Recruitment
Recruitment Stories

Our basic principles for recruiting as a startup

Together we’ve spent 15 years working with recruitment in startups. We’ve hired somewhere around 2000 people. When it came to setting the team for our own startup these were lessons we wanted to build on. 

October 8, 2020
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4
min. read
Illustration by Signe Valentin Andersen

One of our favorite allegories for the startup journey is the Lord of the Rings (yes, we are massive nerds): You might be just two people at the beginning of the journey, but nothing is gonna come of your ideas and ambitions unless you’re able to gather a team - or fellowship if you must - of people who are good at all the things that you’re not. These are the people that will bring your mission forward.

Recruiting talent is crucial to making your startup successful. It goes without saying. Getting the right people is just as crucial. According to an analysis by CB insights hiring the wrong people for your team is among the top three reasons why startups fail. This makes finding those rare people that have both the skills and the incentive to work for you an ongoing top priority.

In this post, we want to share the fundamental recruitment insights that we’re using when building and growing the Platypus team.

In a series of upcoming posts, we’ll be delving deeper into the specific tactics we found useful when recruiting our team. Stay posted!

#1: Recruitment doesn’t have to be complicated.

Quite the opposite, we believe that less is more.

Over the years we’ve seen recruitment operations build on the basic idea of inviting a large sample of applicants in order to find the ideal candidate. It’s safety in numbers. The more people you have to choose from the more likely you are to find that rare gem - supposedly. With social media, and sourcing gone digital, the idea of getting a bigger and bigger pipeline has spun out of control.

But getting more candidates in the pipeline isn’t a guarantee for finding a “perfect fit”.  It is however a guarantee that you’ll spend a lot of time on process, a lot of energy on formalizing procedures, and that you’ll end up disappointing a lot of candidates who invested time and feeling before getting rejected.

All of this rests on a mistaken assumption: That you need a perfect candidate. But the perfect candidate doesn’t exist. (And if they did, why should they work for you!?)

Dreaming of finding perfection is little more than an ego play.

At the end of the day, you don’t want someone who is perfect. You want someone who will meet your needs - and who’ll thrive in doing this job.

So don’t go chasing rainbows and in the process add an unnecessary workload to your recruitment process. Make it more conversational. Meet the candidate and let them ask their questions. It is after all personal. For both of you.

Admit that this is not an art form and that you will make mistakes.

# 2: Hire for potential - both theirs and yours

This very much follows from not looking for perfect candidates: You’re not perfect either. Or in other words, whatever you are and need right now, will be different in six months (and most likely in a few weeks). Finding someone who is first and foremost plug and play for a specific role won’t meet your changing needs anyway.

What you need is to hire people that will be able to grow along with your growth.

For our first employees, we had a strong focus on people with T-shaped skills. Someone who can do a lot of different things: A bit of design, a bit of frontend, a bit of communication, but who has their strengths within one field.

Hiring specialists is good when you’re an established organisation. But as a startup, you need to be hiring for potential. Why should you hire for now? Now is already gone!

You never know when you will come across a great opportunity to hire a great profile. Someone that fills a role that you don't “need” now but can have a massive unplanned impact on your organisation.

Everything about startup building is planning ahead and anticipating.

Opportunity hires are exactly that: Someone that you are lucky enough to bring in even if their full potential won’t be unleashed in the immediate future.

# 3: Give your people a chance to become experts - and delegate

This is just as much a general management principle as it is about recruitment: As early as you can, try to remove yourself from the center of decisions. The best way to do this is by hiring people who have more experience within a specific field than you and forcing yourself to give up control (!) and trust their decisions.

In fact, we consider this to be one of our superpowers (again, geeky. Sorry about that). We are very far from technical specialists, experts on data science, or design.

What we are good at (and need to be good at as founders) is persuading people to join and then giving them the mandate to make decisions and grow within their area of responsibility.

This doesn’t mean that you need to hire bonafide experts that will remove any grain of doubt or discussion. For us, it has more to do with trust and management. Once you’ve decided to take someone on to fill a specific role, give them that mandate to make decisions within that area. And as time passes, we want those people we’ve hired to attract talent themselves because they are becoming masters within their field.

In terms of hiring, this has meant delegating both the decisions and much of the process to the different field experts within the organisation.

As founders, we don’t call the shots on who is the right hire. We give our input when asked, but at the end of the day, we leave the decision up to whoever is the department leader.

There are two main reasons for this: We cannot make ourselves the highest bar. That’s a sure-fire way for us to stall. And, we need to build an organisation with a diversity of opinions. This is a core value for us. We can’t do that unless we include a diversity of opinions in the recruitment process.

Conclusions

These are the guiding principles behind our recruitment strategies.

  • Keep the process simple
  • Hire for potential and opportunities instead of immediate fit
  • Delegate responsibilities and give people a mandate to grow as experts

It is insights based on our joint experiences from recruitment and being part of early-stage and scaling startups and they lay the foundation for how we approach building our team.

If you want to know more about the different tactics we’ve used, we will soon be delving into how we went about attracting and recruiting our own team. Stay tuned!

Written by
Nico
Blier-Silvestri
Daniel
Bowen