Hiring Talent For A Tech Start-Up: What Are Your Options?

Tech Start-Up

The rate at which tech start-ups are being born in the UK is incredible. It is one of the fastest growing business markets we have seen in decades and one that is restoring faith in the British economy. The Government department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) published a report stating that in 2012, SMEs (up to 250 members of staff) accounted for 99.9% of all private sector business in the UK, 59.1% of employment & 48.8% of turnover.

These stats are staggering by anyone’s standards and, with start-ups being born every minute thanks to investment programmes and funding initiatives, as well as entrepreneurial spirit, tech development, dedication and brilliant ideas, these figures are only set to increase.

Tech start-ups and recruitment

Founding a start-up is one thing but developing that business once you are up and running is an entirely different set of challenges. From experience and extensive research, one of the major pain points for a start-up is resourcing for talent. In order to grow, a company requires manpower.

Typically, a start-up will be founded on one idea executed by 2-3 people. It is only when this idea grows and a business expands, that you realise you simply don’t have the staff to turn a growth strategy into reality.

Why are staff and the recruitment process such a worry for start-up businesses?

  • Risk – you might not get it right first time
  • Money – with start-ups, money is tight and recruitment, especially agents, can seem like an expensive avenue to go down
  • Time – when you’re short staffed, time is shorter than ever but to find the right addition to your team, you need to spend time looking
  • Brand awareness – when you’re spreading the word about a position in your unknown brand, the messaging needs to be right
  • Your people and your brand – developing the headcount of a small team can be daunting because your staff need to get on and work closely together.

The issues outlined above are far from ideal but if a start-up requires additional staff, they are challenges that must be overcome. As the Head of a start-up recruitment company itself, I have felt the full force of internal recruitment reality and I’m an agent myself! I am working with a number of tech start-ups at the moment and as a result, feel there needs to be more help and advice out there, that doesn’t just sell the benefits of commissioning an agent.

Recruitment avenues that will cost you nothing

There are many channels out there now, to help a tech start-up find their next employee and the best bit is they’re free.

  • LinkedIn, Twitter & Facebook – don’t just create a company page and post a job spec, ask your connections to market your brand and use both yours and their network to help find potential candidates. To maximise your exposure through Twitter, use hashtags and direct your tweets at influential industry figures and bloggers
  • Work In Startups – one of many dedicated job sites focussed on the start-up community, it is the perfect meeting point between start-ups and talented candidates
  • Become part of the tech start-up community – a by-product of the rapid growth in tech start-ups is the creation of a community focused on sharing knowledge, advice and experience. 3 Beards is a great example of this and puts on the Friday networking event called Silicon Drinkabout. There is also Silicon Milkroundabout aimed at attracting tech job seekers
  • Referrals – don’t forget the traditional approach of spreading news of your tech start-up and recruitment search amongst (ex)-colleagues, family, friends etc. Discussing the issue of recruitment with your peers could also lead to finding out which recruiters are a good fit for start-ups
  • Own website – upping the profile of your business through social media, events and word of mouth is likely to generate more traffic to your website. Treat this as a Marketing exercise and ensure the job you are advertising for is published on the site too.

What about the other avenue – using a recruitment agent?

If the free recruitment approach fails to work, it could be time to use a recruiter. Often what happens at this point is a start-up will enlist the help of an agent, already jaded by their experience and fed up with trying to find a new member of staff. This is not ideal for generating the kind of working relationship I believe you need in order to successfully fill a job spec in a tech start-up.

It is no secret that using a recruiter costs money and because of this, start-ups should be involved from day one, managing the recruitment process to ensure money is well spent and the end goal is reached as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Hiring a recruiter – advice for start-ups

Find the right recruiter for you – ask 3 recommended recruiting agencies to pitch to you. If you have a recruiter that fits with the profile of your start-up and your team from the get go, they are far more likely to solve your recruitment issues as they come up. There is nothing more unhelpful than a recruiter selling their expertise by saying, “we work with the big supermarkets, the high-street fashion brands, the number one holiday operator etc.”

Start-up tech firms don’t care. You want a recruiter with individuality and a personable approach; someone who can find the right person for your close-knit team. A start-up simply will not have the same recruitment strategy as a global organisation. My advice would be, it might take extra time to find the right recruiter but if you value your business enough, you will invest this time.

Make your recruiter an extension of your business – typically, recruitment agencies are given a job spec and told to fill the position. This approach works for the larger organisations because an agent commissioned by a leading supermarket chain will pick up the phone to a candidate and say, “a position has opened up at your local supermarket.” Everybody recognises a supermarket brand, what they do etc. but this is not the case with a start-up.

A potential employee is unlikely to have heard of your business therefore it is up to you to ensure your recruiter fully understands what you do, your brand values and what exactly you are looking for in a team player, before they go to market with the position you wish to fill. Dedicate time to briefing your agent – don’t just assume the information on your website is enough.

Build a two-way relationship for the long-term – just because you currently have one position to fill, does not mean your relationship with a recruiter cannot be for the long-term. Why invest time in making a recruiter an extension of your business each time you have a job opening?

Create a recruitment strategy – a start-up business will have a growth strategy. Why not allocate time to creating a recruitment plan to go alongside this? If you know when you are likely to increase staff headcount, work with your chosen recruiter to plan for this.

A recruiter can add real value by mapping out the market for you and building a talent pool ready for your next hire. You will gain a strong understanding of what your competitors are doing and grasp a better idea of salary guidelines. Being prepared will help reduce the challenges associated with risk, time and money, as mentioned earlier.

Address the issue and make it work for you

No matter how painful the recruitment process seems to be, it won’t go away. If you need to fill a position, follow the advice above and formulate a strategy that works best for you. If you don’t address the resourcing element of a new business, you risk wasting time, losing money and weakening your brand as well prohibiting business growth and putting too much pressure on your existing team. It is for these reasons that choosing a good recruiter is so important.

Paul Marks

Paul Marks is a Partner and Co-Founder of Sentronex Resourcing, a multi-disciplined consultancy specialising in recruiting Sales and Technology professionals within the FinTech start-up market. Paul has 12 years of experience working in Sales and Resourcing and having successfully established this new division to the Sentronex Group, Paul manages business development across all the Group companies. Paul has built up a solid reputation as a Sales leader thanks to his excellent knowledge of the Financial and IT markets and his dedicated approach to integrating the right services into dynamic, forward-thinking companies.

  • Thanks for this great post Paul. Recruiting is indeed a key activity for Startups that are growing.

    I think that developers are the hardest hiring for Startups: You have not only to attract them, but also make sure that they have the skills needed for the job. That’s why if you are planning to hire a recruiter to help you on that, you should find one who is able to do both.

    Some recruiters use Q&As to test candidates skills, but that’s really far away from the challenges that developers will face in their daily jobs.

    What do you think about coding challenges as a way of testing your candidates’ skills and making your job opportunity more appealing?

  • Thanks for the great advice on working with recruiters. Getting the most out of a recruitment agent requires effort on both sides and your article captures this perfectly. Finding the right recruitment agent for a particular startups’ needs takes time but it is time well spent in the long run.

    In terms of free recruiting resources for startups, may I also suggest Upstart Jobs. Upstart Jobs is a jobs website and applicant tracking system for startups. We list jobs in startups from across the UK and overseas.