Two people shaking hands
Kitty Harris
Wednesday, May 26, 2021
6 min read

Common startup hiring mistakes

Hiring someone new is exciting, and usually signals a turning point for your business. 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 (wink), as a second pair of eyes can really help spot key traits and align prospective candidates with your hiring needs.

1. Not having set ideas on what you want
If you need to hire someone into a marketing role for example, then be certain of that and try not to pivot halfway through the process by realising that what you actually want is a business development star. It is often the case in startups that everyone may need to pitch into 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. This way you aren’t confusing yourselves or your applicant further down the line.

Ross from Friends carrying a sofa up narrow stairs, shouting 'Pivot!"


2. Not seeking a diverse workforce
Whilst you want someone who fits in with the rest of the team, avoid being too restrictive about who you are looking for. Stretch your net widely and see applicants from all sorts of backgrounds and identities rather than seeking someone exactly like yourself. Companies benefit from having a diverse workforce, and alternative perspectives are what push your business to the next level. Anyone who challenges your accepted view of something is valuable to your 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 definitely 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, on top of 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.

Man with sellotape around his face
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 greater 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 decide how long each face-to-face interview should be. Figure out the interview questions you want to ask 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 all the information that you wanted out of them. Having a few set questions prepared gives structure to the one-on-one while leaving enough room for the candidate to impress too. If you are interviewing along with another member of the company, decide beforehand who will talk when so that you can avoid talking over each other and confusing the candidate.

Nervous cartoon interviewer asking 'uh-huh, and, uh, do you drink'
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 that 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're lucky enough to end up with a wonderful new employee on your first try, then take the time to examine how you achieved this and if it can be replicated. Everything in the first few years at a startup is a learning curve, and hiring is just another part of that. On top of this, look 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 to find someone who will stick. 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 propel your startup to success. 

Boy on computer that turns to smile and give you a thumbs up


Want to offload the hiring process onto someone else? BrighterBox knows a thing or two about how to match grads with startups, looking at everything from skills and experience to cultural fit. 


*Editor's note: This blog was originally published in 2016 and has since been updated

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