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Recruiting Should Be Your #1 Priority From Day 1

by Felix Winstone, Co-Founder and Managing Director at Talkative

As a new entrepreneur or business owner, the most important thing you will do is hire talent.

As a startup co-founder with a growing team, here are the recruiting tips I’ve learnt over the last couple of years.

Hiring = Sales.

A good recruitment process has many parallels with a sales funnel. You start with many prospects (candidates), have qualifying rules (technical tests) for narrowing down to qualified leads. Finally, you need to close and convince people to join your team.

Robert Metcalfe, co-founder and CEO of 3Com, says you need to think about it as “recruiting, not hiring”. This is because the best people will have other job opportunities. You need to sell them on why your startup is the best. You can’t just expect top talent to gravitate to you without any effort on your part.

An actionable tip is to prepare 3 clear reasons why a candidate should choose your company. Think of it as an elevator pitch for recruiting. As with sales, these core reasons need to be compelling to candidates, while being as unique to you (competitive differentiation) as possible. As an example, the reasons we provide to prospective engineers are 1. cutting edge technology (WebRTC), 2. impactful work (we point to specific features that are being used by 100s of customers) and 3. a share option scheme (not something offered by most companies in our area).

Be Specific.

What does the right hire look like? Can you write down specifics?

Ray Dalio, the founder of the world’s largest hedge fund, has some good advice on this front. He says that there are only two types of people: those that are mission oriented, and those that are just in it for a paycheck. You want the former. He goes further to specifically look for young graduates with character, creativity and common sense.

A common mistake is put out a job spec for an over-generalised position. This is bad for two reasons. First, your job spec, which is essentially an advert, will be anodyne and not stand out. Secondly, it indicates you perhaps haven’t fully thought through what this person will be doing, which implies the need is not yet great enough to hire…

Know When To Hire.

An obvious issue with growing your team is increased overheads. Hiring too early can negatively affect your cash flow. On the other hand, hiring too late can reduce your ability to capitalise on opportunities. It’s a tricky balance.

Knowing when to hire for a position is a difficult question, and there are no hard and fast rules. It’s helpful to have this as an ongoing topic of discussion among your team, to try and surface potential bottlenecks in your team before they arise.

An additional layer of complexity is the time it takes to hire. It can sometimes take months to find the right person for a key role. Market dynamics also play a role, with some types of candidates in shorter supply than others. For example, if you run a tech startup, you will know how hard it is to find good software engineers.

Difficulty comes when you really need a position filled, but the candidate isn’t ideal. Do you compromise, or do you keep looking? You probably think ‘we should have started looking earlier’. This is something we have previously underestimated at our startup. Don’t make the same mistake!

If you are really unsure on this point, write out a day in the life of your new hire. Can you describe what they will be doing in granular detail? This is something that is often asked by prospective candidates, and it can help you to more tangibly understand what they will be working on. If you cannot fill out a day or week of work for this person, perhaps it is not yet apt for a full-time hire.

Make Time For Hiring.

From a tactical perspective, you will need to allocate time in your week for recruiting. At Talkative, our founding team has done over eighty face to face interviews, sat on hundreds of phone interviews and looked through thousands of CVs. Just to hire 7 people. This adds up to a lot of time.

As well as processing candidates, you should allocate time for outbound, proactive candidate sourcing. You will need to do more than put up a spec on a job board and wait for applications to come in if you want the best candidates. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a world of perfect rationality. This is why recruitment is a $429 billion industry.

Tools such as LinkedIn are obviously useful, but it can also pay dividends to use your network to find potential hires. Many of the best hires are not actively looking for roles. Employees can also be a valuable source of referrals. It doesn’t take long to ask your employees and network, so do it.

Mindset.

You need to truly embody what I call the ‘hiring mindset’. You need to believe that hiring is the most important thing. Not sales, product development, or fundraising. Hiring is the one thing that will have the biggest impact on your business.

If the ‘why’ of hiring is top of mind, you will start to notice great talent as potential hires and treat interviews as opportunities, instead of chores. You will also start to better manage your existing talent as you come to appreciate the importance of great people.

As a founder, one of the hardest things to do is relinquish control over an aspect of your business. Hiring great team mates is the only way to ensure that you rest easy when delegating responsibilities. Your internal team creates your external results, such as new products and increased revenues.

As Elon Musk says, “A company is just a bunch of people who come together to create a product or service”. The success of your company is directly correlated to the quality of this bunch of people.

 

Felix Winstone is the Co-Founder and Managing Director at Talkative, a tech startup that connects website visitors with sales teams. Talkative’s novel platform brings voice, video, chat and cobrowsing into customer facing websites to increase revenues and improve customer service. Felix manages sales, marketing and finance at Talkative, and often writes about technology, startups and marketing.

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