How to do effective recruitment at start up?

Recruitment for a startup is very challenging, because this is a good mix of art and science, to put in few words “Recruitment is the art of selling vision in constraints environment”. And as a Cofounder, recruitment is the first challenge they must crack because if you can not sell your vision to your future team or potential team, you should not do the start-up.  Also, there is no need to hire anyone who doesn’t understand your vision, especially at the higher level, and leadership level only hires who can add values to your vision, who can play complementary roles at your start-up.

Typically there is a funnel in recruitment and following are the standard process. 

However, In my experience, there can be a certain framework or a different funnel which delivers the result with better efficiency, compared to classical model. It does not guarantee the recruitment but gives higher probability of great hires, that means it builds a good team.

In a classical method, there is less focus on recruitment marketing and process efficiency, that makes the new funnel better.

Above funnel looks better but still, there are many things which make the process better and below are 10 steps process about which I am gonna talk about in detail.

Also hiring funnel differs significantly across the globe, USA has much lower conversion rate compared to India, so keep a note of this as well while building your funnel.

10 Step process of effective recruitment or startup

  1. Marketing
  2. Job description
  3. Sourcing
  4. Basic validation
  5. Questionnaire
  6. Assignment
  7. Meeting
  8. Reference check
  9. Offer
  10. Joining


1. Recruitment marketing

It is extremely important that you have done some marketing, to build some awareness to attract the talent better, without this step you funnel will have very less entries and everything will become very hard. It is wise to allocate some budget for this step. This is extremely important for leadership hiring, people want to see some presence of the company, or at least the cofounder reputation.

Following things you can think of for this step

  • Create a website, even if single page website, but have it, fix the domain
  • Published few articles in the blog
  • Make few press releases.
  • The world must know that this company exist even before you go ahead with hiring.
  • Make a social media handle, first acquire few audience there only and talk about your potential idea, join a group and talk about your idea
  • You should also make your linkedin profile great, publish few articles, participate in few discussions, make yourself little popular.
  • You can think of having an event or at least sponsor an event
  • You can think of having a hackathon and get some basic reputation kicked off


2. Job description

JD is the fundamental key to recruitment. You should describe your vision in the JD for sure, also write more from the perspective who will be reading it, why he/she will get excited by reading your JD.

Points to mention in JD

  1. Company basic details and vision – 5-10 lines
  2. Position, role description – 5 lines
  3. Why should someone join your company? – 5 lines
  4. What would be the value add to potential hire? – 5 lines
  5. What tangential benefits in his/her career? – 3 points
  6. Requirement
    1. Prerequisite
    2. Expectation
    3. What would be above expectation
  7. Mention package
  8. Mention funding, media coverage
  9. Mention website, social media handle, office address
  10. How to apply? Maybe through angel list or send an email or any other link
  11. Mention – who should not apply, and who will have a higher probability to hire, provide examples

Writing JD itself gives you lot of clarify about, what kind of guy you are looking for and how do you want to filter the bigger list to smaller list.

3. Sourcing

For different roles, you’ll have to figure out different channels/platforms to do the sourcing.

Try the sourcing in this order

  1. Write email to all of your friends, mention amount of referral bonus for sure, do not ask favours free of cost, this gives clarity as well speed to the process.
  2. Write down on your Linkedin, FB, Twitter and other channels about the recruitment news, and again mention the referral bonus. A person who is reading may not be interested, but he can connect, or refer to someone in his/her network.
  3. Write down a blog article for sure about your hiring, make it a new, if possible get it published in a media, pay for it, it’s worth it. Because media coverage about the hire will give you a lot of branding and trust among people and it will attract good talent.
  4. Publish your Job hiring on your website also
  5. Publish it on Angellist and HashJobs for tech hiring, IIM jobs for management hiring
  6. You can also hire few interns to start with, or at least for support system, for this Internshala is very effective, letsintern is also good.
  7. You can give your requirement to few agencies also, but try to avoid many, if you surely know that an agency will really work for you and will try best to convert, then only it makes sense. Usually, agencies will not do initial level hiring because funnel will be too steep, conversion percentage will be very poor.


4. Basic validation

This step is to do the basic filter of resume and make a list of people to whom you want to talk. You can filter based on college, current experience, relevant experience, current CTC, domain or tech match etc. After the filter make a call to them, take 3 minutes to explain to them about your idea and take feedback, observe their excitement, if the candidate is not sounding excited, move on, do not waste time. Ask the candidate 2 basic question, Are you interested? And why are you interested?

