On Hiring: The Few Things We Know to be True
About • 6 April 2021

On Hiring: The Few Things We Know to be True

You know it, they know it, we all know it. The war on talent is real.

It’s such serious business that in Silicon Valley the ‘r word’ is referred to in hushed tones as the war for talent, a no holds barred contest in which companies across the world fight to the death for the brightest, most creative minds. (Homerun)

At Pigment, as in all start-ups that grow from 1 person to 30 in under two years, recruitment takes up most of everybody’s time. Even when we aren’t recruiting, we are probably thinking about recruiting.

So needless to say that we are not the first to wonder, “what is the secret to building a dream team?”

Spoiler alert: there is none. As with most things, if there was a secret recipe, you wouldn’t be asking.

Nonetheless, here are a few things we’ve learned along the way.

Hire seniors, not juniors

This may seem a little harsh and unfeeling when you put it that way. But here is why.

  • Time. Running a startup is hard enough that you don’t need to be teaching people how to do their jobs. You don’t have time (you’re busy recruiting, remember?)
  • Energy. Management is a job in itself. It requires time and energy. We went over time above. The same goes for energy.
  • Money. Now this may be counterintuitive, because senior profiles are much more expensive. But they also bring that much more value to your company.
    Think of it this way: it is ALWAYS more expensive to hire the wrong person. That is the mistake you should avoid at all costs—pun intended!

So, how do you make sure you’re hiring a star?

  • Referrals. Do the background check, ask the people they have worked with. If someone was a known star at their previous job, you’ll know.
  • Case studies. Spend some time thinking about case studies that will best test your candidate’s skills. Give them some time to work on it before the interview; see what they would be like on a real project. And if you have to pay them for their contribution, do it.

Find individual contributors

When you hire senior profiles, you’re hiring people that have been working 10, 15 years. Most of them, if not all, have occupied management positions in their past lives.

But in most early-stage startups, the structure is flat. There are very few processes in place, and each person is trusted to get the job done.

That is why it is important to look for doers. People who are willing to relinquish a management position, to join the project as individual contributors.

But how can you tell? Two things to keep in mind:

  • Their questions are just as important as yours. What kinds of questions are they asking? About the product? About the project? Are they even asking any questions? Do they seem genuinely interested in joining the adventure? Trust your gut feeling on this one, it is rarely wrong.
  • Your team knows. It is more important to have many short interviews than a few long ones. Have your prospects meet the team—even people they will not be working with directly. When you think about it, your team is basically a condensed version of your best prospects. And as they say, it takes one to know one.

Ask someone who knows

There should be a saying that goes along the lines of “before hiring someone for a position, walk a mile in their shoes.” Or something like that.

The point is, as a company grows, founders have to start recruiting for all kinds of positions, including those they are not familiar with. That is why it is so important to spend some time learning about these roles before actually looking for people to fill them.

Calibrating a role is an essential part of the process, one that is often overlooked, resulting in unfortunate mismatches and errors in recruitment.

How do you do that? There is really only one way:

Your network. Talk to experts in the field. Looking to hire someone in marketing? Call a CMO and ask them what they look for in a marketer. Then ask them who are the three marketers they admire most. And call those people.

The good news is, people generally love talking about what they are good at.

Think ahead

This is true of every company ever, but perhaps more true for an early-stage startup.

You hire potential. Says Dave KelloggThe thing to remember with startups (and high-growth companies in general) is that you don’t want to hire the person you need now; you want to hire the person you need three years from now.

Here are three questions you should ask yourself in every hiring process. Call it the what-can-want framework.

  • What role will I need this person to take on in three years? How do you see your team evolving over the next few years, how do you see this person fitting into this team?
  • Can they do it? Do you trust that they have the right skillset to evolve in this direction? Will they learn quickly? In the case of a fast-growing company, will their skills scale with your company?
  • Will they want to do it? Turnover is dreadful. You want your core team to stay for as long as possible. The key here is understanding what motivates them. How will this person feel valued in this environment—what is their work love language, so to speak? And are we ready to do what it takes?

But let’s be real. Most of us don’t have psychic abilities, and Magic 8-balls haven’t worked since 1995.

So you take a leap of faith.

PS. 6 clever ways to get your teams involved in hiring