Meeting the Challenge of Finding, Attracting, and Hiring the Best Talent

An interview with Lora Zotter, Rev1 Director of Talent Programs

Startups need talent. With today’s high employment rates and peak demand for diverse leadership and technical skills of all stripes, it is more challenging than ever for high-growth firms to recruit the talent they need to succeed.

Lora Zotter, Rev1 director of talent programs, helps portfolio companies tackle the talent gap. We interviewed her to find out how entrepreneurs can build high caliber teams.

Rev1: What is unique about helping entrepreneurs find the right talent at the right time?

LZ: Qualifying a candidate’s functional expertise—can a leader lead, a salesperson sell, or a coder code—is a similar process whether you are building talent in a startup or in a corporation. However, when it comes to recruiting excellent candidates who will also fit the environment and culture of a startup, it’s different.

Most people have some idea of what it’s like to work in a corporation, a mid-sized established company, or in a family business. Unless a person has worked in a startup before, they may not realize it’s an entirely different world.

Rev1: Asking a person to take on any role on the ground floor of a company is a big risk, much more risky than position in a profitable firm that has been making payroll for multiple years. How can an entrepreneur talk to candidates about the challenges of working in a startup without scaring good talent away?

LZ: Joining a startup can sound really exciting but signing up because it sounds cool without thoroughly understanding the challenges and how incredibly hard starting a company is, can create a mismatch that will not be good for the individual or the startup.

Losing people hurts every company, but for a startup, without an HR staff or extra money to hire a recruiter, hiring mistakes can be devastating. The company can forfeit momentum, affect morale, and dampen enthusiasm and confidence in finding a replacement or in filling the next key role. When entrepreneurs don’t hire and retain the right talent, it can cripple or even kill their business.

Entrepreneurs must be both transparent and compelling. Let the vision and company culture shine through. If there are other employees, involve them in the interview process—and make sure they are prepared to tell the same story about what the person who accepts the open position is going to do.

Speak to the opportunity and the progress so far. Talk about the market and potential customers, about the technology, and about the competition. Share business plan milestones that are most critical, what it will take to accomplish those, and how the ideal candidate will contribute to that achievement.

Don’t misrepresent just how difficult and demanding some of those milestones will be. Be frank about a day in the life of the company. Talk about how, while everyone in a startup wears multiple hats, each person also carries a lot of solo responsibility. Be clear about where the pitfalls are and call out what isn’t known.

Rev1: When it comes to hiring, startups never seem to have enough money or time. Do you have some tips?

LZ: Juggling money and time is a constant challenge for entrepreneurs—especially when it comes to acquiring talent. Most early-stage companies don’t have the funds to pay a recruiter; yet startups can’t rely entirely on online job boards to connect them with the talent they need.

First and foremost, no founder should operate in a vacuum. Talk to people on your team, your advisors, and your board. Leverage mentors, board members, and advisors when you have open jobs. Consider partnering with a university system to set up an internship that could turn into a full-time position.

If you are looking for technologists (or will be eventually) become a regular at development meetups or programming language meetups. The audience will be full of the type of talent you are looking for, and they have friends. Plus, it’s a great way to showcase your company. Getting a hands-on look at technologies they could be working on excites developers.

  • Rev1’s Learning Labs talent series provides modules and hands-on tools to help startups prepare a hiring plan and process.
  • The Entrepreneur Toolkit provides more resources for building and scaling your team.
  • Advisors in our service provider programs offer reduced fee and even pro bono services.
  • List open positions on the Rev1 jobs board.

Rev1: What tips do you have for entrepreneurs and startups about building diversified teams?

LZ: We all have an unconscious bias to overcome. Resist pigeonholing candidates and making too many assumptions too early. Don’t take the easy path of hiring someone who feels comfortable and familiar.

As powerful as networking is to uncover and hire the best talent, if you draw only on own network, you will only hire people who look and think like you. Reach out to organizations where participants are more diverse. Read Rev1’s report on inclusive entrepreneurship. Gender, racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity really does make companies more financially successful.

Rev1: What are the biggest mistakes you’ve seen entrepreneurs make when it comes to adding talent? And what are some of the best practices?

LZ: Number one is failing to treat every high-potential candidate with urgency and respect. From the company’s first job posting, to every interview and follow-up call, to the job offer or rejection, think about the candidate’s impression from day one.

Do you move them through the hiring process smoothly and efficiently? Do you return their calls—every call? Your hiring process is a megaphone for the company culture. Is it welcoming, inclusive, and warm? How you treat people does affect the company’s brand.

Number two is falling into diversity debt. It may seem more efficient to tap into the networks of people you already know, but that’s the fastest way to miss the early opportunity to create a team that’s diverse. The more homogeneous the company becomes, the more difficult it is to diversify down the road. Instead, build a process that tracks and measures how and where the company is recruiting for diversity.

Number three is not understanding how to vet each new hire for culture fit. “Startup” doesn’t mean one thing. Understand the culture you are building and the values you want your company to embody. Put in some time before you rush to hire. Hire people who are aligned with your beliefs and vision. Culture fit isn’t something you can train.