February 12, 2020
August 16, 2021

Helping Founders with Successful Hiring

Isabel Strijland

Founders Academy Compact with Signals

Signals is a startup ecosystem that invests in startups and enables cooperations between Signal Iduna and startups!

Why ACELR8 hosted this workshop?

Michael, the founder of ACELR8, kicked-off stating the uniqueness of getting the first hires on board. He met his first hire at a train station, started a conversation, and saw them growing in his company — today, this person is one of his strongest employees. The only problem is that this approach is not scalable - you need to introduce structure for scalability. On the other hand, he stated the true cost of a bad hire:

  • 30% of individuals first-year salary
  • The potential loss of clients and customers
  • Impact on team morale and productivity

Later, Michael divided recruitment into its different stages::

  1. Sourcing: What do we do with the tonnes of data that we have on the talent that is on the market? How do you identify and find talent that fits into our mission?
  2. Evaluating: 'Most startups get successful by getting a group of people in the room that are great, but the market does not know about them yet' — Keith Rabois (Executive and Investor). Evaluating talent properly gives you the opportunity to spot them before the market knows about them.
  3. Conversion (closing): How can you convince talent to take a bet on their career by joining you?

Sourcing and Metrics by Grant Badgery, Engagement Manager at ACELR8

The second part of the workshop was about data in recruiting. Grant explained how to build your recruiting pipeline, comparing it to a sales one. Your early-stage sourcing efforts come from networking, social media outreach, and events. Considering that your startup may not have a strong brand yet, being active in building relationships is important to attract quality talent and find them in a competitive market.

A few known channels for sourcing candidates are LinkedIn, StackOverflow, GitHub, Twitter, Facebook, and specialist forums. Some best practices:

  • Make sure to reach out directly to candidates
  • Personalise outreach:
  • Make it informal
  • Name their achievements
  • Share the challenges they will solve
  • Be clear on what you are searching for by mapping out the challenges you face and what skills you need in order to overcome those
  • Be clear on the impact the employee will make on your business
  • Leave assumptions behind, as talent comes from everywhere
  • Activity turns into results, make sure to make the hours

Once you have done the work and delivered your messages, you want to look at the conversion rates — how many replies have your received, how many are positive, how many moved through the stages? This makes it possible to plan for the future, by setting your total hiring, calculating your conversion rate, and measuring your time per stage. You will get insight into the number of candidates you have to speak to per hire and your total time per hire and stage. See where the bottlenecks play up and where you can bring in more productivity and efficiency.

But what do you  do if you do not have any data?

  • Be aware of how much time you spend on getting candidates in
  • Implement the basic tracking on key stages
  • Hire an experienced recruitment team and trust them
  • Engage your candidates with a unified message
  • Commit the time — talent is the biggest challenge for startup growth, so you need to commit the time it

Evaluating and Shaping your story with Joyce, Head of Operations at ACELR8

The third part of the talk workshop focused on evaluating candidates. Joyce started out as an Engineer, but loved the people side of her work and prepping Engineers for interviews so much, that she moved to a headhunter role.

'Hiring Good People is the #1 concerning issue for early-stage founders, even above revenue, growth, and acquiring customers, but three out of four founders spend less than 20% of the time in hiring.'

As time and resources in a startup are limited, getting the evaluation right is of high importance. Not only to identify talent that nobody else identifies, but also to get the right talent on board for your company with its challenges.

Think about how to use your time during an interview. Are you evaluating hard skills? Soft skills? Motivation?

Divide your interviews in evaluating the Know-How, Can-Do and Want-To. It is important to get it right, as the first ten hires are crucial and they have a huge impact on the next 100 hires.

When you are pitching/selling the company you should be aware of the three most common reasons why talent join a startup:

  • 'My ability to make an impact on the company'
  • 'The exciting problems I’d be solving'
  • 'The company mission'

How do you get this talent to join your company?

Make sure to understand their motivation and/or career fit. What is the challenge they are looking for? Do they want to be a manager, an expert, or an individual contributor? Ask them what they want. Make them talk, make them tell you what they want.