4. Questionnaire

The questionnaire is a very effective way to measure the profile, almost 80% relevance will get sorted out in this step. After the basic validation, send them a questionnaire to fill and you analyze the answers and take a call.

Though you should make your own Questionnaire, however, few points could be like below

  • Education details
  • Experience details
  • Current and expected CTC
  • Why are you interested in start-up as an ecosystem?
  • Why are you interested in this idea? What makes you excited about it?
  • Why do you think you are a good fit for this role?
  • What are your key achievements in life?
  • What you are best at?
  • Write a planning problem and ask to write a top-level solution and the approach
  • What is your expectation out of this Job?
  • Rate yourself in 4-5 skills like Programming, Design, Sales etc.

How to filter

  • First filter is based on rating, never hire less than overall rating score 8
  • Do not hire if problem solution is very short and looks shallow
  • Do not hire if someone’s answer of question “what makes you excited about the idea” in a very professional way. It should come from heart.
  • Hire those, who is genuinely best at one of the unique thing and validate it also
  • You can also filter based on college,  graduation CGPA, current CTC, experience etc.

In tech recruitment, if someone clears the questionnaire round, chances are 70% that he/she will be hired and the next step is to filter further.

6. Assignment

Generally, it is difficult to convince everyone to do the assignment. It’s co-founder or manager responsibility that you set this expectation during the basic validation only and validate in questionnaire round by asking a planning problem.

If the expectation is set and someone does spend 2-4 days to do the assignment for you, there are very high chances that candidate is really good. Assignment round is also important because you need to check the energy and intelligence level if the candidate can do the assignment with a high level of thinking and putting his/her effort without any tangible benefit. This round also filters a significant amount of noise in your funnel.

The assignment can include following

  • Problem statement
  • Write down scope of the problem, what is needed, what is not needed to be done
  • Ideally assignment neither should be short nor long,  scope should be in such a way that it can done in 5-10 hours time
  • Specify the submission includes, like for tech executable, source code and few screenshots, for sales basic research, presentation and executive document
  • Always ask the scope of improvement, possible optimization
  • Always fix the timeline, you may ask candidate itself over email about the timeline

Few points to take care

  • Set the expectation for sure before sending the assignment
  • Spend as little time to explain the assignment, spend more time in writing the full description of assignment
  • Assignment round checks the document preparation skill, planning skill and execution skill
  • If a person can not spend some significant amount of time for the position, generally you can ignore them
  • In few cases it might happen that person is so busy that he/she won’t be able to do the assignment, you can ask them for direct face to face also, it depends on the position you are hiring for

If a candidate passes assignment round, almost 90% probability that he/she will be hired, and so far you have not yet met him/her, and that sounds great.

7. Meeting

So far candidates who have crossed the assignment round shows following, one he/she is a really good candidate and has good amount of passion for your company/idea, means the candidate is quite a good match and warm in terms of buying your idea. Now the final round is meeting, generally meeting won’t go very long if everyone crosses all the above rounds.

Meeting round is quite standard and every role and company already has this sorted out, so I am not gonna talk much about it. You can have multiple rounds to validate multiple attributes, competency and skills. Make sure you get the validation of one competency by multiple people (at least more than one) to rule out any individual bias.

8. Reference check

The reference check is extremely important for startup hiring, this can be done in basic validation round also, however, if you are quite convinced to candidate, or candidate is coming through your existing network, you can almost ignore it.

This round has no validation for any skill neither hard nor soft, it is a round to create the perception for the candidate that company do believe in reference check and it is important to maintain your image/perception/reputation with their previous organizations.

9. Offer and Joining

Offer is also an art. In a start-up, you should try to offer a package with a mix of cash and stocks. Generally people either value stocks or not value stocks, for people who value stocks will stick for a long time, and your cash expense will be less; for people who do not value stocks, hire them for pure execution purpose, they might not stick for long-term but they will demonstrate good return on investment, so stock options give you clarity of to whom you should expect on what level. But lots of co-founders are too possessed with stocks, which is total stupidity. The idea is useless until it is well executed, and if someone is executing it well, he/she must be rewarded with good stocks, and an attractive stock option creates a good reason to attract great talent. So create ESOP pool as quickly as possible and give stocks to your key employee.

After offering and candidate acceptance also, there are chances that candidate may not join, so keep the joining time as less as possible. If possible start engaging with candidate after candidate acceptance, ask him to come to office, introduce him/her with the team, ask him to start doing some homework by introducing the problem statement, maybe a market research, maybe preparing some existing company based comparative understanding in the same space, keeping the candidate warm is very important until he/she joins.

All the best !

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