How to hire when you are a startup!

So, how to hire when you’re a startup? Working within the tech & digital ecosystem here in the South West is brilliant and allows us to partner with such a diverse range of clients from pre-seed to unicorns! No matter what stage you are at, hiring the right people is critical to the success of the organisation. 

As a founder, you will need to wear many hats, HR/Internal recruiter will definitely be one of those and one that could end up taking a lot more of your time than necessarily needed. We have pulled together some of the critical areas for you to consider. 

The process

 Understanding how you want your team do things is a big part of this, as is ensuring they come to your way of thinking. For example, are all vacancies going to go through the same process? Does a hiring manager have free reign to do as they want? Getting this pinned down early will avoid future challenges.

Another critical component is the recruitment process. Each role will have different requirements that need to be ticked off. Usually, a software engineer will face a technical assessment, whereas a project manager will not.

It would be best if you agree early on who will make the decision on candidates and what part of the process they are responsible for (technical fit, cultural fit, etc.). It would be best if you then worked backwards to create a process that is robust and consistent, yet as streamlined as possible.

While a great job description/advert is not going to guarantee top-class applications, they are often the first thing a possible employee reads about your company.

A smooth process goes a long way to ensuring a positive candidate journey. We cannot emphasise how critical it is to get this right in a market where the war for talent is so competitive.

As the saying goes, bad news travels faster than good news. Bad candidate experiences could create a negative employer perception and could be hard to overcome in the future.

Ensuring you have a diverse team is not just a tick in the box exercise; research shows that a mixed group of people improves productivity and moral. Removing unconscious bias is hard work, as is encouraging candidates from different backgrounds.

A simple tool to remove gender bias in your advert/job description is


 Money makes the world go round! As a founder, budget and cash flow are probably one of the things that keep you up at night.

It’s crucial that you have salaries that are realistic for the skills you need, trying to hire a software developer when you’re 15/20% below market rate is going to be hard or hiring a Head of Growth with a limited OTE isn’t going to work either.

It is essential to benchmark and compare your salaries to other similar-sized businesses and the broader market. Salary benchmarking tools are not always perfect but can be useful (Totaljobs have one for example, or we can help).

Budget isn’t just about paying the right salary, it’s also about having the right tools to hire, whether that’s to pay recruitment firm fees, buy sourcing tools or advertising in the most relevant places.

While a junior ops position could be filled using a more generic job board, an SDET may need to be found somewhere more specific, e.g. GitHub or Stackoverflow or using a recruitment firm. 

Be sensible about what you need to make your hires, whether that is your time, skillset or financial considerations.


 UK Employment is at a record high, and the demand from businesses for highly skilled professionals has never been higher, especially within the Tech & Digital Sector. Getting the message right is critical!

There are three main parts to this, in our experience, all need equal attention; your personality, your story and the required skills. 

Start at the start (as evident as it may sound), and everyone loves a story, so build your journey into a narrative. Why was the company, what are you trying to accomplish, what is your mission? Always demonstrate how your company is having an impact and making a difference, substantiate your purpose with data and numbers.

Inject your soul and character; it is the human nature that needs to resonate! Describing “fit” is hard; hiring personality is challenging, so work with your team to display your culture and your values as succinctly as possible. Choose criteria that you can interview against, help your interviewers refrain from making “gut decisions” and importantly remove all bias. 

Whatever your culture, values and personality, reveal it and shout about who you are and where you are going. Paint your picture and let people hear your story.

Avoid gimmicks, talk about things that make a difference to people (e.g. flexible/remote working and career progression).

Share your message on platforms that are seen and relevant to your sector, such as LinkedIn, Glassdoor, Twitter etc.

While a great job description/advert is not going to guarantee top-class candidates, they are often the first thing a potential employee sees.

If you can avoid a shopping list of requirements, instead talk about how the candidate benefits from the role. Avoid buzzwords, clichés and stereotypes; it puts people off!

You might like: What skills do I need to launch a startup?

How do you hire?

 Ideally, you will be able to source, screen and arrange interviews for potential hires all yourself (It’s much cheaper). Unfortunately, this is not always possible – after all, there are only so many hours in the day.

Using recruitment agencies for niche or challenging roles is a common way to go. They have a deep network of professionals and focus on a particular specialism. Also, you only have to pay on success (if using them on a contingency basis).

They are not cheap, and you cannot always control how well they tell your story. It is crucial to pick an agency that you feel can be a true business partner and represent you and your brand within the market. There are lots to choose from out there, and all have very different styles of working from just firing over CVs for you to review to others who take the time to understand you, the organisation, your requirements and will take control over the whole process from sourcing, arranging technical assessments, scheduling interviews and then onboarding and retention. 

Hiring your own internal talent resourcer offers you control of costs and your message, but there are other factors to consider. Can you justify the headcount? It would be best if you also were sure there were enough vacancies to fill over a long-term period.

You could hire an interim internal talent resourcer, but you also need to pay for recruitment tools, this can be prohibitive. You nearly always need to commit to a minimum of a six-month contract. It is not still the most effective option.

The main objective is to plan and be aware of what your short, medium and long term hiring requirement will be to put a proper action plan in place.

If you would like any further insight into what we discussed here do let us know.

Written by Karl Sweatman | 07875 843 802

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