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4 Hiring Mistakes These Startup Founders Don't Want You to Make One mistake is treating references as a check-off box. They're so much more than that.

By Leela Srinivasan Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


No matter how aware people are that they should wear a helmet while riding a bike, they may need to actually crash and get a little banged up to actually make that helmet habit happen. The same goes for startup founders and hiring.

Related: 8 Clumsy Mistakes to Avoid During the Hiring Process

Founders know by now that hiring is of massive strategic importance, but often they have to be a few poor hiring decisions in before they actually strap on their helmets and give hiring the attention it requires.

Take it from the following founders: You don't want to wait until you're slightly concussed to start investing in hiring. Your team is your largest asset, and it's absolutely critical to focus your energies on getting the best talent on board from day one. Here's what to do.

1. Be disciplined.

According to Spenser Skates, the co-founder and CEO of Amplitude, "The best hires have always come out of disciplined processes." A lot goes into systematizing the way you hire, but Skates stresses a few key points. Before you jump right into a candidate search, he advises, put serious thought into the type of individual you're looking for, so you don't waste time course-correcting down the line.

Also, it's critical to structure your interview process in such a way that you'll always walk away with the data points you need in order to make an informed decision.

2. Systematize employee referrals.

Employee referrals are a rich source of candidates for startups across the board, but there's a lot that companies can do to increase their referrals even more. Announcing that you are hiring for a certain role only scratches the surface.

"Employees make a lot of assumptions that can yield a low amount of referrals, like failing to realize a person is a good fit or assuming they won't be interested in the opportunity," says Karthik Sridharan, co-founder and CEO at Kinnek. Sridharan points out that in today's world of constant networking, an employee might forget altogether that he or she is connected with someone promising.

To run an employee referral program that is actually effective, then, Sridharan suggests doing deep dives with employees on an individual basis by going through their online connections together. Referral programs are frequently tied to financial incentives, but oftentimes, what employees need, in order to send referrals your way, are reminders and some proactive guidance.

Related: 5 Top Mistakes Hiring Managers Make When Recruiting Software Developers

3. Don't be afraid to let people go.

Letting people go stinks -- especially when you're a small team and you want every person you hire to be influential in shaping your company. But that's all the more reason not to um and ah over the decision to let someone go if he or she is not pulling weight at the company. Keeping the wrong people on board is costly, both in terms of productivity and company culture.

Arum Kang, co-founder and CEO of Coffee Meets Bagel, has said she struggled for months over firing her first employee, and even put him on an eight-week improvement plan. Today, Kang says, "I wouldn't struggle. The moment you find yourself making excuses for an employee, you have to decide and move on."

Kang adds that aside from hurting the employee, her main concern was the impact that letting a person go would have on the rest of her team's morale and sense of security. She quickly discovered, however, that the team could spot a poor performer as well as she could. One person even told Kang that he felt he could do his job faster and more effectively after the employee departed.

4. Take references as seriously as interviews.

Don't make the mistake of treating reference calls like a rubber stamp -- something you do just to tick off a box without giving it much thought. "You need to be prepared to reject someone based solely on reference calls," says Sridharan. It's hard, but not impossible for a candidate to hide his or her genuine nature over the course of a few interviews. It's a lot harder to do that all day, every day at work.

Don't underestimate the value and insights that speaking with a candidate's past co-workers can yield. If those co-workers have anything but high praise for your candidate, it's worth seeking more references and reevaluating before you extend an offer.

Receiving great advice and failing to realize its salience until a crisis is staring us in the face is something we're probably all guilty of. Don't let that happen with hiring. Invest in hiring from day one to build the great team you need.

Related: Avoid These 5 Small-Business HR Mistakes

Leela Srinivasan

Chief Marketing Officer at SurveyMonkey

Leela Srinivasan is chief marketing officer at SurveyMonkey, a global leader in survey software that enables organizations and individuals to transform feedback into business intelligence that drives growth and innovation.

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