Scaling the People Process: How to Hire the Right People for Your Startup [Part 1]

Startups are only as good as the teams that drive them. Building a team and scaling the people process is one of the biggest challenges a founding team will face as it grows. It’s time consuming, and founders are not often always natural HR pros.

One of the most important things a founding team must do is create a people process that immediately filters out those that aren’t a fit. There is no bigger waste of time and money than hiring the wrong person. While the foundation for this process takes some effort upfront, the payoffs are huge. Below are key guidelines every young startup should follow to ensure that only the best and brightest are extended offers to join the team.

Determine your startup’s values and expectations.

A founder is responsible for dictating exactly who the company is, and equally important, who it is not. Creating values & expectations that serve as the company’s ‘true north’ is critical, and should be pinned down from the get go.  Depending on the startup, the depth of these will vary and should evolve over time, but articulate what you value as the founder of the company and what is expected of employees. For a good example, see Zappos’ values here.

Determine your startup’s one key activity.

Every founder should identify a key operational activity that drives the company’s success, and make sure that everyone at the company spends some time conducting this activity at the beginning of their employment and sometimes throughout their employment. Whether it is customer service or an element of making your product, putting everyone through that shared experience is a great exercise for developing camaraderie and teaching key components of your business. My favorite example is Island Creek Oysters, which has all employees spend time farming their oysters out on the bay.

Determine key hires and hunt for them.

Without a recruiting operation to lean on for sourcing talent, founders must become recruiters. Start by determining the most important hires that you’re proactively going to recruit, and determine the sources through which you will find candidates. Poach from companies that you know are killer at the function you are hiring for (i.e. design, sales, etc.), prospecting through Linkedin, AngelList or their website. You’ll need to block off serious time each week to hustle and do anything you can to get an introduction so you can ultimately add these key hires to your team. Do not post job opportunities and hope for great people. Talent isn’t easy to come by, you have to hunt for it.

Develop the top of your talent funnel.

Once your initial key hires for scale are on board, it is imperative to lay the foundation of your people process, enabling you and your team to focus on the job at hand while maintaining a pipeline of talent for future needs. This way, you won’t have to start from scratch as employment needs arise. Start by developing your “employment brand” – a narrative that evolves from your values and what it is like to work at your company, to showcase what you stand for as an employer. Companies like Google and HubSpot mastered this early on. Broadcast your employment brand through weekly blog posts, regular social media updates, PR about your workplace, etc., to garner inbound employment candidates, and save you time in the people process.  

Develop your interview and tryout process.

To be time efficient, work backwards on determining certain positions and skills you need, and design your process to identify candidates with the needed critical skills, quickly vetting out people that don’t meet your requirements. Interviews are more effective at eliminating bad candidates than surfacing good candidates — being a good interviewer does not always mean you can do the job well. Tryout environments are more strenuous, but much more effective at highlighting skill and ability. Here are tips for both:

  • Be transparent with the full details of your hiring process on your website. This is a great filter for lazy applicants, and is respectful of their time & expectations for the process.
  • Publish a set of questions and tasks on your jobs page that the candidate must find and complete before they can begin the interview process. This will enable you to get information up front on the candidate that could eliminate them before you commit time to an interview. It also proves they know how to find a job page and take initiative on completing tasks.
  • Conduct a phone interview reviewing those candidates who did well on the initial tasks you set forth. See if they can add more substance to their responses and carry a normal conversation.  
  • Schedule in-person interviews and engagement with the team once you have determined a candidate is worthy. If social/culture fit is important, block off Thursday or Friday afternoons so good candidates can join the team for some sort of social interaction. In addition to watching candidates in a setting that is important (i.e. creative session, socializing, etc.), have a set of questions for all members of your company to ask, and corresponding metrics to assess candidates.  
  • Whether you are hiring a sales rep, a developer, or a content marketer, it is critical to put them into some simulation of the job they will be conducting on a daily basis. Working live with their potential future team members in a tryout will let you see them in action & if they will fit in, and will allow you to get multiple perspectives from other team members without dragging them away from their desks. Check with your lawyer on whether to make tryouts paid and how best to structure them, but your transparency at the beginning of this process should warn candidates.

Like these tips so far? Check back next week for part two of this series on scaling the people process.

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