The kung-fu of startup hiring (2 of 7): Importance of preparation before you hire.

Finding good people isn’t easy.

Like I mentioned in my previous post in the series, there are several things that should be clear in your head before you even start looking for your first candidate.

And trust me when I say that figuring out these things sooner, rather than later, will save you and your company a lot of time and wasted effort, and those are the single most important resources one has as an entrepreneur.

Below, I will both list out and try to answer many of the questions that you should figure out before you actually get started, so here goes:

1. Why exactly are we hiring this person?

This one seems ridiculous, but it is very important. Hiring often takes time, between searching, finding, interviewing, notice periods, joining, etc. And sometimes you might be thinking of hiring someone for what is only a temporary need, which might very well have disappeared once you’ve actually been able to hire someone.
Thinking long and hard about what your motivations are for hiring a particular person might also shed some light on whether or not it is truly a necessary hire. Are we hiring an accountant too soon? Do we really need a CTO or can the same job be done by someone else at this stage? Can we promote internally? Etc.
And finally, having a clear idea of what business needs led you to want to hire this person will make it much easier for you (or whoever is doing the hiring) to properly define all the important stuff that you’ll also need to figure out, and which I will detail in the points below.

2. What will that person be expected to do once they join?

This question actually begs two different answers, the first being: Do you have a clear notion of what this person’s responsibilities will be once they join? And the second is: Have you planned out what this person will be doing in their first week? What about their second week?

Having a clear notion of what the person’s responsibilities will be for the role again seems obvious, but sometimes what seems clear in our mind (because we know the business intimately) will not be clear in a candidate’s mind, and if you’re asking them to leave their current job and come work with you, then you should both have a clear idea of what you need and expect them to do, and be able to articulate it clearly to the candidate, and in your job postings.

Having a plan for when this person does join seems super obvious, but you’d be amazed at how many times this isn’t taken into consideration when hiring someone. Leading to cases where extremely competent (and expensive) people are left for days just sitting around twiddling their thumbs because everyone is too busy doing stuff (ironically, this is probably why they felt the need to hire someone to help them). This is super demotivating for the candidate, and it doesn’t paint a particularly good picture of the company either. So figure it out before you even post a job online.

3. What are the necessary skills and characteristics that this person should have?

Again, obvious. Again, key. Take the time and understand exactly why you’re looking to hire someone, and what your ideal candidate would look like, and then work backwards from there, and identify clearly what the key skills and characteristics are.
It’s fine to start off with a large laundry list, and then take it a step further by prioritising some traits over others. If you’re looking for a Senior Developer, it’s good if he has a degree, or say: 10 years of experience — but if you take a second and think if those characteristics are absolutely crucial to him doing a good job — they probably aren’t.
That’s when you split the characteristics between: “Need to have” and “Nice to have”. If you’re getting open heart surgery, then you NEED a doctor who is an expert at cardiac surgery, but whether or not he’s a Harvard grad, or he’s the most polite person you’ve ever met, those are NICE to haves.
This is even more important if you’re not the one doing the farming and searching for candidates: if you don’t know what you’re looking for, you cannot possibly hope to find it.

4. What are the characteristics that this person should not have?

Knowing what you don’t want is as important as knowing what you do want. You’ll know your company culture better than anyone else, and you should have an idea of the kinds of people that you’d like to work with, and the ones that won’t fare that well at your company. It’s important that you keep this in mind so that you save both your time, and the candidates’. The potential damage that a bad hire can do to your company is huge, so do give this some thought and understand what you don’t want.
This will also aid you once and if you have a large amount of candidates vying for one particular open role. Then, your ability to quickly and efficiently sift through candidates will be key. Having a good idea of what you don’t want will help you in this process.

5. Where are we likely to find this person?

You should have an idea of where you are going to want to search for your ideal candidate. And if you did your homework well (defined the previous points correctly) then this should be a much easier exercise. You’re more likely to find top developers on Github than on LinkedIn, and you’re probably not going to finds guerilla marketing geniuses at old school ad agencies, so having a good idea of which channels you’d like to use is key. This is also something that you’ll need to keep working on as you hire for different roles, as the channels will change as well.

6. By when do we need to hire this person?

When you work at a startup, then: “This afternoon” is the most common answer for this one. But you should actually be realistic, and attempt to plan for what is largely an unknown. If you’re dependent on this particular hire for a business objective, say launching a new business line, or a new market, then you should definitely have this figured out. You should also figure out what your ‘Plan B’ is if that date rolls around and you’ve yet to hire the person.
Defining this will also help the rest of your teams / departments plan for when this person is joining.

7. What’s the budget that we have for this person?

This is important for you to define, as it will influence many of your options in finding a suitable candidate. You’ll need to get a good idea of what the market rate is for someone with the profile that you’re looking for, and you’ll need to understand what are the ways to maximise your options of finding someone with that profile that fits your budget.
You can simply be in a country or industry that is much less competitive in terms of salaries when compared to neighbouring countries or other industries, which means that you’ll have to plan for that as well and either find other ways to sweeten the pot for the candidate, or simply understand which candidates you’ll be able to hire and which ones you won’t. We obviously all want to hire the best talent available, but the truth is that you probably won’t be able to poach Twitter’s CTO if you’re offering him 10% of what he currently earns.

8. How do we draft a great job description?

If you’ve been able to find answers for all the questions above, then addressing this final point should be much easier. The better the job description, the more and the better candidates you’ll be able to get into your process.
There are many resources available online that will help you write a great description, so I’ll talk more about the high level stuff you should keep in mind when approaching this challenge.
A good job description should reflect the culture of your company, down to what you include in it and the type of language used in it. It should also strike a good balance between being descriptive enough and being overly demanding. I’m sure you’ve all seen at least one job description that reads like a (long) supermarket list of requirements. Yes, there are jobs that require it, but you should be able to prioritise.
The final important thing, is the necessity to balance the buying, and the selling. Keep in mind that when you’re hiring, what you’re ultimately trying to do is to find a perfect match between you and a candidate. You should like him, and he should like you. So when writing about the job and the company, you should strike a balance between letting candidates know what skills and characteristics they need to have, and what benefits and challenges they’ll find once they join your company.
Make sure that your description is descriptive enough that you won’t get the wrong kind of candidates, but also exciting enough that you won’t drive the good candidates away.


Great. Now that you’ve been able to define all of these important points, you’re ready to get started on the quest to finding your next colleague. :-)

But how are you going to find him? Which strategies are you going to use? Well, wait for the next post, where I’ll be writing about the best ways of navigating through different hiring channels.

Until then, questions and suggestions are more than welcome, just let me know in the comments or shoot me an email to gil@gilbelford.com.

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