Recruiting for a startup is drastically different from working in-house at a large tech company. If you are a versatile recruiter who is dedicated to the profession and ongoing learning, best practice recruiting fundamentals are pretty similar wherever you go. The variable that is so drastically different is pretty obvious:culture. Startups definitely have a sparkly, sexy appeal in that they are coming out with new, innovative products, but make no mistake, it is not glamorous and is a lot of work. I recently wrote a post titled The Startup DNA: Is it in you? that I consider this to be a follow-up post to. The basic summary of the previous post: startup life isn’t for everyone and is really something you have to want because it is what you are passionate about and personally motivated by.
If you are a Recruiter working at a high-growth startup (or considering making the move), here are a few things that you should keep in order to be successful.
- It is more important for a startup to get personal during the interview process than it is at a large company. Now to be clear, I’m still an HR/Recruiting professional, so I am not suggesting to ask potentially invasive questions about ones marital status, child bearing potential, or anything else that is a big HR “no-no.” However, getting to the why of candidates that come into the door in addition to the what that they offer is critical in assessing fit and completely legal. For example, do not simply find out what they’ve done in the past, but how it aligned with their passions. Why didn’t they feel full-filled in their job at a big company? Make them tell the story to narrate what get’s them out of bed in the morning.
- A startup is like a family. They say that the relationship between co-founders should be like a marriage and they are not kidding. Before the founders come together, they must truly be aligned and buy into one very clear vision. Culture and everything else all stems from there. You must work so closely in many often times stressful, unstable, high and low roller-coaster type of an environment, so you must be able to function together especially when times get tough. You must have complete open communication, truly for better or for worse. Sometimes this means you don’t agree, but hopefully most of the time your differences will actually balance you out as a team. Being aligned doesn’t have to mean being exactly the same, in fact- it’s better if you aren’t.
- You cannot prepare candidates to be passionate, or right for the company. Every Recruiter can appreciate the importance of prepping candidates for the interview process that is ahead, but honestly when it comes to being in a startup environment, less is more. Give them the basic information they need for the interview and see how far they take it. Yes, startups historically take longer to fill roles than other types of environments and this is for a reason. A bullseye with skills, cultural fit, and passion for the product all are primary ingredients for having the “right DNA.” If you are a recruiter who is impatient and too process oriented, a start-up probably isn’t the right place for you because honestly, the hiring process usually takes considerably longer.
- Let the candidate ask most of the questions. Sometimes as recruiters, we forget that our role is just as much about listening as it is about talking to others. Yes, it is critical that we build a relationship with the candidate and give them a solid company introduction. Keep in mind some of your agency recruiting principles though if you find yourself winding up in an early stage start-up. Don’t ask leading questions. Let them show you if they’ve done their homework or not by letting them lead the conversation. Their true aspirations will usually come through pretty clearly.
- As a Principle Recruiter, Head of Talent, or whatever you might call yourself, remember that you have a seat at the table. Your role, regardless of title, is really freaking important. I don’t say that to stroke your ego or make you nervous, but it is actually a fact. CEOs statistically rank hiring at their number one priority and many first time entrepreneurs (and serial entrepreneurs for that matter) really need your professional expertise (or why else did they hire you?). They often might not even know what they actually need until you talk them through their hiring plans, compensation ranges, job market you are in...you name it. Your job is to help them scale their business and if a startup can’t do that, well...it will eventually fail.
With all this being said, any role in an early-stage start-up is not for everyone. Just like any choice you make in life, it all comes down to one’s personal goals and preferences with work and communication style. If you need a little more structure, are looking for perks and swag, and don’t mind meetings, there are a number of awesome large companies out there to work for. But if all the above excites you and you are up for the challenge that these often complex cultures can pose, then you likely have the "startup DNA."