The Art of Recruiting Great Employees for Startups

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Recruiting and retaining great employees is essential for any startup to be successful. However, it has become a tremendous challenge in the last decade as major companies like Microsoft, Facebook, Google, and others have skyrocketed.

You must create a significant amount of buzz for your company and show meaningful traction to attract high-quality employees. The best candidates are never on the market, which means that you must develop a strategy to attract these candidates to consider your startup.

Once you can interview the superstar employees, you need to wow them with a compelling vision for the company. You must demonstrate why your company would be a great place to work and that you have a legitimate chance to achieve a successful exit in the foreseeable future.

Start With a Great LinkedIn Profile

The first thing that any potential employee is going to do when contacted by your company is to look up the LinkedIn profile of the founders. Make sure, therefore, to invest the time to spruce up your LinkedIn profile so you can impress potential employees.

List all your key accomplishments, prior startup work, and any patents you have filed. Ask your previous co-workers to write recommendations about you. You should guide them on the critical points that you want them to highlight in their recommendation so that people get an accurate perspective of what you are like to work with. 

Take the time to invest in writing articles on Linkedin and Medium that provide a perspective about trends in your industry and the vision you have for your company. Make regular posts outlining the progress that you are making with your company.

Build a Brand

Like any marketing campaign, you need to consider how to build a brand that will attract high-quality candidates to consider your company. A critical way to build a brand is to conduct high-quality PR for your company that gets people excited about the company’s mission.

With one of my companies, Livemocha, we received coverage in the local Seattle newspapers and in the New York Times, and in The Wall Street Journal. This kind of coverage builds the trust and credibility you need to attract strong candidates. Another way to make your brand is to raise funding from high-profile angels and VCs. This will give your company instant credibility and allow you to attract high-quality talent.

You should also be seen as a thought leader in the community. Sponsor startup or tech-related Meetup group meetings and talk about the technology you are building. Make sure that other people from your company mingle with the audience to network and make more connections.

You should also consider hosting talks on specific technical topics at your company and invite people at the Meetup groups to attend these talks at your company.

Hire Great Leaders

You can make your recruiting job a lot easier if you hire great leaders who can bring their former team members with them.

At one of my companies, we hired a VP of Engineering who could get a number of his former engineers with him to the company. We hired four engineers this way. One way to determine if someone can bring their former team members with them is to ask for references of people who have worked for this person.

You can do a reference check to see how they are viewed by people who have worked for this person and get a sense of their recruiting skills. Be aware, however, of any non-solicitation clause that your management team members might have about hiring away people from their previous companies.

Hiring Through LinkedIn

LinkedIn can be a great job market resource to identify potential employees and recruit them. You can do a lot of personalized recruiting on LinkedIn in addition to placing ads on the platform.

However, don’t just leave it to an in-house HR person or recruiter to contact potential recruits. Have them identify strong candidates that are a good fit based on your job description. Instead of the recruiter or an office administrator, you should reach out to the target candidates directly from your LinkedIn account.

I have successfully contacted potential recruits and hired employees through this direct contact method. You should first send them a connection request over LinkedIn, which most people tend to accept.

After they have accepted your connection request, you can contact them over email to let them know about the opportunity at your company. Suggest a meeting over coffee as it might be easier for them to accept that request instead of an interview at the company.

Referral Bonuses

Current employees can often be the best source for leads on potential new employees. The best way to incentivize your current employees to refer their former colleagues is to institute a generous referral bonus.

After all, it will be a lot less expensive to pay your current employees than paying an external recruiter who can make a commission of a hire’s annual salary.

You should make sure that all your employees know of any new job openings that you are posting. Keep hammering on these open positions every time you have a company meeting, so people don’t forget. You should also consider organizing an open house from time to time so that the referred people can come in to chat with the founders and other employees.

Hiring great employees for your startup can take up a significant amount of time for a startup CEO. But it is well worth it as these employees will accelerate your growth and hire other smart people.

Shirish Nadkarni is a serial entrepreneur and author of From Startup to Exit : An Insider’s Guide to Launching and Scaling Your Tech Business.


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By Shirish Nadkarni