Much has been made of startup culture over the last decade. The influence of digital hubs such as Silicon Valley proved empowering to entrepreneurial types everywhere — they not only had undeniable evidence that unusual working structures could be successful, but they also saw them become trendy. Very suddenly, investors were willing to back unconventional companies.
We all know the cliches that soon gathered, of course — space hoppers everywhere, zany color schemes, laid-back or absent management, and a general air of chaos — but they never represented what startups really meant. A startup is exciting, vibrant, still in development: lacking the stability of an established hit, but hugely flexible, and rich with potential.
You can understand why a startup might wonder about how best to approach recruitment, then. The classic structure feels ill-fitting to a great extent, even if you’re seeking seasoned pros — and if you’re looking for fresh talent, it’s even less viable.
The key question is this: what does a top startup candidate expect of the application process? How can you angle your recruitment work to leave candidates clamoring to join you in the end, so you can build an amazing team? Here’s what a great startup candidate experience looks like:
As odd as it may seem, there are still plenty of companies out there that require applicants to submit paper documents, and many more with processes that are ostensibly online and modern but are actually massively clunky and barely functional (there are many ways in which online forms can be horrible). Messy application processes cause no end of confusion — you can sit there for a long time seeing a file upload fail repeatedly.
Oh, and that file can’t be that file format: it’s .docx or nothing at all, and the file can’t be above a certain size… and once you actually manage to meet the criteria, the file will be converted to a new format anyway, ruining the formatting and wasting your time. Such a process is so immensely frustrating that it’s difficult to feel inspired about being offered the job.
Startups need to be tech-savvy. They’re typically run by young(ish) people who grew up with advanced computers and don’t have the excuse of having spent decades working on typewriters. So prove to candidates that you know what you’re doing, and make it as easy as possible to apply, allowing numerous avenues if you can — for instance, one-click LinkedIn applications can be extremely convenient.
Have you ever applied for a position and made your way through the process only to find yourself being asked questions that you already answered in your written materials? Imagine being on a date with someone who keeps asking your name but then forgetting it — the impression is that they just aren’t interested, because they clearly aren’t paying attention.
While pursuing a job, a candidate should only need to state something once, whether it’s their name, their job history, or their expectations for the role. Conversational recruitment is great for this. The application system should keep it all together, and the startup recruiters should do their homework before engaging with candidates directly so they don’t repeat questions.
Every recruitment process will include different steps, with each experience determined by the needs of the position and the operational structure of the company. What doesn’t change, however, is the need for scheduling. Whether the interviews are in-person or remote, or whether the work assessments are timed group events or relaxed meet-this-deadline individual assignments, there needs to be a schedule laid out and agreed.
Look at it this way: even in the rare event that a candidate isn’t also pursuing other roles, they’re not going to want to endure a drawn-out application process with seemingly-arbitrary progression. It’s frustrating to put effort into something and hear back at odd intervals. And it’s even worse to be given an interview time only for it to be moved for no clear reason.
You need clear communication and a determination to make scheduling work for everyone. Make an effort to meet each candidate halfway. Maybe you won’t deem them suitable in the end, but suppose that they’re exactly what you’re looking for — don’t you want them to view you positively when you extend them an offer?
Old-fashioned recruitment has a bad habit of obsessing over specific skills picked up in specific circumstances. Think about how heavily the notion of formal experience has weighed on the shoulders of young professionals. Plenty of recruiters have narrow concepts of what they’re looking for, and will readily disregard candidates who don’t tick those exact boxes.
Today, though, the traditional career path has been significantly eroded in the best way. It’s widely accepted that you don’t need to have held a particular job title to possess the skills associated with it. Ecommerce is a great example: candidate A worked as a brick-and-mortar retail manager for a decade, while candidate B set up an online business in their spare time, but each of them knows how to price products, conduct market research, and maximize sales.
Candidate A has that all-important job title to back up their claims, but candidate B might have a hard time in a dated application process because their skills might be overlooked. The best startup candidate experiences, then, give candidates the time and freedom they need to explain and demonstrate their skills, no matter how unconventionally they were acquired.
After all, you’re investing in someone’s future, not their past. What matters is what they’re capable of, and if you don’t commit to the notion that a great candidate can come from just about any background, you’ll end up driving away a lot of superb talents.
You’ve made it from one end of the process to the other with aplomb. You’re happy with the candidate and want them to join your company, and they’ve accepted your offer — congratulations! But your recruitment work isn’t quite done, because there’s still time for the situation to turn sour when they actually start.
Onboarding is the process of bringing in someone new and getting them up to speed with how your company operates, and if you do it poorly, you’ll run the risk of seeing your new employee quit before their first month is up. You can present your company in the most positive light during the recruitment process, but the reality truly becomes apparent on the first working day.
Modern onboarding is extremely slick. It gathers up all the necessary documentation, updates systems as needed, handles registrations and logins (very important for digital companies), and provides the new starter with the resources they need to get their feet under them (e.g. video tutorials or step-by-step procedures).
Candidates for startup positions are looking for long-term opportunities to show what they can do alongside similarly-talented people, so it’s vital that you make a good impression. Make the process as smooth as possible, keep people updated, give them room to showcase their skills, and make sure that new hires are onboarded as adeptly as possible. You’re investing in your future — don’t take it lightly.