Entrepreneurs: recruitment advice for startups

Hiring skills for a young and inevitably small company is tough. In fact, many businesspeople say that when you hire your first employee, it is the start of a new era in your company. A lot rides on the first few hires being the sort of people that have both the ability and the mindset to take your business to the next level. The process of finding the right talent is a job in itself, and the consequences can be critical to the success of your business.

So I’ll focus on ways to minimise recruitment headaches, with the question: how are you going to attract the right calibre of applicants and choose the right person for your vacancy? This is particularly challenging for a start-up because, in general, you have (1) less budget for the process and (2) less margin for error. Some even add that making a hiring mistake at this point could make or break your business’ dreams.

This article focuses on “reach”- i.e. how many potential candidates can see your vacancy. The ideal reach would be the maximum amount of applicants who meet the requirements of the job. Some of the below speaks to relevance, so if you’re looking for a developer or a sheep shearer (both deemed critical skills in South Africa), be aware that each may require different tactics.

Online job portals and listings

The first place most startups turn to is the Internet. Most business owners expect inexpensive job listings and huge reach, which is certainly possible, however it depends on a number of factors, including things like the type of position you are recruiting for and the demand and supply for the skills you need. There are usually two key insights to getting the online stuff right.

The first is choosing the right platforms. Before you rush off to sign up to every free job portal you can find, rather look at how each of them gets reach. You’d be better off without twenty login names, passwords and alerts filling your inbox at all hours of the day. The best option is to do a little homework and settle on one or two good job portals that have an array of positions in the field of your search. Also, make very sure that the jobs listed on your portals of choice are syndicated to a few job aggregator websites, which will give you much needed extra reach.

The trick with job portals is to think about where they get their traffic from. If you are paying them for your job advert, what are you really paying for? Be frank, is it brand awareness or good applications? How much traffic do your adverts actually receive (the portals should have this available)? A final word here is that many people start their job searches on Google – perhaps Adwords will bring you better results than you think. Listing your vacancies on your own company website is essential.

The second aspect to good online recruitment for a vacancy is a great job advertisement. Definitely do not copy and paste a job description – preferably write something that appeals to the Maslow level of the ideal job seeker you want to attract. Also remember to include the keywords that people will be searching for. Job seekers tend to ignore advertisements without salaries and company names, so if you are using a recruitment company, it is best to ask them to include these.

Social networking and word-of-mouth recruitment

Making sure your company appears on social media is fine, but many a startup gets trapped in how many likes, shares and mentions their business’ page gets. Depending on your product or service and industry, these metrics may mean nothing. When you recruit, they often don’t matter at all. This is why it is worthwhile getting current employees to privately or openly recruit in their own circles, which can lead to more workplace diversity and a better culture fit.

Offline media and networking

With the decline in newspaper and magazine subscriptions, you may wonder why I am even mentioning it here but it all comes back to who and what you are recruiting for. Mainstream positions (and many others) may have gravitated online, but a number of niche publications remain that cater well towards hiring specific skill sets. Senior engineers, in particular, often apply to roles advertised in their engineering field’s relevant publication.

Looking deeper

With both companies (e.g. Google) and candidates being known to take out billboards to advertise their positions and skills, it is a good idea to think outside of the box. If you are looking for a co-founder of sorts, for example, it may save you a lot of time to simply network and go to events where potential co-founders hang out. If you are looking for developers, there are sure to be a number of programmer events in your area worth attending or sponsoring (usually the cost is low).

A caveat to all this is quality over quantity. With less cash at hand to find the right hire, you should rather err on the side of receiving too many applicants than too few. Here, branding again comes into play – having a well-noticed job advertisement can help form a community’s perception about your startup’s offering.

Not mentioned is the process and tracking of job seeker applications once they have sent in their lengthy CVs. Using an affordable off-the-shelf applicant tracking system (ATS) can make the process easier for startups.

Startups have no reason to not find high-quality staff for less – the real expense should be directed towards retaining the talent once hired!

Feature image: Dita Margarita via Flickr.



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