The Best Strategies for Recruiting Candidates to Your Startup

Four professionals sitting in beanbags as they work

Hiring for any business is challenging, but startup hiring is a different breed entirely. The stakes are high, your cash flow is limited, and the success or failure of your fledgling business hinges on securing the right people to build out your team.

Whether you’re totally flying by the seat of your pants when it comes to hiring, or you’re a seasoned hiring pro taking the reins at a startup for the first time, follow these startup recruitment strategies to win top talent.

Startup Recruitment Strategies to Attract Candidates

Get specific about your roles and responsibilities

While early employees at a startup commonly wear many hats out of necessity, don’t fall into the habit of looking for unicorns who can do it all. Ever heard the phrase “jack of all trades, master of none?” That’s exactly what you don’t want.

As a brand-new operation, you need candidates with specific expertise and knowledge that will enable you to grow in different areas of your business. To find them, get ultra-specific about the business need each position will serve. Outline the goals you expect the right candidate to meet within their first 90 days on the job as well as a broader vision for what long-term success will look like in the role.

Establish a hiring funnel

It might sound complicated, but a hiring funnel is simply a standardized framework you use to attract, assess, and hire candidates. Just as you have systems for other parts of your business, like manufacturing your product, having a system for hiring helps you get the job done consistently each time while optimizing resources like time and money spent.

It’s much easier (and more cost-efficient) to think through and establish a hiring funnel early on rather than trying to fix an ineffective system down the road. Remember, you can—and should!—analyze and tweak your hiring funnel often as your business grows to maximize its results.

Employ automation

The earlier you can incorporate automation into your hiring processes, the better. Automating things like candidate assessments and scheduling will save you time and energy that can be spent on other areas of your business, like operations. Plus, once your hiring team starts to grow, it’ll help ensure consistency between multiple team members.

Be realistic with staffing plans

While a goal like “hire ten people in the next 60 days” might sound reasonable, but is it achievable? Don’t leave it up to chance. Find out whether you’re setting realistic staffing goals by taking a microscope to your hiring process and how long each component of it takes.

For example, let’s say reviewing applications, screening candidates, and setting up interviews takes an average of 20 hours for each open position. For ten roles, that’s 200 hours—or five full work weeks—just to get to the interview phase. At this pace, hiring ten people in 60 days is quite ambitious, even if you have a full-time HR manager.

To avoid a staffing snafu, be sure to calculate and factor in your actual hiring metrics as you create your future staffing projections.

Write compelling job descriptions

If a candidate is scrolling through a job board and sees an opening at a well-known company like Apple or Toyota, they will probably take a closer look. Those are reputable employers, so the companies don’t have to work too hard to get job seekers’ attention. 

When you’re a new company, though, you don’t have an established reputation to rely upon. You need to make it so that when candidates come across your job posts, they’re compelled to click through and check them out. This requires strong job titles and descriptions.

Job titles should be direct, stating the name of the position and the most relevant details, which could include your location, the seniority level, or a succinct description of the company. Here are a few examples:

Social Media Manager – Dallas, TX

Manager, Social Media Marketing

Social Media Manager for Fast-Growing Technology Company 

Job descriptions should provide a clear summary of the key duties, a list of qualifications, and a blurb about the company. This last part–your elevator pitch–is critical for startups, and we’ll cover it next. 

Related: A-Z List of Sample Job Descriptions

Refine your elevator pitch

When you’re trying to woo investors, your elevator pitch should explain in a concise way what you do and why you’re worthy of an investment. You should also have an elevator pitch for candidates who work the same way, which will spark interest in working for you.

Lead with your mission—the guiding statement that explains why you’re in business—and focus on what sets you apart. As a new company, you’ll want to include some version of this elevator pitch in your job listings and other materials you use to reach out to prospective candidates.

Seek the right kind of experience

When it comes to startup hiring, not all experiences are created equal. A candidate whose resume boasts 20 years of operations experience at an established industry juggernaut might look great on paper, but that corporate background may bring its own set of pitfalls. In the startup world, agility is key, and someone who’s used to doing business at a careful, measured pace may slow you down.

That doesn’t mean everyone you hire must have previous startup experience; however, some corporate know-how can be useful. Yet it’s a great asset to have someone on your team who’s been there before and knows what it takes to bring a startup from conception to success at scale.

Recruit your evangelists

In Keurig’s early days, the coffee company was growing so quickly that it was hard to maintain a steady stream of high-quality candidates with the right expertise. The company’s solution? Recruiting candidates who were similar to its die-hard fans. Then-president Michelle Stacy told Harvard Business Review that the company focused on hiring employees who matched their customers’ affinity for coffee.

“That our employees loved a wide variety of coffee like our consumers [did] made it easier to trust they would do the right thing,” she said.

Your superfans already know your products well, so they bring authentic ideas drawn from real-world experience. They’re likely already onboard with your mission and values, and since they already follow your brand, it may be easier to get in front of them, which can contribute to lower hiring costs.

