How to Hire People For A Startup

You face numerous challenges at a startup, one of which is hiring for roles that neither you or your co-founder have any experience in.

When hiring for skill sets you don't have, you need to leverage a process. As a developer, hearing the word process makes me cringe. Large companies invent overarching processes which can slow down the ability to get things done.

Since, I don't like the term "process", let's use a different word. As a developer, I like the word method (as in class method) more than process.

Nathan Barry is an experience designer from Boise, Idaho. In six months, he is attempting to build a web application which will generate $5,000 in recurring revenue each month.

Nathan doesn't come from a programming background, but, he had to find a method to identify good candidates. Nathan outlined the steps he took to find a developer to work on his project.

I liked the approach Nathan used and wanted to build on it. Here is the method I use to identify qualified candidates without having the necessary skill set.

  1. Find interested candidates - Job boards exist for this purpose, but, Nathan used a different method. Nathan's writing helped him find developers. Developers reached out to him. This is the best way of finding candidates and the reason you should be writing and publishing. Nathan automatically skips step 2.
  2. Gauge interest (optional) - You want to hire people who are excited to work on your problems. If candidates have reached out to you because your company is awesome or they know you, that's good. This part is tough, but part of company culture. You want to work with excited people.
  3. Remove bad players from the field - Writing is a critical skill. It is a form of communication that everyone uses. Given two candidates of equal calibre, 37Signals suggest to always hire the better writer. A candidate's resume is an extension of how well they can communicate their experience to others. Remove any candidates whose resumes are bad.
  4. Create an identical vetting method - The term vetting comes from horse racing. Vetting is the process used to validate all reach horses are healthy. You need to validate your potential candidates like race horses. But, don't create a vetting method that is too narrow or specialized. The vetting method isn't to identify skill level, it's to understand the person. An example of a vetting method is can the candidate break down complicated ideas into simple explanations or do they believe in what your company values.
  5. qualifiedCandidates.sort_by(variable) - At this point you should have a few candidates who are all good. Find something to sort them by. Commonly this is salary requirements. But it could be something else like willingness to travel or be geographically closer. Gather all the variables, but, don't eliminate anyone just yet.
  6. Phone screen - Hiring for skill sets you don't have is hard because you don't know how to validate the talent. This is where networking pays off. In your network, you know someone with the same skill set you are identifying. Find someone you trust to judge the candidates. If they are a friend, compensate them -- at least with some booze -- for their time.

That's it. Using this method you can hire for roles that you don't have experience with.

Did I miss anything? Is there something else that's important I missed?

Let me know in the comments.

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Written: January 18, 2013