Hiring the right talent can make or break any young startup.
Early employees not only increase a startup’s cash burn but also greatly impact company culture. So, for any entrepreneur, identifying and hiring your first non-founding employees is one of the most important decisions you’ll ever make.
At my group travel startup Travefy, I am lucky to be surrounded by a fun-loving and talented group of problem solvers. From my (and their) experiences, here are key tips for identifying and hiring the best new startup employees.
1. Continuously cultivate a pipeline of talent.
Many entrepreneurs don’t begin the search for great talent until they’re actually hiring for a specific job. While some may be lucky enough to quickly identify and hire the perfect teammate, others may spend months with an unfilled key role.
To avoid any hiring lags, startups should always be on the hunt for new talent – preferably also with an entrepreneurial spirit.
We do so by maintaining a continual presence at local development or design meetups and participating in local university entrepreneurial events, among other outreach methods.
2. Share your vision.
When hiring first employees you’re probably not offering big paychecks and corporate perks. You’re betting that others will want to join your startup for equity ownership and a belief in both what you’re building and can achieve.
Consequently, as a founder you must be able to compellingly share your long-term vision. Understanding of the overall vision and subsequent buy-in make the leap to your startup worthwhile for a potential employee.
3. Test real skills (not credentials).
During the interview process it is easy to get caught up in credentials to validate one’s abilities. While it is important to discuss resume and experience, being an “engineer at X Company” or “biz dev at Y Company” may not have led to the actual transferrable skills you’re hiring for.
We typically test real skills during the interview process for candidates we don’t know and provide a quick one-hour homework assignment. This can range from a simple development task on the product side to a mock sales email on the marketing side. These projects set a helpful baseline for skills and also weed out applicants unwilling to put in the time.
4. Build team buy-in.
For small teams, every new employee has a profound effect on team culture and norms. As a result, buy-in from your team is imperative for every hire.
We focus on team buy-in in two key ways. First, at the final interview stage we have every team member meet a potential hire to test for cultural fit. After they meet, we ask the current employee one simple question, Would you happily spend 12 hours a day with this person?
We then take this a step further and ask everyone within the sector,Would you want this person to be your boss? If someone has that much faith in the knowledge and dedication of a potential teammate, you know they’re the right hire.
5. Be swift.
Always. Be. Closing.
This powerful sales mantra is equally important when it comes to hiring. While you don’t want to be hasty with your decision, once you’ve chosen a candidate, go for it.
When asking someone to take a leap of faith in you and your company, speed sends a powerful signal on decisiveness, is flattering and gets you a quick yes or no.
6. Offer REAL benefits.
To effectively hire and retain the best talent, startups must offer real benefits.
One powerful benefit is employee equity (or ownership), which aligns employee and founder incentives and can combat potentially lower cash salaries than competitors. Beyond equity, simple and budget friendly benefits like food or technology allocations can also help recruit talent.
Another very important competitive is employee healthcare. With healthcare making up nearly eight percent of average compensation, employees without healthcare typically expect a higher salary anyway. Providing some form of healthcare – even an HRA to simply provide tax-free cash to pay for insurance – makes any hiring package much more competitive.
7. Don’t stop.
Lastly, the awesome things that helped you recruit amazing new team members must continue long after the contract is signed. Putting the expectations of your team first is invaluable to maintain a motivated and enthusiastic team. And a motivated team means a healthy startup.
Related: How I Scout Superstar Employees