DIY: Startup Recruiting

I’ve mentioned my obsession with startups a thousand times on this blog, and have talked through some of the recruiting tips and tricks for anyone looking for a job. I thought I’d switch things up and share the best ways to find talent – especially when you’re a young startup with limited funds, and need someone negative-now. As they always do. In the interest of enabling a young business to find what they need, here’s a five-step guide to DIY Recruiting:

1.  Tell Your Story

You’re going to need to pitch candidates on why they want to work with you, and there’s a difference between pitching and pitching candidates. If you’re running your own business, you probably can sum the business up to customers, investors, and your friends like it’s no big deal, but how do you communicate the story of your startup to potential team members?

Think in terms of where you’ve been, and where you’re going next. Think about what makes your business special, whether it’s because of the product (or future product), the values you and your team embody, or the problem you’re solving. Whatever it is that motivates you and your current team will motivate potential new hires. Write all of these things down.

And don’t forget to include details on benefits, even if it’s just casual work environment, generous stock options, and unlimited PTO – your candidates will want to know the perks you offer!

Hold onto those details. You’ll need them at each stage of the process.

2.  Refine the Role

You know you need a new hire and have an idea of what gaps you want to fill – or what areas you need to build out. But do you really know what you and your company need? It’s helpful to sit down with someone – a mentor, a team member, a contact you have that could be a great candidate, a consultant (shameless plug)… someone who can understand the intricacies of your business, and understands your vision for the company’s future. It’s important to get a gut check before running forward. Is what you’re looking for really the best fit? Will it bring your business to the next stage?

Now that you’ve decided what your role wants to be, it’s time to make that idea concrete and shareable. This comes down to three things:

–   Who are you guys? Unless you’re already well established, you’ll want to share what you’re building and what you’ve done thus far!

–  What will the job entail? Tell the story of this role’s new day-to-day. What will they accomplish? How does it play into the bigger story of your company’s goals? People who want to work in startups want to make a tangible impact. Show them exactly how they can do that with you!

–  Why work with you? Luckily you’ve already done the legwork here! You’re selling your business just as much as your candidates are selling themselves.

3.  Cast your Lines

There are some great resources for smaller businesses to connect with talent, but unfortunately the more you pay, the wider or more direct your nets can be. Back when I was working with my first startup, there were only a few paid services I knew I had to list positions on. The rest were free. It’s worth it to use a healthy combination of tools to get the talent you need. That said…

Word of Mouth:

There’s no better resource than your network or your network’s network. Start talking to the people in your life about whom you need and why you need them. Tap in your investors, advisors, or mentors. They’ll probably know someone (who knows someone) who could be the perfect fit.

Job Boards:

Try to specialize when it comes to job boards. While you can find luck with more ubiquitous boards like Indeed and Monster, you’ll be wading through a high percent of resumes that just aren’t right for the role. Instead, I suggest you think about where your ideal candidate may be. For tech, I work with job boards like Silicon Beach LA,, BuiltIn… Once you’ve exhausted your local resources, start generalizing.

LinkedIn is your next go-to. It’ll give your talent pool direct access to you, and let you see everything you need to know about your candidate up front.

Once you have those two down, this is where ZipRecruiter becomes your new best friend. They not only act as an all-in-one job board (aggregating access to a whole slew of job boards online), but they have a simple tracking system built in. You can stay in touch and track your candidates through the app directly, cutting out the need for any fancy software or spreadsheets. Even outside of the #bootstraps phase, I look to this one for frequent hires or when I know I need a fast turnaround.

And whatever you do, avoid paid boards that offer little to no value. I’m looking at you, Craigslist.


This role is important for your business, so be active in your search! There are free tools available to you right now. Although LinkedIn limits the number of searches you can do on a free account, you’ll still be able to find promising talent on a smaller scale. Start there. Connect and tell them about your business, and open the door for a quick, exploratory call.

Then work your way to industry-specific forums. Marketing geniuses love talking about their successes, and sharing them online. The best developers are updating their Githubs with current work and side projects. Thought leaders are willing to share their knowledge on Quora. Start looking for thought leaders in your area of need, and reach out there.

4.  Start Talking

Now that you have interested candidates, start the conversation. There are two goals here: assess the candidates, and sell the vision. Is this person the right one for the job? Can they help take what you’ve done to the next level? And perhaps more importantly, do they see themselves happily partnering with you?

Have some real-life scenarios in mind so that you can walk through them together, and remember exactly what makes your company worthwhile. Again, you’ll want to get them invested in you, just as much as they want to get you invested in them. I’ll do a whole post on interviewing like a badass, but for now, just keep it to three things:

–  Be respectful; even if this isn’t the right fit, and you know it the moment you start chatting, they’re giving their time to you. Don’t go burning newly formed bridges. You’re dealing with a human being, not an obstacle. And besides, this person could be great for another role down the line, or could know your perfect fit for this position.

–  Keep the conversation flowing; I like to have a handful of questions in the back of my mind, just in case there is a lull in the conversation. Keep it in one of two camps – either something specific that they’ll encounter with your business (read: skills), or something that you know is important to your team on a larger scale (read: culture).

–  Relate it back to your company; use each opportunity to explain who you and your team are, and what you’re doing. Don’t assume they know everything about your business – especially if you reached out to them first. Open the discussion so the focus is split between what they can do and what your company has done/will do.

5.  Seal the Deal

You’ve chatted with a handful of strong fits, and have them excited to start building with you. Now get the buy-in from any additional stakeholders. Ask your best candidates to come in and meet one-on-one with other leadership team members, as well as those that they’d be directly working with. These team members should also come to the table with two goals: assess the candidate, and sell the business.

After everyone involved has had a say, make your decision. Extend an offer to your top choice, and hope for the best. If all goes well, you can reach out to your other candidates to thank them for their time, and let them know that you’ve found your new team member. Stay in touch with them, too, though! You liked them for a reason. Let them know if you’ll keep them in mind for future opportunities!


There you have it. Finding the right person doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. You just have to be willing to invest time into the search.

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