How To Hack Hiring For Your Startup

BY THE TALENTDASH TEAM | September 14, 2016

The perceived talent shortage in Asia is a myth. Great startup talent is everywhere – you’re probably just looking in all the wrong places.

If you’re ready to start recruiting for your startup, this is a great sign your venture is on the right path. You’re growing, which means you’re doing a lot right – but it also probably means you can no longer do everything by yourself, or with your business partner, and it’s time to scale up.

It’s always a risk hiring new employees, and this is multiplied for young startups taking the leap with their first hires. You need to find self-starters who can make a positive impact fast, but they don’t have the benefit of living and breathing the business like you do. This startup isn’t their life like it is yours, but you need them to have a similar energy and motivation to ensure everything keeps moving in the right direction.

Who you recruit in the early days can make or break your business, and there are no guarantees that who you pick will work out. Even a candidate with plenty of experience and strong recommendations might not be a great fit for you – and you’ll probably find out the hard way that your interview process needs to become a lot more stringent.

Where are your dream talent hiding?

Everyone in the world complains of a shortage of talent, but in actual fact there’s no shortage at all – you’re just looking in all the wrong places.

Good candidates are always in high demand, but they do exist. Chances are they are already here in Asia, and if they’re not, they’re often willing to move. The thing is, you’re not going to find them simply by scouring LinkedIn and placing job ads. You’ve got the find them where they are – and that might be in another job, at school about to graduate, or working at a large MNC desperate to get into something more exciting.

Depending on who you need to hire, you’ve got to get in with the right crowd. That might be through specific job boards, but it could also be at career fairs, industry events and other get-togethers aimed at the startup world. If you’re looking for engineers and developers, search for hacker events and conferences (there are plenty around), and get yourself plugged into the local startup community. In Singapore, you can start with places like e27 and, and then also get on things like the Hackerspace mailing list.

If all this sounds like hard work – it is! But you can also help make your job easier by investing in some recruitment technology to help round up perfect candidates. It’s why we launched TalentDash – to help startup founders spend more time on the job and less time manually getting involved with recruitment. You’ll always need to have oversight on your hiring process, of course, but use talent mapping and the wonders of big data to help locate the best people for you.

(Read about why technology goes hand-in-hand with hiring.)

Luring in talent (and keeping them!)

There’s no point in attracting great people if you don’t have a strategy to retain them, and there’s no point retaining people who you didn’t want to attract in the first place. Finding and keeping the best of the bunch comes down to your employer branding – the culture, working life, and essence of your startup that keeps people motivated, productive, and feeling as though they are directly contributing to the success of the company. Your biggest competitors are other startups (these days, everyone’s got a pool table or a fully-stocked pantry) so you’ve got to be able to offer more than just fun and food.

It all starts with the interview process. Poorly-executed interviews will backfire on your business – people talk, and they won’t say good things about you if their interview was cancelled multiple times, or they struggled to get a response back from you. Top startup talent are aware they are in demand (and they’re often happy to take a pay cut to work with a startup that has a great vision) so they won’t hesitate to make a judgement call based on first impressions.

The best way to show talent you’re an attractive place to work is to actually be an attractive place to work. Don’t just pay lip service to the perks – show and tell candidates the real deal, and when talk turns to money, be honest. While the salary might be low now, explain how stock options will vest post-acquisition or after the IPO. Give them other reasons (flexibility, for example) to make your company the most attractive option for them, outside of remuneration.

It’s no different than putting together a pitch deck for investors, except this time you’re trying to sell yourself to talent. You’ve got to remember that a young, promising candidate could potentially go out on his own as an entrepreneur if he’s that good… so why should he work for you?

Assessing skill and fit

How you interview candidates is just as important as finding the right people to interview in the first place. You might not think your hiring process is bias, flawed and unfair, but chances are you’re basing your recruitment decisions on obscure metrics and irrelevant data.

Assessing eligibility and suitability is essential to getting people on board with the right skills, but also the right culture fit for your startup. While you’ll look at experience, previous jobs, education, awards, abilities, and reference checks, you’ll also look at behaviour, interests, skills outside of work, interpersonal skills, work environment preferences, and other more personal factors. Asking the questions or getting candidates to take part in certain tests of the skills isn’t the hard part – the difficulty comes when you need to match the results to your needs. How can you actually qualify the data you receive?

If you’re searching for a programmer, for example, you need to be able to match the platform with their skills. You might have an excellent programmer with great knowledge in Ruby, but if your business runs PHP then you’re going to have a mismatch that could take too much time to rectify (or not – it’s up to you to decide whether they’re worth the extra investment.)

While these sorts of skill-based tests are simple to do, assessing behaviour is harder. The best way to align your questions with your core values. A simple question like “what has been your greatest professional accomplishment so far?” will give you good insight to what a person values most, and what motivates them. Another question like “Give me an example of something you made a big mistake on” will provide you with more information regarding their behaviour and personality – and also how they deal with things like conflict and working with others.

Move fast!

The best candidates are likely being wooed by multiple startups at the same time, so you don’t have the luxury to dilly-dally with your decision after the interview. Especially if your startup is new and relatively unknown, you’re going to have to work harder to lock them in straight away. No feet-dragging here!

The best thing you can do is communicate and keep the lines open. If it’s going to take you a week or two to get back to them, let them know, and if you say they will hear from you tomorrow, then make sure you get in touch tomorrow! Don’t forget to notify other candidates about the outcome. Simply letting unsuccessful candidates drop off the radar without so much as a “better luck next time” is rude and works against you. After all, who knows whether that candidate will be a good fit in the future?

If you’re a startup in need of locating great talent fast, chat with the TalentDash team to learn about how we can present you with candidates within 5 working days!

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