Results May Vary: 3 Quick Tips on Hiring the Right People for Your Startup

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Nobody is perfect. What may inspire a candidate or employee to give their absolute best performance in one company does not guarantee an encore at the next one. When building out a team, this factor can make your young company especially vulnerable. Hiring for a startup often means hiring first for culture fit, then experience and skill set. Sounds a little backward, doesn’t it? But if you (hiring manager) have an eye for high caliber, raw intelligence and strong potential, then it becomes your responsibility to ensure your vetting process validates your instincts. Nothing should be a greater priority than protecting your company and team from hiring mistakes. ‘Hire slowly, fire quickly’ is the approach my most successful clients take when searching for talent. You can’t afford the stop and go of on-again/off-again focus, perpetual foot-dragging or the lack of execution…often the hallmarks of a mediocre employee. It doesn’t make him/her a bad person, just bad for your team. As your start-up begins its rapid hiring scale-up, the odds you could hire a ‘non-starter’ will increase. Here’s a few ways to mitigate that risk:

1. References and background checks: Do both, by all means, but be prepared to do your own due diligence. Getting a reference to admit a former employee or colleague’s faults is not easy. One would be incredibly foolish to offer a contact they are not sure will give them a glowing review. However, the best way to get a balanced perspective is from a direct manager and/or senior peer. When a direct manager is not offered as a reference, that’s a big red flag. Can you get to them without alienating your candidate? Yes, but it still requires hiring a professional to identify and communicate with them on your behalf.  Be skeptical of anyone who tells you a former employer will not allow reference checks. This may be a company policy instituted to avoid legal hassles brought by former employees, but a rock star has many fans. Find one who is willing to talk off the record.

2. Incentivized employee referrals: Money talks, people listen. Your employees should be tapped regularly for candidate referrals. If they love working for you, they should want to share their good fortune with friends and former co-workers. Statistics show that an internal referral ramps up faster, offers stronger job performance, and has a much higher likelihood of sticking over the long term than a complete unknown. Considering the average cost to recruit and train one new hire can cost a company approximately $30,000 in the first year (not including salary), it makes sense to offer a couple thousand dollars in referral bonus to entice your employees to make solid candidate referrals.

3. Develop a strong recruiter relationship: Once a recruiter has demonstrated their ability to identify and hire great people for your company, keep working with them. The more time they invest in getting to know your company’s product/service and its culture, the more likely they are to identify and pursue those individuals who can bring immediate value to your organization. If you have a rock star recruiter who has invested in your success, it only makes sense that they’re thinking of you even when not actively working on a search. They may even make an occasional “gratis” introduction that could result in a fantastic (free!) hire.

Lastly, one of the best ways to CYA is to “try before you buy”. When in doubt, hand a 1099 out. The shape and color of your company’s DNA will evolve over time. Using a few strategies to inoculate against toxic agents should be your first defense against a culture clash.

About the Author: Karen Biscoe has spent the last 15 years telling people they have no business doing work they don’t love. A headhunter with a heart focused on start-ups in the renewable energy sector, she is a new member of the Workbar community.  When she’s not talking about recruiting, she’s writing about it. Karen makes her home on the South Shore with her husband, a teen, a tween and a pardi poodle.

 

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