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How to Get the Best Employees for your Startup

No man is an island.  And particularly if you’re creating a startup, you do not want to go into it alone.  9 out of 10 entrepreneurial ventures fail and if you haven’t built up a solid support system, you will burn out.  

While emotional and financial support are crucial, team support is irreplaceable.  You will quickly encounter problems that are outside of your area of expertise and the sooner you can recruit help, the better.

Know What You Have to Offer

You have to be able to sell your business, and selling to employees is the first test.  So, before you go out seeking talent, know what you have to offer—and here’s a hint: it’s not a big paycheck.

Because you’re a startup and low on funds, you won’t be able to offer the most competitive pay or benefits package.  Instead, when you approach potential hires, you will be offering yourself for examination. Make sure you have a clear vision and can express it well.  Your mission statement and targeted goals need to be impressive and passion-packed in order to entice prospective team members.

Another great way to get the word out to potential employees is to start branding from day one.   Not only will this help you solidify your own offering, but it will also spark excitement about what you’re doing—taking a risk and doing something original.  Branding includes starting social media accounts, writing blog posts, offering guest expertise on other sites and at speaking engagements, and more. If you are truly passionate about what you’re creating, it will be easy to get others to see this and instill in them the same passion.

And please, make sure all your ducks are in a row before trying to sell new hires on your business.  File your paperwork, nail down investors, and move forward with confidence.

Go Out and Get Them

Because you are a new, unknown company, you can’t expect the big guys to come knocking down your door for a chance to do what you’re doing. Instead, you will get better results if you are willing to go knock down a few doors of your own.

Actively seek out and recruit the best talent.  A great place to start is your own personal network and school alumni.  Establishing common ground will help build a relationship of trust which is crucial in the success of a startup team.  

When you create job postings, send them out first to your friends and colleagues and ask them to send them on to their friends and colleagues.  If you want to create the kind of tight-knit group that is necessary for startup success, it helps to start with some links already connected.

Be Ready to Answer Hard Questions

When your prospective employees come to interview, know that you will actually be the one getting interviewed that day.  Yes, there are some important things you’ll want to observe about your potential hires (up next), but more likely, they will want to learn a lot about you.

First things first, be transparent.  Don’t try to hide any of the hiccups or risks associated with starting your company.  These first team members are investing a lot; they will help to build out your brand with you. So, be honest.  From your first interaction, possible team members should know that you are someone with whom they can be candid and from whom they can expect candor.

That being said, you should also try to present your company in the best possible way.  If you have real passion about what you’re doing and a solid long-term vision, share it!  

But don’t just aim for persuasion.  You want this person to join your team if they too are passionate about what you do.  If you are only selling them on your startup and not informing them on what they will really face—constant changes, late nights, low paychecks—you are setting them up for failure.

Cultural Fit and Entrepreneurial Grit

When it comes to potential hires, you need to know more than whether or not they have the required skill set.  In fact, while talent and experience are valuable, what is more valuable to a startup is attitude and personality.

First, you need to find out if they have the entrepreneurial grit to support your vision.  Can they handle a fast-changing environment?  Are they flexible, creative and supportive? Are they willing to put in extra time for their passion and take action even amidst uncertainty?  Will they work well with your team and take feedback well? You want people who thrive on challenge, particularly the challenge of building a company from the ground up.

Second, in addition to personality strengths and a fighting spirit, you need to know if they will fit within your team.  This requires some self-awareness on your part. You need to think about how you tend to work with other. Consider your weaknesses, so you can hire people with those strengths.  And, hire someone who you will genuinely enjoy working with day-to-day.

Because startup teams are significantly smaller than corporate teams, finding the right personality is actually really important.  If you wouldn’t want to hang out with this employee after work, they may not be the best cultural fit for your team.

It’s the People

It’s okay to take your time when hiring for a startup.  Remember that you have a limited cash flow, so you need to be selective.  You don’t want to hire mediocre talent, but you also don’t want to force an uninterested employee to take the position because it’s empty.  

And if you don’t feel like you’re finding the right people, consider hiring remotely.  Offering flexible work arrangements or temporary contracts can be a great way to entice potential talent.  Consider outsourcing copywriting, SEO, bookkeeping services or other tasks that can be done out of the office.      

All in all, you want employees who are excited about what you’re doing.  Even if your product is incredible, without the right people to support it, you will struggle.  

Find talented, smart, flexible, quirky individuals who will love what you do.  If you can create a great company culture and hire people who add to that greatness, word of mouth will take effect soon enough.  Your own employees will share what they love about your business and eventually, you’ll have people coming to you.


About the author

Jaren Nichols is Chief Operating Officer at ZipBooks, free accounting software for small businesses. Jaren was previously a Product Manager at Google and holds an MBA from Harvard Business School.