Common startup hiring mistakes
Kitty Harris
Sunday, April 3, 2016
6 min read

Common startup hiring mistakes

Hiring someone new is exciting, and usually signals a turning point for your business. You have grown large enough to accommodate one more, who in turn will help you grow further – so it is the sign of progress. It can be difficult finding the right person; someone who fits in with your small team whilst having all the skills you need. Making a mistake when hiring a new employee can be costly and end up being an unneeded setback, so avoid these common ones at all costs. If in doubt, you might want to use a graduate recruitment agency to help screen candidates - a second pair of eyes can really help spot key traits and align prospective candidates with your hiring needs.
1. Having confused ideas on what you want
If you need to hire someone into a marketing role, then be certain of that and don’t decide halfway through the process that what you actually want is a business development star. It is often the case in startups that everyone may need to pitch in to different areas from time-to-time, but it can be disconcerting for newbies to enter a role and immediately find it is not what they thought. If you want a general all-rounder who can do a bit of everything, then you should still work out their job responsibilities on paper before starting the hiring process, so that you aren’t confusing yourselves or your applicant further down the line.
2. Not looking for diversity
Whilst you want someone who fits in the with the rest of the team, avoid being too narrow-minded about who you are looking for. Stretch your net widely and see applicants from all sorts of backgrounds, ethnicities and genders rather than seeking someone exactly like yourself. Companies can benefit from having a diverse workforce, and alternative perspectives could be what pushes your business to the next level. Anyone who challenges your accepted view of something is valuable to a startup, as the very definition of a startup is a company looking to break the mould.
3. Going on first impressions
 Too many employers make the mistake of deciding on a candidate based on how well they get on with them. It is important in a startup that a new employee gets on with the rest of the employees as the team is likely to be very small (if not just the founders themselves), but choosing an employee based solely on how great they seem initially will set you up for problems further down the line. Make sure you are certain that they have the skills for the job, as well as being a great person, so that you don’t end up having to micromanage their workload when it transpires that they don’t have any idea how to use Excel.
4. Neglecting to check references
It might take a bit longer to check references, but it can certainly be worth it. At a startup you can’t afford to cut corners in recruiting a new employee, as any mistakes will have a much larger effect on the rest of the team than in a large corporate. Asking candidates to supply references will mean that you have the best possible overall view of their competency for the role and can rest easy knowing that you have done all that you can to ensure you chose the right person. Don’t let a little thing like failing to check references cost you time and money later.
5. Not working out your interview process

Decide on your whole interview process before searching for candidates. Work out whether you want a phone call beforehand, a written test at some point and how long each face-to-face interview should be. Decide on the questions you want to ask in the interview ahead of time – it can be tempting to wing it and see how you and the candidate bounce off one another, but this leaves room for error as you may not get the information out of them that you are after. Having a few set questions prepared means that you won’t fall into the trap of talking too much yourself either, and leaving enough room for the candidate to impress. If you are interviewing along with another member of the company, decide beforehand who will talk when so that no one talks over one another or can’t get their point across.
6. Taking too long
Taking your time over the whole process has its merits, but be wary of taking so long that your candidate gets snapped up by somebody else. Be efficient in your strategy and keep in contact with the candidate throughout so that they know that any delays in your response are due to broader company delays, rather than because you’re not interested. Bright, entrepreneurial candidates are very attractive to startups and know when an opportunity presents itself – be the one that offers them the opportunity, not the one that took too long to say yes.
7. Not improving over time
Every new hire is a chance to refine your strategy. If you get lucky the first time and end up with a wonderful new employee through a fluke, then take the time to examine how you can replicate that fluke next time. Everything in the first few years at a startup is a learning curve, and hiring is just another part of that. An extension of this point is looking at why any previous people left. If you have had to fill the same position a few times in the last few months, then review what has been going wrong. If the reasons are that the job is not what was advertised or you didn’t check a crucial reference, then you can fix that in the next hiring process and find someone who will stick next time. Hiring is not an exact science, and it can take a few tries to get it perfect – work out the kinks and slowly, but surely you will build a team that will push your startup to success. 

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