’s in Vocational Counseling and a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the University of Florida. Denise worked her way up from a human resources generalist in the waste and recycling industry to a vice president of human relationships for a healthcare company before launching her own consulting practice 11 years ago. She works with more than 110 companies in a variety of industries, helping them to align their most important asset—their people—with their business goals. Denise has been teaching at the undergraduate and graduate level courses at The Ohio State University, Ohio Dominican University, and Franklin University for almost 12 years.