Recruiting is tough for any company in this competitive market, but the challenge is even greater when you’re an unknown, unproven startup. Yet early hires on your team can make or break your startup’s success, making recruiting all the more vital.
1. Always Be Closing Candidates
One key theme came up again and again: You can’t start closing at the end. Instead, you must weave it into the entire process, from initial screening to staying in touch until the candidate starts the job.
“As salespeople say, ‘Always Be Closing,’” says Rob McDonald, VP of Engineering at Optimizely. “It continues throughout the process.” He recommends spending a few minutes at the end of every interview to ask the candidate how they feel about the opportunity, the company, and the team.
Chris White, Director of Product at Reprise, likes to ask candidates:
- What would prompt you to sign today?
“Once the candidate shares specific answers, you can quickly address any lingering questions or doubts,” says Chris.
2. Ask About Motivators in Your First Conversation
To align a candidate with an opportunity, you first have to understand their motivations. “Our recruiters ask candidates about their motivation for looking for a new role in the initial phone screen,” says Shannon Braley, VP of People at Forward Financing. The recruiter then shares that information with everyone on the interview team, so they can talk about how the company, role, or growth opportunity aligns with what the candidate is looking for.
When her team makes the offer, they ask:
- On a scale of 1-10, how excited are you about this opportunity?
Unless the candidate says 10, they’ll ask:
- Why a [number]? What would it take for you to leave this call at a 10?
“The more information you can get, the better your chances of closing are!” says Shannon.
3. Keep the Process Moving
Another best practice is to move candidates through the interview process quickly, and when you find the right candidate, get the offer out. “Time kills all deals,” says Chris. “Don’t leave your candidate hanging.”
4. Get All Hands on Deck
As you work your way through the interview process, get all your supporters involved in the process. That could include:
Senior management: Depending on the company’s size, tailored outreach from leaders on your team can be helpful—especially if they were involved in the interview process. “Have a founder or VP reach out with a quick call or congratulatory note,” suggests Chris.
The lead VC from your last round: Ask the investor to sell the candidate on the upside of their equity and share why they believe the company is incredible. “Most VCs already have this written out in our investment memos, so it’s no extra work for us,” says Brian Devaney, Principal at Underscore VC. “Just let the VC know it’s for closing vs. evaluating the candidate.”
Your happiest customer: Ask the customer to talk about the problem your product is solving for them and why they couldn’t live without it. “This is a great way to get a candidate excited about your product and the difference it makes,” says Brian.
The entire interview team: Once you’ve made an offer, have everyone involved in the interview panel reach out to the candidate to congratulate them. In these notes, they can express their excitement at the prospect of them joining and offer to answer any remaining questions. “That personal outreach helps build excitement,” says Chris.
Don’t limit these introductions to executives only. “Getting some exposure to investors is a gigantic carrot for people in a director-level role—or someone who might be a Seed round engineer at their next job,” says Rob.
5. Show Your Values Throughout the Process
The entire interview process is an opportunity to showcase your team’s culture and values. “Think creatively about what will differentiate your team from others and show your team’s brand,” advises Rob. For example, transparency is important to him. “I’ve shared references to employees who have left, so they can answer questions about my management style,” he adds.
6. Collaborate on Job Scope and Compensation
To the extent possible, work with the candidate to customize the role—in scope, key goals, and even compensation.
Collaborate on the final job description, teasing out what they’re most excited about while also highlighting the company’s needs. Or let them shape their first 90-day plan. “This helps make sure they’re ‘all in’ and that you can provide them with their dream job,” says Brian. “It also helps bring up potential red flags if you’re not the right fit for each other.”
You can also work with the candidate on compensation. One company Brian works with has a candid, open discussion about base salary and equity value. They have a document with a ‘slider’ that the candidate can adjust; equity goes down as you move base up and vice versa. Candidates can choose the balance between the two. “This lets candidates pick what matters most to them, which can differ significantly for each person,” says Brian.
7. Always Be Gracious
Lastly, even if the candidate doesn’t accept your offer, always be gracious and congratulate them on their next step. “What goes around comes around,” says Chris. “If they’re a great candidate, they might have other folks in their network that are also great. Or they may resurface a few years down the road.”