Dear Startups - Learn to Hire

by about Management in Technosocial

In the last seven months I ventured into the world of startups and learned one thing especially: They really need to learn how to hire people and how to appreciate candidates they don’t hire. This is not about human resources. It is about people working with people.

Since 2002, I have had several internships, then part-time and full-time jobs as well as some freelance gigs. In 2008 I had my worst job yet as a web developer at a company where people smoked in the office and there were posters of nude women hanging on the walls. I quit quite quickly there.

After that I only worked for big corporations or governmental institutions until summer 2016 when I decided it’s time to work for a startup. So I wrote several cold applications as well as some I saw on the market, and for some jobs I was recommended by my contacts. All of these jobs were for startups. Let’s break down what happened with some of those applications and the offers I received.

A picture of money burning
Photo by Jp Valery on Unsplash

  • One of the startups located in Europe but working on a global level took two months to finalise their offer. In that time they let me wait for weeks in between interviews with no communication whatsoever. In one of the steps they required a screenshot of my 16personalities test result. That’s almost as unprofessional as it gets, folks.

  • At another startup, based in the US with European founders, I had a conversation with the founder directly through a recommendation, then went through one to two more interviews, all with enough time in between to wonder if they had forgotten about me. Eventually, they wrote me that they have a new Head of Developer Relations and they want me, but they want her to start first and see if she’ll be ok with me, too. More expected waiting time: 1-2 months. I continued with my other applications and eventually received an e-mail from a completely different person 1.5 months later where I was expected to go through the whole interview process again. Yeah… no.

  • At yet another startup they let me wait for a few weeks after my application, then I had an interview. After the interview, they said they’d send me a task to test my skills which I should complete within three days. Then nothing happened so I wrote them a week later. Then nothing happened again. Some time later the guy I interviewed with wrote a proper apology for not getting back, so I accepted to continue with the interview process. There was no more talk of a test even. Not very professional, not the best communication but at least a good apology. I started to suspect that’s more than one can expect from startups.

  • The worst yet was a company where I kind of got an offer but without a proper starting date, then they retracted that offer saying they don’t have enough budget but will contact me again in two months. This whole process of even getting the offer took over two months already so they probably should have figured out the budget in the first place. Anyway, they did write me about five months later. I won’t get into the details since my point has been made but I had written at least two e-mails trying to stay in touch, none of which were answered.

Not very professional, not the best communication but at least a good apology. I started to suspect that’s more than one can expect from startups.

If you’re a startup you probably are not able or don’t want to hire recruiters to do the job for you which means you should take some time to hire people properly unless you want to end up with mediocre people doing mediocre jobs and working more on their ego than on your product.

In case you just want to burn through people, then you’re on the right track with the demonstrated approaches of little to no communication, leaving the candidates in the dark about your situation as a company, not giving proper feedback, and not being on time.

If you set a deadline for the candidate, you probably want them to follow it. Unless you don’t care about having double standards, you should do the same. No one cares about your craft beer setup and swag if there are hundreds of people who can talk about their really bad experiences with you and chances are these people talk about it whenever your name comes up and you will want your name to come up a lot if you’re a startup.

Communicate ▲ Back to top

Here’s a good strategy for hiring, regardless of whether you’re a startup, SME, or huge corporation because people matter:

  • Stay in touch with candidates you aren’t sure about but want to keep on your radar. Staying in touch means either explaining the situation to them or telling them when you might get in touch again and then creating a reminder for yourself to actually follow up with what you said you would do.
  • Always write a rejection message to candidates who aren’t the right fit. A personal message is nice, but even a generic “thank you for your application, but blah is good enough. If it is a candidate who already had some interviews, you ideally give some feedback or offer to give one. I hear some people already starting to complain “but we get hundreds of applications”. Good for you, now invest in a templating system that will send generic rejections to everyone who wasn’t marked as interesting.
  • Be honest and stay consistent. You don’t want the candidate to lie so don’t do it either. Alternative facts are not a thing. If the candidate starts working for you, there will be quite some disappointment if they find out their position is nothing you talked about, the company is a sinking ship, or similar scenarios. Be very open about cultural and diversity issues one might face.

In short: communicate. You’re not trying to stamp a paper or buy a printer, you’re introducing a fellow human to the group of people they will be working with on an almost daily basis. And even if that person rejects your offer for whatever reason or you don’t think they’re a good fit, take the few seconds it takes to send that template rejection or the few minutes it takes to say “good luck and wish you the best for your future”.