People are the core of any business, and startups are no exception. When the idea strikes, we often wrangle resources that are nearby or acquaintances we know who can partner up to get things started. College roommates or former coworkers, for example, often find themselves embarking on a startup journey together. Non-technical cofounders are also frequently matched with technical expertise to kick-off their company. And then, all of a sudden, your idea has legs and you need even more person-power to move the company from proof of concept into a scalable future. You have to hire Employee No. 3.
Piece of cake, right? The general consensus is that opinions on recruiting are like opinions on public school transformation. Most of us went to school, so therefore we are all experts on schools. And so it goes with recruiting: “I was hired once, so I know how to do it.”
What if I told you that implementing scalability in your talent management processes beginning with hiring employee No. 3 will pay off significantly down the line? What if I told you traditional criteria like references or non-traditional but ever-increasingly popular methods like handwriting analysis is merely noise in a world where we have a pretty good idea how to sharpen your signal?
Then there are those of you who have no idea where to start. You may even have a few people in mind with whom you would want to work, but you just don’t know how to move that ball forward or you might not realize those people are going to make terrible employees. While it’s true that we don’t have recruiting science down to 100% effectiveness, we do have proven processes that work even if you are hiring employee number three, four or forty. The first step is creating a hiring plan:
Start with your Foundation: You might not know exactly what employee No. 3 will be doing day in and day out, but do not use that as an excuse to just look for someone “cool” or “who gets it.” You have a unique opportunity at the beginning of your venture to develop a culture that can make your organization thrive. Use your mission, values and any other elements you have already identified as a foundation to your talent management plan.
Fit the Right Piece to the Right Puzzle: A simple way to think through who you should be looking for is by looking at fit. Take a moment to identify a few key competencies you, your cofounder and all future employees should be able to demonstrate. For example, you might find that all employees should be able to communicate well in written form because you will utilize online tools for both internal and client communications. In this case, one of your competencies for organization fit should be “excellent written communication.” Often in startups, identifying these key competencies and hiring for them will provide enough context for you to move forward.
If you do have a general idea of the responsibilities of the role this hire will play in the organization, then you can also assess role fit. Perhaps you have identified that you need to hire a coder. Not all of your teammates from here out will need to have coding skills, but this specific role most definitely will need the requisite training and experience.
There is a third level of fit sandwiched between the organization and the individual, and that is called team fit. While team fit isn’t applicable to early hires, it’s worth noting that future team leads should begin thinking about how they would run their team and start putting high-level thoughts around their team’s sub-culture. This way, when it comes time to build out teams, you’ll be ready to address organizational, team and individual fit.
This concept of fit is very closely related to organizational culture. Often, new managers and leaders have a hard time identifying the illusive components that compose the culture of an organization. Using fit instead allows you to operationalize the culture into observable behaviors, and therefore into criteria more suited for selecting new employees.
Compile your Competencies: If you run into challenges for scoping out competencies appropriate for the role and your organization, do not fret. There are multitudes of resources online to assist you with this process. For example, one quick way to find excellent competencies are to search for similar job titles on job banks like LinkedIn or Indeed. You can often find relevant competencies, knowledge and skills listed that can be repurposed for your needs. Another great and free resource is O*net Online (www.onetonline.org), a project sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor. You can search thousands of job titles and find ready-made lists of the knowledge, skills, tasks and other factors that make successful candidates for your roles of interest.
One note of caution here, however. Do not fall in the trap of simply going to these sites as a first step. Do the homework early in identifying the factors that make your organization unique, and only use these resources to help wordsmith or identify gaps in competencies you have identified as key to your company and to the role in question.
Put it On Paper: You have identified what drives your organization, and you have researched and revised the competencies needed to do this job well. The final step in planning is writing your job description. Be sure to start off with a brief description of your company and what you do. What is compelling about your business that prospective employees would want to hear?What do you do, sell or provide? Quickly and succinctly explain your value in a way that grabs the attention of prospective employees.
Next, share as much as you can about the role. You may know a specific programming language this new hire must know, or you may only know this person needs to show up ready to address any client service issue that comes up. Use your second paragraph to introduce the role and the specific competencies (and knowledge, skills, etc) you have identified for it. Be sure to highlight any travel that will be involved, location restrictions you have for the new hire, and whether relocation will be provided.
In your third section, circle back to your organizational fit competencies. List them here with a preface that your organization is driven by these concepts. This is your chance to really let the passion for your culture and your product or service shine, and for the prospective employee to determine if he or she will fit in with the organizational expectations.
The output of this entire planning process should be a single-page job description, two-thirds of which you will be able to utilize for all future roles. If you put in the effort and get it done early, then you will already have the tough decisions out of the way when you start to onboard more and more employees.
Next up, sourcing candidates. Sometimes, the people you need are right next door. Sometimes, the people you need aren’t going to come find you. Stay tuned to find out where and how to find those unicorns.