How to Excel in Startup Recruiting

Keith Cline is a Principal of Dissero, a digital talent agency focused on helping startups recruit top performers. He is also the Founder of VentureFizz, a leading website focused on the Boston tech and entrepreneurial community.

Startup recruitment can be tricky

Time is often of the essence and resources are anything but plenty. Then there’s the risk and cost of a mis-hire, the bevy of competition to recruit the absolute best talent, and the need to make sure that talent is a culture fit.

Then again, nothing worth doing is ever easy. And for all the challenges startup recruitment can present, it’s certainly worth the effort. If an early stage company is able to find and hire the right people, those additions can be the fuel that propel it to the next level.

So where should startups be looking for that talent? And what kind of person should they be looking for? OpenView sat down with Keith Cline, a startup recruitment expert and Principal at digital talent agency Dissero, to find out.

What type of positions do you find that tech startups have the most difficulty recruiting for?

At the moment, there is a major shortage of web development and software engineering talent.  Companies are coming up with creative ways to overcome finding and hiring that talent, though. For example, HubSpot, an inbound marketing software company, is offering a $10 thousand referral fee to anyone that introduces an engineer that they hire.

Other difficult areas include to find talent include:

•   User Experience professionals

•   People with industry experience in consumer web or mobile technology

•   And, of course, finding good salespeople is always a challenge

Do many of your candidates come from outside of the Boston area, or are most already in this area? If many are found elsewhere, what areas do you find are hubs for startup talent?

It might be surprising, but 99 percent of the candidates for Boston searches come from the local area. For my areas of specialty (product management, engineering, marketing, and client services), there is a strong enough pool of local candidates to draw from.

Unless a candidate is already in the process of moving to Boston, I try to avoid relocating candidates. It just adds a whole different level to the decision making process and makes it more complicated. I conducted two searches in New York City last year and that market is exploding with startups. Thus, it’s starting to develop a stronger base of startup talent. Other areas include San Francisco (obviously), Seattle, and Austin.

What type of person do you find is most successful in a startup?

Someone that is an overachiever and likes the unexpected. If a person prefers a structured environment with a steady pace and the security of a corporate ladder to climb, then a startup is definitely not a fit for them.

For most people that have worked at a startup, they appreciate the dynamic environment and the potential to accomplish so much, providing an opportunity to accelerate the growth of their career.

What experience or skills do you look for when recruiting a VP at a startup?

I tend to look for candidates that have a demonstrated track record of success working at other startups. I also look for people who are exceptional leaders and strategic thinkers that are highly capable of executing.

When working with executive search firms, how do you think CEOs and hiring managers can make the most of those firms’ services? In other words, how can they make the search process more effective?

Open communication and a collaborative relationship are definitely key. Another area where we help is with the positioning and value proposition (the sell) of the company with candidates. This piece is sometimes overlooked by companies and it comes into play in a tight market where candidates have multiple options.

What, if any, alternative mediums (such as Twitter, blogging, etc.) have yielded strong candidates for your searches?

My network is my greatest asset. I’m fortunate to know a lot of great people, who tend to refer other great people to me.

I haven’t spent a lot of time sourcing people from Twitter. But I did recently help a startup hire a VP of Tech and Strategy and the candidate was someone I originally found on Twitter.

How long is an average search for a VP-level position at a startup?

On average, a VP search will take about 90 days depending on the scope and specific nature of the search.

So there you have it.

Startups that excel in recruiting are able to execute a resource-efficient strategy, offer a strong value proposition that attracts top talent, and ensure that the people it hires will meld with its company culture and the startup environment as a whole.

Do those three things well — and look in the right places for potential new-hires — and you’ll hit a recruitment home run far more often than you strike out.

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