How to hire the right talent at the right time

What you look for in new recruits, and how you attract them should evolve as your business grows and develops, says Alice Weightman.

As a start-up, hiring employees is a sign you’re growing, your plans are coming to fruition and you’ll soon have fresh ideas, energy and manpower to bring to your team.

But taking on staff can also be daunting. After all, people are an expensive resource and you need to choose wisely. Who you take on will impact on your culture, productivity and motivation; the wrong hire really can make or break your success.

What you look for in new recruits should evolve as your business grows and develops, to fit with your changing needs. A fledgling start-up will have very different priorities to one that is looking to scale or become more established, and your approach should vary accordingly.

Here’s some pointers on hiring the right talent at the right time.

Starting up

At bootstrapping stage, it’s normal to juggle lots of activities yourself, or with a co-founder, to get the business off the ground. But once you land some initial seed funding, doing everything yourself is likely to become inefficient, and you’ll quickly become overworked and overstretched managing everything on your own.

At this early stage, you need to be strategic about your first hires, thinking about the areas where you most need support, as well as where your existing strengths are and areas where there are gaps. If you hire somebody just like you, you’ll both try to do the same job, so look for somebody who has complementary skills, while also being a self-starter and ‘jack of all trades’, as you won’t have the budget to hire a team of specialist expertise.

In early stage growth, hiring really good people can be hard. You have an unknown brand so you need to build a compelling story, sell your great idea and be extremely persuasive to tempt top people away from their secure, high paying jobs. Joining a start-up is risky and you can’t pay very much, so you need people who enjoy a challenge and are interested in receiving equity, rather than an impressive salary.

Having said that, working for a start-up has its attractions, including the opportunity to be part of building something from the ground up, helping shape the direction of the company and its culture. There are plenty of talented individuals out there looking for this type of challenge, so post your openings on start-up forums to track them down. While social media such as Linkedin and Twitter can be useful to reach your immediate network, they can be a bit ‘post and prey’, so you should also take advantage of targeted talent platforms, which match you up with suitable candidates cost-effectively.

Using freelance support can help boost your team in these early stages, giving you specialist expertise that you can ‘turn on and off’, without the commitment and cost of a full-time employee. With a freelance workforce of around 2m people across the UK, it’s easier than ever to find the skills you need across a range of sectors and disciplines, using innovative online platforms to match you up with the right people.

Finally, at this stage it’s crucial to hire people who share your goals and aspirations. Values are fundamental, so look for people with similar ambitions, hopes and dreams. Too many start-ups don’t get over the first hurdle of growth because they’re too busy arguing, as they don’t share the same sense of purpose.

Scaling your business

When the business is more established, attracting good people becomes easier as you’ve developed your story, reputation and credibility. You should now be looking to hire experts for different functions, whether that’s marketing, design, product development, or finance, for example. You will also need people with experience of scaling businesses, rather than early stage entrepreneurs.

Freelancers are also a valuable source of talent when you’re scaling, giving you the flexibility and agility to respond quickly to market changes and opportunities. However, it’s now important to blend freelance talent with your core team, pulling in support for particular projects, activities, or to fill gaps while you look for more permanent members of staff.

At this stage, your company culture will also start to become more defined, so finding people with a cultural fit is important. That means you need to think about what your culture is and what you want it to be. It may be that you want to hire more people like you, or find somebody who will challenge your current way of doing things and give you a fresh perspective. Spend time putting your cultural needs into words so you can communicate it effectively to candidates, and ensure you’re asking the right questions during the interview process.

The biggest lesson I’ve learnt over my years in head hunting and running my own business is never hire anybody anybody if you have any element of doubt, as the wrong hire will do more damage than not having anyone in place. Skills can be taught, but values can’t, so finding a fit with your existing team should be at the forefront of your mind. And don’t be blinded by people who say they can bring clients with them, or drive fast revenue, when deep down you know they’re not right – you’ll live to regret it.

Alice Weightman is founder and CEO of The Work Crowd.

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel was the editor of from 2010 to 2018. He specialises in writing for start-up and scale-up companies in the areas of finance, marketing and HR.

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