It’s widely known that building up a good team is critical to startup success. However, for many founders finding the right people can be tough, especially when finances are limited and a company’s credibility is yet to be established.
“Too often, HR and recruitment are the neglected stepchildren of early stage startups; there are barely any processes in place and rarely is a dedicated person in charge,” said Manuel Holtz, co-founder of Berlin-based job recommendation and matching platform Jobspotting. “But it’s your team that makes or breaks your company, and investing in recruitment is investing in the future of your startup.”
So how can an emerging startup compete in the race to find top talent? We interviewed Holtz and Tim Khoo-Jones from SoundCloud – about what to consider when finding talent and navigating the startup hiring process.
“Too often, HR and recruitment are the neglected stepchildren of early stage startups; there are barely any processes in place and rarely is a dedicated person in charge.”
Don’t jump into hiring without identifying your startup mission and values.
Whether due to lack of experience or pressure to get people onboard quickly, it’s not uncommon for young startups to jump straight into hiring without a strategy. Having the right people is important for any business, but it’s particularly important for fledgling founders because each new team member can shape the trajectory of the company immensely.
“Don’t think of recruitment as a one-way street,” explained Holtz when discussing mistakes that budding entrepreneurs make when hiring. “As much as your candidates need to present themselves and convince you of their strengths, a big part of your task is to sell your vision, get applicants excited about your idea and the role they might play in it.”
SoundCloud’s Khoo-Jones, whose team are responsible for identifying and sourcing talent in Berlin and globally, said it’s important for each company to firstly define its values, what it wants to be known for and why it’s doing what it’s doing. Most people don’t join startups for immediate wealth creation opportunities, he said, they usually join because they also have a passion for an organization’s mission.
“You’re far more likely to find people working through the tough times if they have some form of connection to the mission of the organization,” added Khoo-Jones, who worked with startups for about three years prior to working at SoundCloud.
“You're far more likely to find people working through the tough times if they have some form of connection to the mission of the organization.”
Figure out your employee value proposition.
Another important thing for startups to consider when embarking on the recruitment path: Why would someone choose to work for your company and not for another? That’s your employee value proposition, and it’s one of the key things to identify before conducting any interviews, said Khoo-Jones.
“People may choose to join your organization due to your mission or perhaps the specific product you plan to take to market,” he explained, “If someone chooses to join the organization to develop their specific skills by working with the latest technologies, then perhaps you should focus on this.” In other words, it comes down to figuring out who your ideal candidate is and why they would be motivated to join your startup.
Outline the competencies and skills that a candidate would need to be successful.
Depending on the type of organization and the role that’s being filled, there can be many ways to assess the skills and competencies of a candidate. Whatever your approach, it’s important to define how you’ll screen for these characteristics as a startup before beginning the recruitment process.
At SoundCloud, this varies between the different functions, but typically a candidate needs to go through a series of interviews, as well as completing a challenge or leading a workshop directly related to a particular position, explained Khoo-Jones.
Another way is to make use of micro-assignments or freelance test work before offering employment, like at Jobspotting. “Sometimes it’s even enough to have someone hang out with the team for a while to figure out if it would be a good match for everyone involved,” said Holtz.
Hire for cultural fit.
At Jobspotting, Holtz said the team tends to pay more attention to a candidate’s passion and potential over their experience and diplomas. “It might be different for other startups – but what’s important is to have a clear idea about the type of culture you want to establish in your company,” he added.
“Startup culture can become an employer branding tool and a way to entice potential talent.”
Startup culture is undoubtedly an elusive concept, but it’s more than just bean bags and ping pong tables. Basically, it revolves around three key elements: an organization’s core values, mission and hiring strategy. When clearly defined and implemented well, culture can become an employer branding tool, a way to entice potential talent and a pillar of the startup hiring process.
“When you consider the way in which people choose roles right now, I think a lot of people look to organizations where they see some sort of return on their time invested – beyond monetary returns,” said Khoo-Jones. “This could be a feel-good factor or a belief in the mission or the potential to develop particular skills during their time at that organization.”
In order to delve into whether a candidate’s values align with SoundCloud’s, the company invites the individual to visit on-site for a day to meet and chat with about four people in the office. Usually, one of those people is an employee who has been at SoundCloud for a long time, understands its culture and whether the candidate shares company values.
Remember, the recruitment process is not over after the contract is signed.
Last but not least, it’s important to remember that once you’ve decided on a person and the contract is signed, it’s not over yet. It’s an ongoing process, said Holtz. “You need to put effort into onboarding new hires and make sure they find their place in the team,” he expanded. “Too often, it’s assumed that new team members will just figure it out. But like other recruitment tasks in an early stage startup, this is the founders’ responsibility and one to be taken seriously.“