Chapter 5

BONUS: Startup Hiring Tips From the Trenches

Here are a few advanced tips we’ve seen startups add to their recruiting process. Think you can use any of them?

Identify a Pilot Project

One way to gauge the quality of a candidate’s work is to commission a paid pilot project. What you will essentially do is hire this individual as a freelancer for a set number of hours.

An example pilot could be a coding project, strategy presentation, or marketing campaign design. The first step is to create a detailed brief that sets your candidate up for success. In this brief, you’ll need to include access to company data or company information that may be necessary during this exercise.  In addition, you’ll want to make sure that you keep a line of communication open for the candidate to ask questions. One idea is to create a Slack channel where you can engage in free-flowing dialogue.

The goal of the pilot project should not be a skills test; rather, the goal is to empower candidates to express themselves and learn what it’s like to be a part of your company and team.

In fields such as military science and education, there is a  well-studied concept known as the Pygmalion Effect. The idea is that when you believe in someone, that person is more likely to succeed. That’s because this core, underlying belief influences every microdecision that you make. When you believe in someone’s aptitude, that individual will perform higher. If you focus on their failure, they are more likely to fail. Pay attention to how you treat people — your vibes matter.

After this pilot project, you’ll be ready to extend an offer (or not).

Ensure an experience that candidates love

Your recruiting process sets the stage for a lasting working relationship that has the potential to span years. Even if you don’t make an offer to the candidate — or the candidate rejects an offer, the relationship still matters. This individual has the potential to be a referral source into your organization. And who knows, down the road another opportunity may emerge that’s a better fit. For this reason, in addition to simply being a good human being, it’s important to ensure that no detail falls through the cracks. 

Here are some commonly overlooked loose ends that are important to prioritize:

  • Ensure that communications are prompt and expedient. A potential career change is a big life decision. To best support every candidate, make sure that you are sharing updates in a timely manner.

  • Prep candidates for interviews. Share goals, discussion guides, and expectations. This process sets the stage for constructive conversations.

  • Share your employer brand. Consider giving candidates a packet of information that includes your company’s values and mission.

  • Before interview discussions, send materials for candidates to review. Don’t expect potential hires to find information on their own, especially given the information avalanche that’s on the internet today.

  • Carve out time for fun. Organize a team happy hour or game, so people can get to know each other on a personal level. You can even host an event remotely if the candidate lives far away or there are pandemic-related restrictions.

  • Always collect feedback. No matter how great your hiring process is, every organization has room to improve. Figure out what you can do better so that you can proactively address problems before they have the potential to scale up and fester.

The bottom line is that your hiring process is a reflection of your values and culture. So if a candidate has a bad experience, they’re probably likely to think that’s how the whole company is. 

Make sure the hiring process—from start to finish—is inclusive, empowering, and human-centered. Because at the end of the day, we’re all just humans trying to connect and work with other humans to make amazing things happen :)

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