TLDR: Hiring for early-stage startups is a nuanced process. While inbound applications are abundant, the importance of outbound efforts can’t be underestimated. Additionally, as startups scale, founders must adapt their involvement in recruitment, but always stay integral to the process. With these insights, early stage startups can navigate the challenging waters of hiring more effectively.

We all know hiring is an important part of growing your early stage startup. It’s time-consuming and challenging, but it’s also the gateway to growth. However, hiring is difficult because it is nobody’s full-time job at the earliest stages of a startup. A lot of the details fall through the cracks because nobody is owning the process from beginning to end. As a default, a lot of founders find themselves in recruitment roles when they don’t necessarily have the dedicated time, training, or qualifications.

Last month, a panel of industry experts convened for our recurring Minimum Viable Products (MVP) talent series to discuss the best strategies and trends in recruiting the ideal foundational team for early-stage startups.  Led by our head of talent Tiffany Foo, this webinar is part two of our recurring Talent & Culture MVP series.

Below is a high-level overview of what was covered on the webinar, but first, meet the panelists:

  • Magna Sundstrom of Swing Search, an early stage recruiting firm.
  • Dominique Kimbrough of The Firm, an early stage recruiting firm.
  • Amanda Hippe from Rippling, a payroll and benefits platform that’s part of our Initialized portfolio. 

Main Takeaways:

  1. The Current Hiring Market: 

Despite a saturated talent market, outbound sourcing and referrals remain paramount. Most roles are still being filled through outbound recruiting. One of our panelists said, “I have not experienced the engineering market cooling off whatsoever.” 

However, early stage companies are not looking for just the standard FANG engineer anymore. In fact, having an awesome later stage resume or FANG experience does not necessarily mean the candidate will be a great fit at an early stage startup. “The profile we’re looking for is either a platform engineer or a product engineer who has experience working at a startup that has scaled,” said one of our panelists. In addition, technology tools and AI are being utilized more to streamline inbound applications and focus on top-tier candidates.

  1. Understanding Outbound vs. Inbound: 

Outbound hiring is all about actively reaching out to potential candidates. Today’s candidates highly prioritize stability, funding, and company progress. To ensure successful outreach, companies must offer comprehensive insights about their growth and offer opportunities that signal stability.

 “The more information you can provide upfront, the higher those response rates will be and the more you can get those candidates excited about learning more about your company,” said one of our panelists. 

  1. Metrics & Time to Hire: 

Generally, the hiring cycle has shortened. For executive roles, it’s around 8-12 weeks. However, if startups surpass the 90-day mark without substantial progress, it’s essential to revisit their candidate requirements and their vetting process

“90 days is your signal to hit the pause button and re-look at the requirements you’re looking for in the job description,” said one of our panelists. 

  1. Candidate Preferences: 

The hybrid work model is gaining traction, with both candidates and companies favoring a few days a week in the office, said one of our panelists. Especially for the initial hires, in-person collaboration is invaluable, although entirely remote roles are still prevalent, provided the hires have vast experience.

“We’ve been three days [working in the office] since October 2022,” shared one of our panelists. “The hybrid thing is becoming a much more normal requirement or expectation for candidates than it was two years ago.”

However, Tiffany said there’s currently some tension between employees and company expectations when it comes to remote work. More candidates are preferring 100% remote roles, but more companies are preferring hybrid roles. This is leading to the exclusion of candidates who live in non-tech hubs in cities outside of New York, Los Angeles or San Franciscio.

“The important point here is that younger or less experienced talent prefer 100% remote roles, but don’t have the experience to land them,” she said. 

  1. Navigating High Volume Applications: 

Startups can easily be overwhelmed with numerous inbound applications. To streamline the process, it’s crucial to craft concise and targeted job descriptions. This narrows down the application pool to those who genuinely fit the role.

Another tip a panelist shared is to sort candidates into three piles: quick no’s, maybe’s, and people you’re really excited about. That’s one way you can go from 200 applicants to looking at 20 or 30 pretty quickly.

  1. Founder’s Evolving Role in Recruitment

Founders must always be recruiters. While their role in the hiring process may evolve, from hands-on in the seed stage to more leadership-focused in Series C and beyond, founders remain central in cultivating a company’s culture and brand.

“As a founder, you’re always recruiting, you’re always creating an employer brand, you’re always creating value, and you’re always creating the culture of the organization,” said one of our panelists. “All of these things tie into recruiting, so that never goes away.”