Making your first key hire as a startup founder

Liz Hocter Written by
Liz Hocter

Being a founder in an early stage startup can be exhilarating and exhausting in equal measure.  You often end up taking on a range of roles, from accounts assistant to head of sales.  Reaching out for specialist advice will be critical for the success of your business, whether that’s professional accountancy support or help building your brand (hello, Upmarketry!) but you’ll still need to be prepared to work both strategically & tactically in order to get things off the ground.

One of the biggest shifts will come when you make your first key hire.  Whether you start by bringing in a raw recruit or a seasoned professional, your fledgling business will now benefit from an additional pair of hands to lighten the load.

But how do you make sure you get the right person into the right role, at the right time?

Before you embark on a lengthy and potentially expensive hiring process, here are some things to consider.

First things first

Get your legal ducks in a row.  At Hertalis, we call this Hiring Due Diligence – it’s vital you check out the minimum requirements for employing staff in your country or state, from paperwork to payroll.  In the UK, the Gov.uk website is a great place to start; you can quickly read up on the basics and understand what will be expected of you as an employer.

You should also begin thinking early on about what your budget is for this hire.  Salary benchmarking data is widely available online for a variety of roles and industries, or you can simply look up similar positions on job boards to find out what the going rate is.  Bear in mind that the total cost of employment could be significantly higher than base salary; you need to factor in taxes, pension contributions, other benefits like healthcare or bonuses, plus the cost of equipment (e.g. laptops) and subscriptions (e.g. email provider).

Build your toolkit

You’ll need a few key pieces of documentation to help things go smoothly with the hiring process.  Start prepping as early as you can, because you’re going to be busy once interviews begin.

Draft a simple role profile that explains what this person will be doing day to day and what their goals would be.  You might want to include an overview of the benefits package too; remember this isn’t limited to financials, so do include photos of your workplace or describe your flexible working policy if you think this will help generate interest.

You’ll also need an interview framework to help you stay on track with your questions and ensure consistency from one interview to the next.  Take a look at our quick reference guide for hiring managers to help you decide to what to ask at each stage.

Finally, make sure you have all the necessary contractual paperwork drafted – in the UK this will typically include an offer letter & statement of terms – this will ensure you can seal the deal when the time comes.

Sell the benefits

It’s important for new businesses to consider how they explain their product or services to others.  A strong brand ensures you stand out against the competition, while a compelling narrative will help win hearts & minds

It’s exactly the same when you hire a new employee.  When we work with clients on a hiring campaign, we always build a company overview for them first.  This document helps explain what they do, who they do it for and why someone might want to come work for them.  It might feel like overkill to do this for a relatively new business, especially if it’s just you to begin with, but trust me – it’ll help you stand out against your competitors and give potential new recruits a great feeling about your company before they even meet you.

A note on social media platforms: these are great for shouting about your hiring efforts.  Not only are they free to use but as well as reaching out to potential applicants, you get the added bonus of raising awareness about your company’s continued growth.  Make sure you ask for retweets and encourage referrals or recommendations – word of mouth can be incredibly powerful.

Where to search

Plenty of startup founders I talk to rely on their network to identify potential new hires.  Nothing wrong with this, but I’d urge you to cast the net a little wider if you can, and here’s why.

We tend to gravitate towards people who have things in common with us – where we live, our hobbies & interests, favourite hangouts etc. – and when we recruit through our immediate networks this can become a limiting factor.  You’re going to want the greatest amount of choice when considering a new hire, which is difficult if you only seek out people who are similar to you.  Diversity & inclusion isn’t just the right thing to do – it makes commercial sense, so make the effort to seek out your new hire through as many routes as you can.

There are increasingly more options for finding your next employee, from job boards to LinkedIn adverts, headhunters to high street recruiters – whatever you choose, I’d recommend writing down all the choices you can think of first, then ranking them by price and how much of your time will be required.  You’ll want to find the right balance of expertise and execution – nothing worse than taking lots of time to work out the best combination of job board adverts for your budget, then realising you have no time to handle the ad response.

Getting it over the line

It’s worth bearing in mind that most hiring campaigns take longer than you might expect.  If your new employee is already working for someone else, you’ll need to factor in a notice period too – in the UK this can stretch to 10-12 weeks for experienced hires.  Make a simple project plan up front to block out key dates and circulate this with any other interviewers so you can coordinate schedules as needed.

Once you’ve made an offer, don’t forget to plan in some regular touchpoints and agree a provisional schedule for their first day.  It’ll really help your new employee feel welcome if they know what to expect and when it comes to employee engagement it’s great to start as you mean to go on!

Partner up

Embarking on a recruitment process can be a daunting task. Inevitably, the point at which you’re ready to hire also coincides with high workloads – the one thing you don’t have is time.

It’s a good idea to approach a professional firm for a quote up front; if your budget won’t stretch to full service hiring support, find out if they can help you with part of the process instead.  Hertalis offers a free 10-day JumpStart package for new clients, which includes support to build a role profile, salary benchmarking advice and a 30-min consultation.

Reach out to other founders who have already been through their first hiring process and see what you can learn from their experience. Lean on your co-founder, your mentor and your support network – ask them for their advice and where appropriate, see if they can offer practical support.  Having a second opinion on your final pick could be useful if you know someone who is willing to join you for the interviews and you’ll get to see how the candidates respond to adding new people into the mix.

Wishing you the very best of luck with your recruiting adventures – would love to hear how you get on!

Liz Hocter is the founder of Hertalis, a specialist HR consultancy helping startups & scaleups build high performing teams.  Got a question about people in the workplace?  Track her down on Linkedin or head over to Twitter to join the conversation.