How To Recruit Talent For A Startup Nobody’s Heard Of Yet

Starting from zero can actually be a recruiting advantage.

How To Recruit Talent For A Startup Nobody’s Heard Of Yet
[Photo: Flickr user TNS Sofres]

You’ve got a great startup idea, you’ve tested it out to make sure it’s viable, and now you’re ready to hit the ground running. You just need the right people to come along for the ride. The tricky part here, of course, is that barely anybody has ever heard of your brand-new company. Here’s how to recruit the great talent to join a startup or growing business that hasn’t had time to gain much name recognition in the job market yet.


1. Offer A Chance To Make Outsize Contributions

One of the biggest advantages startups have over well-established companies is that new team members are expected to wear multiple hats and make major contributions without having to climb corporate ladders.

Most startups tend to tout this difference in their recruiting process, but you should put it front-and-center. Make it a point to let potential hires know that you encourage out-of-the-box thinking and that every new idea is important and worth hearing. Most important, sell them on your dream; you started this business to solve a problem, and they’ll have a chance to be an integral part of that process.

Personally, I also like to empower new employees to be heard as soon as they come onboard, and this is something I make clear to candidates while recruiting. We set aside an hour a week for each employee to share their thoughts on our company blog. This shows them how much we trust them, rely on them, and value what they have to say. It also helps put a person behind the voice on the phone to our customers. You can do something similar at very little expense, and it’s one of the fastest ways to create an authentic employer brand from scratch.

2. Lay Out Your Plan For Success

Selling prospective employees on a dream is only the beginning. Startups that are just getting off the ground can’t just explain what they expect from an individual role and think that will be enough to pull in great talent. You also have to validate that there’s a real opportunity to make money–both for employees and the company.

So be transparent. Share your market research and projections. Whatever type of success you’ve already experienced–even if it’s modest, like a promising Kickstarter campaign–proudly show it off to prospective hires. They need to be certain that there’s potential here. Explain where you’re going and how you’re going to get there.

This is crucial for companies that may not be able to offer astronomical salaries but may be able to offer equity or even the chance to become a cofounder. Maybe you can provide other perks, like meals, gym memberships, or flexible schedules. If so, showcase all of that.


3. Everyone Already On Your Team Should Double As A Recruiter

As a founder, obviously you’re going to be enthusiastic about your startup. Because that’s expected, it’ll be harder for you personally to instill that same enthusiasm in candidates who’ve never heard of your company before. They may, however, want to hear from the people who already work there. Whether if it’s an advisor, coder, or investor, having someone do some recruiting legwork for you can be an effective tactic. The reason? They’re already sold. And they can explain to others what it exactly was that made them join your startup.

4. Share How Your Culture Makes An Impact Outside The Office

As Matthew Gordon writes at StartUpNation, “Strong core values can drive smart hiring practices, reduce turnover and absenteeism, increase productivity and quality of work, help guide decision-making, improve customer relationships, and boost employee morale.”

Sounds like a mouthful, but it’s true. The only challenge, of course, is that “core values” sounds pretty abstract, and just about every company out there professes to have them–and they typically overlap quite a bit. You need to give candidates a chance to see these values in action. This goes beyond showcasing your “culture” in a superficial ways like your funky furniture or office happy hours. Instead, consider letting candidates spend some time with you and your current team outside the office so that they can experience firsthand how the business makes an impact in the wider world.

Or, if that sounds too difficult, simply make a point of sharing the types of out-of-office activities you typically plan for new and existing team members–building homes for community organizations, for instance, or doing some mentoring in local schools, or even just signing up for 10k runs in your area to raise money for causes you care about.

The key here is simply to illustrate that while you’re excited to grow the company, you care about more than just the bottom line. And when you discuss these efforts with the same enthusiasm during the interview process, it provides a way to gauge candidates’ interest in these values–and see who’s really willing to participate.

5. Let Your Product Or Service Speak For Itself

Sometimes all it takes is for someone to see a product or service for them to want to get involved. Take Apple, for example. People want to work for the company, even if it’s selling products at an Apple Store, because they love the iPhone in their pocket. Of course, there are more reasons beyond that, but it’s a common thread for Apple employees. Build a product or service that people can rally around, and you’d be surprised at the amount of people who want to join in.


6. Offer Job Personalization

Today, people want jobs that accommodate their needs, strengths, interests, and life outside of the office. So especially if you’re a startup, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to offer a meaningful degree of job personalization through flexible hours and location independence.

If you want people to physically enter a workplace, then allow them to decide how and where they work best, at least for a chunk of the time. Even small measures of autonomy can go a long way. In one study, workers who were allowed to arrange their workspaces with a few plants and pictures became up to 32% more productive than those who weren’t. In fact, other researchers have suggested that the most creative and productive offices can’t be designed by architects and decorators–they need to be shaped (and reshaped) at the hands of the people who actually work there.

7. Talk About The Future

Recruiting great hires for a new company that’s just making a name for itself isn’t easy. But trying to ignore the fact that you’re just setting out and have a minimal cache as an employer is a bad idea. Instead, talk about where you see the company headed. When you use phrases like “we will,” it shows confidence that not only is your startup going places, but that the recruit is going to be a part of the action. When you talk with potential team members, discuss all those possibilities–the ones you’re both doing to achieve together.

John Rampton is the founder of Palo Alto, California–based Due, a free online invoicing company specializing in helping businesses bill their clients easily online. Follow him on Twitter @johnrampton.