Talent acquisition is about as crucial as raising funds for a startup’s sustainability
A startup goes through multiple stages, and once beyond product-market fit, the startup CEO has two important roles, in my experience:
- To ensure there is enough money for the company to survive and flourish
- To focus on talent acquisition and development
There are, of course, more things that a startup CEO needs to care about: communicating the vision, strategy for growth and product, stakeholder relations, and a thousand of new things that come up every day. However, without being successful in the first two things, it becomes extremely difficult to get anything else right sustainably.
I’d like to focus more on talent acquisition and development because there are plenty of articles that go around on Fundraising 101 and pimping your pitch deck, but not nearly as much on talent acquisition. I highly recommend reading Hard Things About Hard Things where Ben Horowitz talks about talent acquisition and development.
Although Horowitz’s experiences are from working in the Silicon Valley, they are applicable to startups and CEOs all over the world. In Part 1 of my article, there are 5 things that I feel CEOs should do for talent acquisition:
1. Focus on technical skills first: While it is important to hire for culture and attitude, for young startups, time is invaluable. If the new employee cannot perform as per startup’s requirements in their first six to 12 months, you or the employee will not benefit from the relationship. Having a very acute understanding of the required technical skills is extremely important as that will guide your hiring and allow you to set the right expectations.
2. Integration: This becomes a lot more important if the team is diverse, but making the new employees feel welcome, and helping them adjust to the environment, the locality, communication structure, and tools allows the employees to be comfortable and focus on things that will help your business. Different companies can have different ways of onboarding and integrating, but remember, small things matter. The hiring manager and the CEO need to take feedback and make sure this integration happens well, but the entire team must take responsibility for ensuring the new employee is comfortable. Get everyone involved.
3. Create a pipeline and don’t wait for inbound queries: The best people are not waiting looking for jobs to fall on their laps. They are killing it somewhere else. So to start looking for talent when you finally decide to hire is a very bad strategy. As the CEO, your role is to have a good idea of the talent needs of the startup in the next six months. Communicate that to your team, and build a pipeline through networking and personal/professional connections. Again, everyone in the team should contribute in this endeavour. Your team is your biggest ambassador, and together you’ll attract more people of a higher calibre than you can do alone.
4. Communicate your vision and culture: Various articles in Harvard Business Review and Fortune Magazine talk about Millennials looking for two main things in a job: a) Encouraging managers and smart colleagues to learn from and grow with; b) Finding meaning and impact in their work. Yes, it’s not money. Go out and show people what you’re building, and how you plan to change the world. Again, get your team to do the same.
5. Create a hiring process: Adapted from Google’s hiring methodology, we have a minimum of three (often four) rounds of interview. First round is a technical interview conducted by the hiring manager (see Point 1 above). Second round is a cultural interview to see a fit in our working environment. This is conducted by a Co-Founder and/or by another team member that will be working closely with the candidate. The third round is conducted by me to evaluate for motivation and leadership ability. It’s important for me to see if the candidate believes in our vision and product.
Three to four rounds may seem a lot for a young startup, but we have followed this for over a year, and we have not seen any candidate dropping out after the first round.
Involve more people from the team in the hiring process. This helps in two ways: a) People who’d be working with the new candidate get a say on who is coming onboard and they highlight skills/qualities from multiple angles; b) It allows the candidate to get a peek into the culture of the company. The culture is not about free drinks and unlimited leaves (those are perks), it’s about the people.
I’ve learnt some of these lessons the hard way. It’s okay to fail, but it’s important to gain insights and work towards getting it right the next time. I am sure there is more to talent acquisition than I have outlined here, so if you have insights from your personal experiences, or further questions, do feel free to share.
PS: This was first written by me for myself, and to share my thoughts with the team at Cialfo. We are hiring for six positions now (a 50 per cent growth from our current size) and we want to do it right. After our discussion, one of our team members encouraged me to share it with the world. So what you see is a formatted and edited version for everyone to read.
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