In short:

  • Founders can take a page from corporate HR handbooks when staffing up.
  • Using your network to source talent is a solid strategy for getting qualified candidates through the door. But it may not do much for diversity.
  • Social media can be a good tool for posting open positions, networking with prospective employees and gauging cultural fit.

You started with an idea and a select team of individuals and investors committed to making it real and profitable. Now, as the economy ramps up, you need to staff up to support new revenue generation, production and customer service. The question for founders: How do I build a talented, engaged team that is as passionate as that original, core group?

Entrepreneurs can start with long-standing corporate human resources tips and tricks — but make them faster and more affordable. For example, a traditional method of rounding out the leadership team is using an executive search firm. Effective, but expensive: Fees are typically 30% or more of the hire’s annual salary. Instead, bootstrap by engaging a fractional CFO or CMO to find out what style person works for you while tapping into your current teams’ networks.

And don’t keep pivoting. “Figuring it out as we go” is something of a mantra right now, but wing it too much when hiring and you waste time and deny your team the ability to make apples-to-apples comparisons.

In hiring as in other areas of life, customization costs money, so identify recruitment expectations, create job descriptions, put them in writing, and stick to them. Ensure all qualified candidates for a particular role meet the same two or three decision-makers and are asked roughly the same questions. Use a grid to rate all candidates on desired skills and traits. Create a standard pre-hire packet with new-position requisition, referral and evaluation forms. Standardize the contract or offer-letter process and how you’ll onboard.

When writing job postings, be upfront about whether you’ll support a fully remote model. A hybrid or completely virtual office environment is attractive to many candidates. If the company requires presence in the office, make that clear.

4 Methods to Find Executive and Technical Talent Without Spending a Small Fortune

1. Relationship Recruitment

Relationship recruiting is still arguably the most effective method a CEO has to attract talent at the top of the organizational chart. Connections may come from past coworker relationships that go back years, tips on innovative previous colleagues — even if they currently work for a competitor — or reputable industry networks.

As a personal example, I left an international hotel management company after a long career to work for a new hospitality group because someone I worked with 15 years ago, whose judgement I trusted, recruited me. Relationship recruiting is powerful because each party already knows at least a little about the other, so it’s easier and quicker to cut to the chase to determine if there’s a good fit.

A potential downside of relationship recruiting is that current executives may tend to recommend folks with similar backgrounds. Diversity isn’t just about gender, sexual orientation and ethnicity; successful companies have a mix of ages and geographic, language and socioeconomic backgrounds. Different personal outlooks bring new POVs, as do veterans and folks without typical four-year college degrees. When using relationship recruitment, be mindful to avoid the homogeneity that leads to the dreaded groupthink.

2. Social Media: LinkedIn and Facebook

Whether a company needs overt employment marketing, strategic profile searches or to infiltrate a professional network, social media sites offer immense value. Employers that don’t use social media are at a distinct disadvantage.

In terms of popularity, Facebook and LinkedIn dominate the recruitment market.

LinkedIn is the No. 1 professional networking vehicle to attract talent, but most employers don’t use it to its full potential. Remember, it costs nothing to create a company profile. Yes, it’s a small manual burden to develop that initial branding and to market a position, but it brings credibility and establishes a “basecamp” to refer candidates to. You want to enable job seekers to research and hopefully relate to the company and current team, so highlight feature articles, and link profiles of employees.

LinkedIn’s features like recommendations and endorsed skills let employers prereview a candidate’s KSAs — that’s “knowledge, skills and experience” in HR lingo. You can see candidates’ connections with your industry, how they respond to or interact with your network and get a sense of their interests and motivations. Essentially, LinkedIn makes it easy to start the recruitment conversation.

Facebook is the leading social platform in terms of sheer size. You can post positions to Facebook Jobs, but a better use of your time might be to use the site to infiltrate professional Facebook groups. Typing “digital marketer” into a Groups search, for instance, brings up dozens of groups related to marketing. Find an active group, like and follow it, participate in its events and conversations, and learn who within the group are the top contributors. Even if they aren’t in the market for a new position, odds are they can introduce you to top industry talent.

Facebook users tend to let their personalities and creativity show through in comments and posts, so take some time to scroll through a potential hire’s activity. You’ll probably learn some about their KSAs — and quite a bit about how they’ll fit into your company culture.

In light of 2020, be understanding of how a particular candidate handled any loss of work hours amid the pandemic — whether they worked voluntarily, took unemployment benefits, or had another path. A “welcome back” attitude is ideal. And note that employers are highlighting diversity and inclusion now more than ever on their recruitment homepages.