How do you tell your story?

After you understand their story, you can start creating your own. Build it around your mission and exciting problems that need to be solved. Make the candidate the hero in that story. Tell them how they can solve those challenges and the impact they can make:

  1. Mission: Market story — Why do we exist and what is our potential?
  2. Exciting Problems: How were we built, what’s interesting and challenging + about the role. Here you can personalise by making sub-versions for each type of roles: eg. Sales, Engineering
  3. Impact: Why it’s relevant to them and what place in the whole story will this person have.

How and Why to Build Relationships to Close Candidatesb by Georgia May, Executive Search Lead at ACELR8 X

The fourth part of the talk focused on forging and maintaining relationships, with a view to close the candidate. One of the most electric feelings throughout the recruitment process is sending an offer out and potentially getting your talent onboard. In contrast, one of the most disheartening feelings is having that offer rejected. If you are not converting, nothing else matters.

Closing starts from the first touchpoint with the candidate, it is not only understanding their professional skills and hopes, but gaining a full picture of their lives. One must always check-in and understand all objections, worries or concerns at each touch point.

Bringing your first employees on-board requires a deeper level of connection. Getting deeply personal will only solidify your relationship, and create a level of comfort whilst fostering an open forum to ask any questions. All of this adds to the likelihood of the candidate saying yes upon receiving the offer.Being completely sincere and allowing yourself to be vulnerable to the potential candidate will ensure that they mirror that sentiment creating a more honest process.

Some typical conversion mistakes come from:

  • The person was not ready to receive an offer (due to unclear role expectations; not enough company information)
  • Unaddressed organisational issues (e.g. reporting structure; leadership gaps)
  • Scared off during the interview process (e.g. in-transparent, unannounced tasks)
  • Salary shock

Make sure to set expectations for the first 6-12 months, allowing the  candidate to see what they need to achieve or complete within that time frame. Communicate candidly regarding any changes that are made over time, do not sugarcoat the realities of the challenges ahead. It is imperative to lay all your cards on the table, share without censorship and give considerate and lengthy feedback.

Offer checklist:

  • Do I know how they are going to make their decision?
  • Do I understand who in their surroundings is involved in making the decision?
  • Do they believe and understand our mission?
  • Are they ready to accept an offer?  

Delivery checklist:

  • Who is the best person to deliver the offer?
  • Deliver via phone first and follow-up with an email.
  • Talk candidate through 'this is what it looks like now and this is what it will look like in the future (roughly)'
  • Make it clear that the candidates understand the full offer (growth path & salary package).

Be aware of counter-offers, and mentally prepare the candidate for it. In the end, the deal is only sealed when the candidate shows up on the first day. But the biggest tip, is really listen to them, their concerns, and pain points. Take them into account and don’t oversell — focus on what’s important.

Q&A from the audience

  • When do you bring up salary?: Definitely not in the beginning. Try to get their expectations first.
  • How do you interview for personality type?: Ask about examples and use behavioural questions to figure out how they deal with a certain situation of decision-making.
  • Where do you compromise with finding the right candidate? You can compromise on skills, as you can teach them the skills. They need to have personality, attitude and motivation, as that is something you cannot teach.
  • How do you overcome your biases?: Try to justify your gut feeling and design your interview process well.
  • Do you always give feedback? Yes, always give feedback after the first stage of the interview. Everybody that applies to your company should hear from you, for two reasons. One is that you are building your brand as well, so candidates should have a positive association with your brand. Second, while recruiting you can get a lot of information from giving feedback, as it makes you reflect on the role and you can ask for feedback on the process as well,.
  • When do you ask for feedback from the candidate during the interview process? After the decision is made, they don’t feel their feedback influences the decision.

Hopefully, this article made you about 10% better at hiring.

Need hiring support?

ACELR8 is a recruitment startup based in Berlin and London. We work with startups and scale-ups, hiring the first person in the team, up to helping companies to enter the stock market with the right talent onboard. Years of experience gives us insight on how to build high performing teams. Get in touch.

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