Best Practices in Hiring for Early-Stage Companies

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I was honored to partner with Dan Morris of the venture firm NFX to talk about best practices hiring for early-stage companies. As a long-time recruiter mainly focused on startup/technology companies, offering insights to founders on hiring for their scaling business is an exciting opportunity to share my own domain expertise necessary for their next growth phase. Their product or service has been validated to a degree, sometimes with funding, and they now need to build out an effective team of people, and that’s where Guild Talent offers a valuable puzzle piece in the successful operations of a business.

Founders come from all different backgrounds and each company is on its own very unique timeline, so best practices to focus on are knowing the different types of recruiting options available, when is the right time to work with a recruiter, how do you implement a process and know it’s working, and where are these potential candidates coming from. 

First, knowing the primary differences between executive recruiting and the hiring process for the contingent, lower-level staff, is necessary.

The pretty simple initial answer here is a tradeoff between expertise and speed. Higher-level roles are inevitably more nuanced and specific, companies engage with search recruiters largely for their expertise with:

  1. that candidate pool.
  2. their ability to drive the ‘right’ candidates into the process and finally. 
  3. their ability to work the project through to a successful hire being made by the client. 

For more specific and senior leadership roles within a company, engaging a search firm as a ‘partner’ to go through this process together is often the right approach.

With lower level openings within a company, the roles are less nuanced or specific. Thus, recruiters can build a network of decently-similar candidates that can be repurposed across multiple clients that are all looking for similar profiles and may have similar openings. With staff level hiring, working with a recruiter that has a prebuilt network of candidates will allow them to send candidates faster and at a higher volume.

A recruiter in this situation would be required to have far less domain experience, the roles are less nuanced, and the name of the game moves more towards ‘speed and volume’ rather than focusing on candidate quality and a more thorough approach by the recruiter (*which increases the duration of the project)

Neither option is wrong, but there is a time and place where they are better or worse options. 

Kevin Kinkor of Kinkor Consulting recently detailed What to Look for in a Contract Recruiting Partner on the Guild Talent blog

So, when is it best to even use a recruiter and how do you get the most out of it?

This is a super complex question with no ‘always true’ answer.

Ultimately as a company grows they will eventually build out an internal recruiting team. While that is happening, however, at the staff level outside recruiters can supplement internal efforts and fill gaps/ save the time of the executive team if/when they aren’t getting the support they need from internal recruiters (if they have them).

I talk to many many executives that are sending their own sourcing messages and taking their own screening calls simply because they don’t yet have a recruiter (not enough hiring to justify it yet), or because their internal recruiters are overwhelmed, “We have a recruiter but just opened up a bunch of new roles and they don’t have capacity.” 

For more senior roles, when hiring a high-impact/leadership role within an organization, regardless of the capacity/bandwidth of your internal team, it often makes sense to partner with a recruiter that focuses on that space in an effort to make sure you’re talking to the best candidates in market for a given position. Rather than working with a contingent recruiter and having access to candidates already in that recruiter’s network, engaging with a retained firm involves allowing them to go out to market on your behalf, driving a focused demographic of candidates into the process.

The war for talent is a real thing.

Emphasizing your employer brand in the recruiting process, such as in job descriptions and interview process is necessary for companies to consider and focus on. Ultimately there needs to be a fit between the candidate/their desires/qualifications etc. and what the company is needing, but also what the company is offering.

The majority of candidates are going to be fielding multiple offers, and candidates are thus often in the driver’s seat and able to choose where they go to work. A company’s ability to clearly convey it’s value as an organization comes through clearly by way of a tight and organized interview process.

Losing a candidate because of a sloppy process, such as a delayed offer, is the worst way to lose in my opinion.

When it comes to where the candidates are coming from, there are no “favorite” or “surprise” sourcing tricks, the name of the game here is turning on all of the engines and having as many irons in the fire as possible.

Ultimately the bigger a company grows the bigger it’s collective network grows (there are that many more personal networks like colleges and past coworkers to tap into).

Having the job posted on multiple mediums (social media/website/glassdoor, etc.) provides a more robust look and feel for newer companies that don’t otherwise have much of an online presence, but beyond that, all of these channels are situationally worthwhile. Obviously some are better than others given the circumstances (for example, if you’re not hiring entry-level engineers, you can stay away from code academies). 

Turning on all of the engines is about drawing candidates into the mix and having a strong or personal connection.

It’s a well-rounded approach: the job needs to be well written & posted in multiple places, candidate messaging needs to be crisp,  compelling, and personal, and the process needs to be streamlined and efficient.

These different avenues for finding candidates are all valid and can be useful to identify candidates, but that is only as good as the rest of the engine.

One way that I’ve built my network engine over the last 5 years is with the creation of the Operators Guild (formerly known as the Bay Area Operators).  After years of working with and placing operations executives, I developed deep domain expertise and a strong and focused network in the Operations vertical which led to the cofounding and growth of this high-level, exclusive professional network of Operators only.

Members problem-solve in a Q&A email setting and advance with in-person professional development Focus group sessions. It’s really the home for the world’s top operators who come together to share, learn, hire, and give back. It’s a safe space for talent to conjure, question, and create because the community is designed for operators, by operators who are challenged daily with the “yes, but how” questions.

Learn more by heading to Operators Guild and by watching this introduction video below.

Let’s be honest, starting a business is difficult. I’m currently doing it right now with Guild Talent… Putting the right team in place is critical, and a necessary challenge for any growing company. These strategic best practices don’t mean a thing without execution.

If you’re interested in discussing how to hire for your scaling business or portfolio of early-stage companies, please reach out. 

Thanks for reading.

Jamie Ceglarz, Founder

Contact: EmailGuild Talent on LinkedIn

Jeff Possiel

Jeff Possiel

Content Lead | Guild Talent

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