3. Professional associations

Professional and industry associations are an ideal low-cost avenue to find candidates. Some associations will allow a search for members with an “in transition” job title, positioning themselves as job seekers, and resume access services are typically low or no cost as a benefit of membership.

In what is currently a candidate’s market for most, resume-searching through these associations is much more effective than posting on a job board and hoping the right candidate applies. Just because a candidate is searching for a role in your industry doesn’t mean they’re a fit; you have the ability to raise the bar.

Top Professional Associations by Job Type

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Marketing professional The American Marketing Association(opens in a new tab) is the big-dog professional community in this space, and The Social Media Association(opens in a new tab) is a hub for innovators.
Channel professional AASCI Group(opens in a new tab) brings together a number of channel professionals, but B2B communities on LinkedIn are often a better bet to find channel sales managers. Check out the LI Sales Hacker Community(opens in a new tab) and Channel, Sales & Account Management Experts(opens in a new tab) group.
Sales lead Unsurprisingly, there are a lot of organizations for sales pros: women(opens in a new tab), inside sales specialists(opens in a new tab), account management specialists(opens in a new tab), sales engineers(opens in a new tab), people with marketing overlap(opens in a new tab) .
Coder Stack Overflow(opens in a new tab) bills itself as a Q&A site for professional and enthusiast programmers. Also check out GitHub(opens in a new tab) and HackerRank(opens in a new tab).
Finance professional Last but certainly not least, finance pros tend to gather at the Association for Financial Professionals(opens in a new tab). If you need a specialist, check out groups for CPAs(opens in a new tab) and investor relations(opens in a new tab), compliance(opens in a new tab) and taxation experts(opens in a new tab).

If you’re recruiting for multiple disciplines in a limited time, membership to the local Chamber of Commerce can be a great starting point. Entrepreneurs without the resources to hire for a full-time position can often find fractional executives to complete short-term projects until dollars for wages and salaries are available, too. It’s a solid alternative that requires smaller investments and commitments.

4. University or Technical Schools

New grads can fill many technical roles. And you don’t have to be a large company to engage universities and technical colleges or even high schools as a recruitment resource. I’ve had success networking with smaller but high-quality schools that larger companies tend to overlook — and diversity of background and age is another bonus. You can find amazing talent outside of tier 1 institutions, and once you develop a personal relationship with a program, it can yield a funnel of future leaders. Consider making a connection with a school that will appreciate a small company’s interest in its students.

Check out Handshake(opens in a new tab), where you can post on 500 participating college and university job boards with little effort. Recruit for part-time or internship-seeking undergraduates or recent graduates looking for employment.

Now that you’ve found some prospects, how do you make sure they’re fits for your culture?

More Recruiting and HR Resources for Entrepreneurs

20 Must-Have HR Policies for Your Employee Handbook

Inform your new employees as to what’s expected of them, ensure everyone is treated consistently and prevent problems — including legal issues — by creating an employee handbook with these policies.

Recruitment Metrics for Data-Driven Human Capital Management

Get more guidance on how to calculate common recruitment metrics — like time to hire, quality of hire and more — as well as metrics that are particularly important in 2021. We’ll also explain the secret to linking recruitment metrics to business objectives.

Human Capital Management (HCM) Software From NetSuite

HR leaders can track hiring trends from their own personalized dashboard in NetSuite SuitePeople HR. And new employees can complete onboarding to-dos in the system without hand-holding from HR.

First, Define Mission, Vision and Core Values. Then, Vet

Many job seekers look at a company’s mission statement to help them decide whether they can get behind the product or service. I often see entrepreneurs who innately “get” their vision and mission, but unless you have something in writing, candidates often have no idea what you’re about beyond the product.

As much as a company is interviewing a candidate, a candidate is observing the company to determine if their core values align.

HR Terms and What They Mean for Entrepreneurs in 2021

“Mission”: How the company is operating today

“Vision”: How success will look in the future

“Core values”: Fundamental insight to the work environment from a candidate’s perspective; the fundamental beliefs of a person, such as the entrepreneur or founder, or a whole organization. These guiding principles dictate behavior and can help people understand what is most important to the organization. Core values create a behavioral guide to follow while organizational goals are being met.

Make the recruitment process faster and smoother by clearly articulating your mission and vision during it. Core values will also guide all levels of an organization when determining the selection criteria for new recruits. They shape company culture, and making sure that candidates fit your culture is essential to long-term success.