Get face-to-face time

One of the biggest hurdles to overcome when recruiting for a startup is the existing knowledge vacuum. Most job seekers–and most people in general—won’t have heard of you, so you have to start from scratch with each interaction to educate them on your brand. Though it’s time-consuming, the most effective way to build a lasting impression is through face-to-face interactions. 

When you’re talking with someone in person, it’s much easier for them to get a sense of who you are and the type of company you’re trying to build (and for you to get a sense of their personality, too). A live conversation is a valuable opportunity to dispel any qualms a candidate might have about joining a startup, like concerns about job security or an unmanageable workload. 

Seek out opportunities to meet prospective candidates face-to-face whenever possible, such as recruiting and networking events, industry meet-ups, and even informal gatherings. 

Take advantage of technology

When you can’t connect in person, technology like Zoom offers the next best thing: connecting virtually. Leverage video conferencing tools to host virtual events like online job fairs and candidate Q&As. These events are inexpensive, have a low barrier to entry, and allow you to reach a wide pool of talent in a short amount of time. 

Enlist a support team

It takes a village to build an all-star team, but as a startup, it may not be feasible to have more than one person heavily involved in the hiring process. Still, you can harness the “two heads are better than one” philosophy by enlisting a board of consultants to step in during your interview process. These might be trusted industry colleagues you call in as a favor or hired consultants with a more niche knowledge of the type of role you’re looking to fill.

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Offer flexibility

How can you compete against industry powerhouses who can easily one-up you in the salary department? By offering something modern candidates find even more valuable than money: flexibility.

Whether it’s unlimited time off, the ability to work remotely, or some other non-traditional work arrangement, making flexibility a core selling point can boost your startup recruiting game.

Sell the potential

It’s important to strive for buy-in among all employees, but it’s absolutely critical among your earliest hires. These are the people who will serve as the foundation of your company, and if they’re not onboard with the direction you’re taking, it could quickly throw the whole operation off track.

To hire startup employees who are aligned with your core mission and excited about the work it will take to get there, sell them on the potential of working for you. This might include discussing the ability to tackle challenging projects, pursue work with a deeper impact, play a foundational role in building a company, and so on. As much as you’re selling the role you need them to fill today, you’re also selling them on the vision of the company you’re building for tomorrow.

Build your employer brand

When you’re focused on keeping your business running, thinking about anything outside your own four walls can be difficult. But if you want to win at startup hiring, don’t neglect the opportunity to build a strong employer brand from day one.

Create a positive image among would-be candidates by being present at industry events like conferences and trade shows. Likewise, work to build recognition as a steward of your community by getting involved with social initiatives that are aligned with the company’s mission.

Related: How to Elevate Your Employer Branding to Attract Top Talent

Focus on the candidate experience

A strong candidate experience is one more way to set your startup apart among the many companies vying for the same top candidates. Remember, the experience a candidate has when applying is often their first impression of your organization and may play a role in their decision to accept or decline an offer.

Work to create a seamless application and interview process, one that moves along steadily, eliminates needless steps, and maintains communication with the candidate through every phase. This post explains how to create a flawless candidate experience.

Follow the data

Recruiting produces an immense amount of data, which can be used to hire faster, more accurately, and less expensively. We can’t overstate the importance of examining your recruiting data regularly, especially in your company’s early days. 

Measuring and tracking key recruiting metrics like your time to hire, cost per hire, application completion rate, and offer acceptance rate will shed light on where your efforts yield success and where you’re allocating resources without producing results. It will also help you pinpoint key bottlenecks or dropoff points in the hiring process, which can be corrected to improve the candidate experience and get more of your offers accepted. 

Related: How to Leverage Recruiting Metrics to Improve Your Hiring Process

Hire the Staffing and Recruiting Experts

Your early hires are a fundamentally important part of your organization. Hiring the wrong people can cost you precious cash, slow your growth, and potentially put the very survival of your business at risk. Don’t wing it when it comes to your startup recruitment strategy. Instead, hire the staffing experts at 4 Corner Resources.

4 Corner Resources is your trusted partner for startup hiring. Our headhunters will help you refine your job requirements and harness our proprietary staffing technology to find candidates who are a perfect fit to help you thrive. As your business expands, we’ll expand with you, helping you navigate the growing pains of staffing a dynamic, innovative organization.

Ready to get started? Contact us today and get on the fast track to startup recruiting success.

Pete Newsome

About Pete Newsome

Pete Newsome is the President of 4 Corner Resources, the staffing and recruiting firm he founded in 2005. 4 Corner is a member of the American Staffing Association and TechServe Alliance, and the top-rated staffing company in Central Florida. Recent awards and recognition include being named to Forbes’ Best Recruiting Firms in America, The Seminole 100, and The Golden 100. Pete also founded zengig, to offer comprehensive career advice, tools, and resources for students and professionals. He hosts two podcasts, Hire Calling and Finding Career Zen, and is blazing new trails in recruitment marketing with the latest artificial intelligence (AI) technology. Connect with Pete on LinkedIn