Recruiting and HR for Startups: Finding and Keeping the Right Employees

How many employees do you need? What are you looking for in employees? How do you find them and convince them to become part of your team? And once you have employees on board, how do you motivate and keep the good ones? How do you deal with the ones who aren’t performing? Alessandra Pegnim and Lauren Rosenthal from Connery Consulting discussed these issues in detail at a recent Ynext incubator bootcamp.

For starters, they said, it’s never too early to bring in a recruiting specialist. By way of example, the founder of their firm, Nancy Connery, was the fifth employee hired by Salesforce, an indicator of the importance the fledgling company placed on doing recruiting the right way. Once you reach a point where you are sourcing for between 10 and 15 open positions, that’s when it makes sense to bring on an experienced recruiting coordinator.

Recruiting Strategies

These days, technology plays a big role in recruiting. There are a number of applicant tracking systems that make it easier to maintain a database of candidates for both current and future openings. Some of these systems also include analytics that tell you how your recruiting process is working. A good way to start optimizing your recruiting is to prioritize employee branding. Think of recruiting as an extension of marketing. Everything you are communicating to the employment pool is a visible reflection of your company. How are you representing yourself on LinkedIn? What are you saying to engineers, for example, about the opportunities you are creating with your cool, cutting-edge technology? Also, it’s helpful to remember that referrals are the best source of recruiting for startups.

It’s important to cultivate a culture of referrals and recruiting. Essentially, everyone on the team is a recruiter when you’re starting out. Once you’ve reviewed how you’re portraying yourself to prospective employees, it’s critical to consider your “candidate experience.” It sets the tone for what potential employees can expect of the company, and is a key determinant in attracting the right people. That’s why it’s important to have someone who can give candidates and new hires face-to-face attention. To shape that candidate experience, it is often helpful for startups to go through a Mission, Vision and Values” exercise. It’s important to articulate in writing why your business exists, where you want to go, and what you stand for. These become the basis for the interview questions you ask of candidates. Don’t go into interviews cold and try to wing it. Have a plan. Be clear about what you’re looking for. It will make the process more efficient and ultimately more successful.

The Connery team advises recruiters to get back to candidates within 48 to 72 hours of an interview. And if you decide not to hire someone, have a conversation with that person and provide helpful feedback. For those you do hire, it’s important that they have a great onboarding experience, with someone there to greet them, set them up, handle the paperwork and get them started. They should have a computer and an email address on day one. It sounds basic, too, but new hires will certainly appreciate getting an email before they start, telling them when and specifically where to arrive for work.

HR Management

As you bring more and more people on board, building up your human resources capabilities and processes becomes increasingly important. Founders and CEOs usually don’t want to get bogged down in administrative work – it’s not their core competency. In the early going, you might have an administrative assistant or office manager who can handle HR part-time.

Once you get to about 20 people, however, you should think seriously about a full-time person who really knows HR. HR expertise becomes critical as you reach certain compliance milestones. For example, once you have 50 people, sexual harassment training is required for managers. The Affordable Care Act requires proof that employees have coverage. And employees who have worked for at least 12 months become eligible for 12 weeks of job-protected (but not necessarily paid) family leave. At 100 employees, companies have to provide Equal Employment Opportunity reporting on the ethnic and gender makeup of their workforce. Performance management is an especially important HR function. Develop a performance review system early on – frequent, informal check-ins are likely to be more productive than big, formal reviews. If someone isn’t performing, let that person know what’s expected and document the conversation with a follow-up email. Documentation is essential if you decide you have to let that person go.

On a more positive note, find out what your good employees want to accomplish and help them develop a plan to get there. Sure, financial incentives matter, but so do things like flexibility and recognition. If people like the company and are on board with the mission, they will be likely to stick around. And they’ll be good ambassadors for attracting that next wave of talent when you need it.