Lean startups face many challenges, from securing seed funding to creating marketable products and services to developing sound marketing plans. For many startups, the number one challenge is recruiting and hiring top talent. In fact, hiring the best people is really two related challenges: first, building a core of competent prospective employees and second, identifying those who are the best fit for your business from this group.
The Challenge of Attracting Top Talent
Most startups are long on ideas, but short on cash. Chances are you're not going to be able to attract talent with big salary offers. Asking the best of the best to work long hours for little pay means offering more intangible perks.
Smart, young professionals typically have long-term career goals. Working for your startup can give them valuable experience which serves those goals. Just as college students are willing to work in unpaid internships to build their resumes, recent grads are often willing to put off immediate financial gain to get the experience they need to jump-start their careers.
You need a branding strategy that convinces talented employees the work they'll do is important. If you can solve a significant problem in a new way, your employees' reputations will be forever associated with that solution. You have to persuade them that future employers will view their experience as substantial and relevant if they help take your new venture out of the starting blocks to a leadership position in the market. If your startup has real potential, and if your branding strategy effectively demonstrates that potential, you'll have gone a long way toward building a core of talented candidates for key positions within your new business.
The Challenge of Hiring the Best
After you've developed a cadre of talented (and hungry) prospects, the real work begins. You need to identify those who will work hard, can perform multiple functions and have specific skills that match your needs.
Here are three tips to help you do that:
1. Define your goals and the competencies necessary to achieve them. One aspect of your branding strategy involves defining your startup's business objectives. A clear sense of your goals will help you identify the skills and aptitudes necessary to achieve them and prepare a set of comprehensive job descriptions.
2. Emphasize flexibility and adaptability. You need employees who are willing and able to perform in multiple capacities if you have limited financial resources. The ability to shift effortlessly from one job function to another as new needs arise is more important than specific skill sets. Give preference to candidates whose resumes demonstrate a range of interests and a willingness to move out of their comfort zones and take calculated risks. Develop a set of interview questions which test their willingness to do so.
3. Take candidates out for a test drive. Avoid costly hiring mistakes by requiring job candidates to demonstrate their abilities on the fly. After you've created a short list of the best candidates, vet them by asking each to spend a day with your team. Give each a specific task to perform or problem to solve. Observe how well they perform that task and how effectively they interact with the team. At the end of the exercise, meet with your team and listen carefully to their observations. Use those assessments to make your final decision.
Lean startups have a steep hill to climb, and more than 90% eventually fail. You can significantly increase your odds of success by hiring the best people to help you achieve your business objectives. That process includes both a sound recruitment strategy which clearly articulates your company's long-term goals and a smart hiring plan to identify highly adaptable people who will best complement your team.