Startup Hiring- Starts & Stops


For many startups, the first year is often its most challenging and volatile.  Trying to gain momentum in the marketplace, developing a value proposition, and trying to figure out what you are doing is daunting. Furthermore, the stats around successful startups are certainly not encouraging. While there are studies providing varying data, it is fair to say that many startups fail within the first few years.  This study provides an industry breakdown of startups by year and cause of failure. It takes grit, courage, passion and a lot of personal sacrifice.

The secret sauce for success is securing the right talent.  This becomes challenging when you are a startup, a bit scrappy and in lack of two important resources:  time and money.  However, let’s consider the true cost of getting the most important thing wrong: the PEOPLE that ultimately join you in your mission. Here are some simple ways to engage and secure the talent that you want along for the ride.


STOP hiring on commonalities and START to fill in the “gaps” - We all know that one person can negatively affect a culture; especially in a startup environment, Therefore, during interviews, we find ourselves trying very hard (too hard) to find common ground. While we all look to connect with one another, sometimes the strongest connections come out of differences; and these must be embraced. Don’t mistake similarities for “culture fit”. You may be in need of an engaging storyteller; or someone stellar with analytics- fill in the gaps!  While it is great to find someone that you have a lot in common with; or that comes from a similar background; that is not going to be impactful when challenged with issues that cannot be collectively solved or addressed. Furthermore, a conversation may easily flow with someone who has similar interests and experiences to your own, however, it is critical to look for individuals who can challenge your thinking and are inspirational. These folks will foster innovation with their perspectives, ideas, and approaches. Prospective employees do need to share in core values; however contribute unique skills.

 START being selective about your partners -  Faced with time constraints, you may have several external and internal resources canvassing the market for talent. If this is the approach you choose(I would recommend a more personalized/customized approach), ensure that EACH of these resources are authentic and passionate when representing your company and brand. Additionally,  it is critical that candidates are treated with respect and consideration; and given meaningful information about the company and opportunity. This initial outreach is the first experience that the candidate has with the company. I have gotten feedback from candidates when they are no longer willing to engage with the company after the first discussion.  This is another reason why it is important to identify your vision, mission and values from the start and embed into the DNA of your company. Take the time to work with your external vendor(s) to provide this insight as well.  The messaging could be that the hours are along, there are no perks, no pool tables, no lounge areas; however, that the company is truly working together and having fun building something while incorporating strong core values and a true sense of purpose.   

STOP rushing and START being present when interviewing! This is where I see companies lose talent during the interview process. Consider an interview as a chance to meet someone with a story to tell. Stories about your interview experience will get around, and you want these to be good ones. Candidates are making sacrifices to get there; juggling child care; missing meetings, using a personal day, and simply taking the time. They do it in the hopes of having a meaningful discussion and potentially getting a step closer to landing a fulfilling role with a purpose driven company.  We all know what founders and initial employees are faced with. You are handling 5 roles at once, working around the clock; and with no end in sight. The person assembling the desks might also be coding and ordering supplies. If you do make time to interview a candidate (whether you are the CEO, Recruiter, or anyone on the team) – never make them feel as though they have wasted their time. People know if they are being rushed. This is not to suggest that you conduct 2 hour interviews; however, during the time that is allocated(albeit 30 minutes), be present, listen and engage. I have conducted an appreciable amount of interviews over the years, and have truly enjoyed getting to know folks that I never ended up hiring. Candidate experience is not jargon - it does matter. Humanize the process and take the time regardless of the hiring decision.

They may forget what you said — but they will never forget how you made them feel.
—Carl W. Buehner

STOP targeting only top schools and START broadening your reach to include other schools and majors – Taken from several recent studies; hard analysis revealed that the tide is changing; and companies are recruiting based on skills and targeting a wider variety of institutions. In my involvement with many training classes over the years, I have seen this to hold true. The best performers did not come from top schools nor did they have the highest GPA’s. Build relationships with all different schools and widen your net. Also – consider liberal arts schools that foster creative learning. If you are looking for an HR professional; also consider those outside of HR programs. Some interesting options could be philosophy students who may be critical thinkers and have strong mental agility; or psychology majors who may have studied neuroscience which is very relevant in executing HR deliverables.

STOP rejecting all  “job hoppers” and START vetting for loyalty and grit – A company’s mission and culture does not always work for everyone and it is counterproductive staying in certain situations for the sake of continuity on a piece of paper.  Some may value “sticking it out” and showing “true grit.” However, I believe that true grit is pushing through fear to explore the unknown in the face of an unproductive situation. This is where you need to dig deeper and truly understand and appreciate challenges people have faced, how they have overcome these tough times, and what they have learned as a result. When I decided midway into my career to make a complete change, everyone warned me that it would be impossible to “catch up,” and decided to power forward. I knew that this career change was all a part of my journey and that it ultimately would help me grow.

The aforementioned just scratches the surface in securing talent for startups and let’s keep the discussion going. With every hire, there is opportunity to upLIFT your company, its values, and ultimately its success.  As the company grows keep fostering a culture of recruiting. Every person should double as a recruiter.  Train everyone on how to interview and be ambassadors for your company. Hiring top talent should be everyone’s first priority.

I wanted to point out a couple of startups that are taking the time for hiring and what they have to say:

“The most important job I have is to attract and motivate the best talent. It takes time to build the right team but when you have it, you can feel it.  And I have this feeling right now.  I trust the 180 people working for PeopleDoc around the world. –CEO, PeopleDoc Jonathan Benhamou

Taken from an article written by Lever, Ron Storn, the VP of people at Lyft, and David Skok, general partner at the VC firm, Matrix Partners - say that recruiting is so critical for a company’s success that executive leadership should spend between 60 to 80 percent of their time on hiring during period rapid growth

There are clear benefits to humanizing the hiring and selection process in startups.  I am passionate about ideas and about talent. When the right ones come together- is when the magic happens.  Take the time to recruit, be present when meeting folks, broaden your reach to find unique talent, be selective and informative with hiring resources, and always keep an eye out for the talent that will make the difference.

We upLIFT  companies and careers while incorporating core values and inspiration in every part of the process- email me at: to continue the discussion. Looking forward to partnering and making the difference!