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Startup Founder and Recruiter-in-Chief: 5 Steps for Attracting Talent

Updated: Jan 17

Virtually every startup founder struggles to find the best talent for their company. And it’s a critical task for taking your company to the next level. At the early stages of every startup, people are your most valuable assets.

In building the team at RecruitLoop, I’ve grappled with this same process myself.

Over a two-month period back in 2013, I devoted most of my time to making our two first key hires. Through this process, I learned a lot about valuable strategies for recruiting potential talent, best practices for interviewing candidates, the challenges of hiring and onboarding once you find someone, and the time required to execute it all.

In a series of four blog posts, I will share my experience and key lessons learned with you. This first post focuses on how to attract and find candidates.

1. Develop a compelling voice

Time required: 100’s of hours over 12+ months

Unlike larger companies with full-blown HR teams, early-stage startups typically lack a clear “employer brand.” That said, your company has a brand. And from a hiring perspective, that brand is your company’s potential plus its digital presence.


Your company’s potential is the problem you’re solving, the product you’re offering, the potential market size once you’re at scale, and the team you’ve assembled to pull this off. These are key things the top talent in your industry will be focused on as they decide if they want to work for you. If you have approached investors, you’ve probably nailed articulating them. But make sure you have most of these areas covered before you’ve begun hiring.

Digital presence

Your company’s digital presence includes your blog, social media channels, and press coverage, plus your website’s content and design. All of these will influence potential candidates who want to be excited to tell friends and family about your company. The good news is that your digital presence is absolutely something you can influence—and it may very well be the deciding factor in winning or losing a potential top hire.

During the hiring process, I was often surprised by the degree of online research potential candidates had carried out on RecruitLoop. They’d read our company blog, our Twitter stream, my personal blog. They’d sought out press stories about our company. To a candidate, all the content we put out there forms our voice, and it tells a story about our personality, values, and potential.

2. Job descriptions matter

Time required: 3 hours

While some might think job descriptions aren’t critical for the startup hiring process, we think they are very important. A great job description sets clear expectations for candidates up front. You also lighten your workload by enabling potential applicants to self-select up front (for example, by discouraging junior developers from applying for a CTO role).

An added benefit of a thoughtful job description is that it will help you get buy-in from your team about how current roles will change and where new players will fit in.

3. Crowdsource your leads

Time required: 30 hours

To get good leads, we leveraged our network via email, social networking sites, and in-person networking events. Meeting and tracking talent is something a startup CEO needs to do anyway, even when there’s not an immediate opening. So I consider dozens of coffees over a three to six month period to be a form of indirect ‘recruiting.’

4. Advertise

Time required: 2 hours

Yes, it sounds old-school, but we did post job ads. However, we only posted on two networks: LinkedIn and AngelList. Many candidates came from these two ads.

While we spent almost $500 on the LinkedIn job ad (including paying extra for promoted credits), it was our best investment. Our two key hires could be traced to a single LinkedIn job ad. In fact, one of our hires wasn’t even looking for a new job, but LinkedIn showed her “a job she might be interested in”. She took the bait. We connected. Win.

Before you place a LinkedIn ad, be sure to complete and update your company’s profile. It’s the first thing potential candidates will see when they click on your ad. If your profile is uninspiring, it’s unlikely they’ll want to learn more. To be sure, a job ad will generate a mixed response — some candidates will be top quality while others won’t even remotely meet your requirements, so be sure to create a system of triage to quickly sort through them all.

5. Source passive candidates

Time required: 40+ hours

Because we didn’t want to depend solely on candidates from job ads, I also spent countless hours sourcing passive candidates, mostly on LinkedIn. This is extremely time-consuming, but in retrospect, it’s also a task that you can easily outsource to a good recruiter at an hourly rate.

Recruiting for top talent can be a full-time job, so be prepared for the commitment and work. Getting good candidates is only the first step to the long journey of hiring. In the next blog post, I will share some tips based on what I learned during the screening and interviewing process.

Guest blogger Michael Overell is the co-founder and CEO at RecruitLoop, a marketplace for elastic recruiting. You can follow him @mboverell. This article was originally posted on the RecruitLoop Blog to document Michael’s experience to make his first two key hires.


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