Informal Vetting Option: Check Social Media

Job seekers commonly use social media to express their personalities. The social media sites mentioned previously can give an employer insight to a future candidate’s expressed values, motivations and personal effectiveness competencies. As such, reviewing a candidate’s social media posts can be the fastest way to spot red flags.

Your goal here is not to determine whether they like the same sports teams as you but to look for red flags, like using hate speech or advocating violence. You may also learn if a candidate is a consensus-builder or lives for arguing. Remember, though, that younger candidates don’t spend much time on Twitter and Facebook, and their profiles tend to be scrubbed to pass scrutiny by college admissions. Look to Instagram, TikTok and beyond.

Formal Vetting Option: Behavioral Interview Questions

There are also more formal methods to gauge whether a candidate is likely to bolster your company culture. One of these is behavioral interview questions(opens in a new tab) (of which there are many libraries(opens in a new tab)). Interviewers commonly identify and document the strength of a candidate’s answer on a numerical scale of 1-5 or 1-10, with the base of the STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Results)(opens in a new tab) technique. Using this technique, ask candidates to quote a specific situation in their work histories, which task was identified, which action(s) they took and the end result.

With practice, it will become easy to compare strengths. Candidates who communicate a STAR well will have stronger performance against the culture than those that gave general or theoretical answers such as, “I always please the customer.”

As a bonus, if you stick to the numerical scale and hang on to scores in documented notes, it’s a viable defense in the off chance you ever get hit with an employment discrimination lawsuit.

Sites to Use When Recruiting on a Budget

Indeed(opens in a new tab) – It’s a little-known fact that one of the most popular job sites in the U.S. is free. It’s also very easy to set up a personal account. The extra features that the site sells are enticing, and at times I’ve splurged $100 to enable a resume search for 30 days for a hard-to-fill position.

Google for Jobs(opens in a new tab) – If you have an in-house or contracted IT specialist, a properly formatted job posting on the company website will show up on a Google Search.

Startupers(opens in a new tab) –This is a posting site similar to Craigslist for tech companies.

Wages in 2021

The tight 2021 labor market is pushing up the hourly wage in many industries and geographies. For example, in pre-pandemic Atlanta, we staffed at $12 per hour, but now we’ve recalibrated to around $14 because every hospitality company is hiring.

For higher-paid and salaried workers, especially influential factors this year include the job’s location and cost of living. High quality of life, short or no commute and a flexible schedule will attract candidates in 2021’s market — if you can make it work with your operating budget.

How to Measure the Effectiveness of Your Recruiting Efforts

Again riffing off of corporate HR best practices, measure the effectiveness of a recruitment strategy using key performance indicators (KPIs).

Our companion piece on recruitment metrics and ways to get more efficient has a number of mathematical formulas to go with these three important areas:

Time to Fill

  • Don’t cast too wide a net. Source for just a few hard-to-fill positions, because it’s easy to get communications crossed and details confused if you’re trying to build rapport with multiple future candidates.
  • Reach out to candidates of interest within four business days. Keeping prospects waiting weeks for an interview reduces the perception that your company is excited to have caught their interest. Top candidates want to feel that a company is as excited to talk to them as they are to it.
  • Don’t keep a position advertised for too long. I am not a fan of “evergreen” posts, where companies collect resumes for ephemeral future positions. Just like a house that sits on the market for months, the perception that there’s something wrong with the company or role grows.

Quality of Candidate

  • Measure the sourcing effectiveness for any recruitment marketing investment on a monthly or quarterly basis. You may be receiving quantity but not quality, which increases the time it takes your small team to vet applications. If the quality of candidates coming through a channel is not meeting your criteria, try something else.

Cost Per Hire

  • How much does it cost, on average, to fill a vacant position? While you may not have a recruitment budget per se, you still need to calculate how much you spent to find successful candidates, from advertising the position to referral fees or an association membership. You might find that “expensive” channels deliver better-quality applicants that require less vetting. Redirect funds and efforts to take a deeper dive with the methods that are working.

The Bottom Line

Identifying, recruiting and hiring people with the needed KSAs and culture fit is critical, especially for startups and small companies. Each position will contribute exponentially to the company’s mission. By creating legally defensible job descriptions, sourcing creatively, conducting objective behavioral interviewing and tracking recruitment effort KPIs, you’ll get talent that will take the company forward.

Recruiting for Entrepreneurs FAQs

How do entrepreneurs find employees?

Entrepreneurs find employees through various methods, each tailored to their startups’ unique needs and resources. Networking is crucial; many entrepreneurs leverage their professional and personal networks to find candidates. This includes attending industry events, utilizing social media platforms like LinkedIn, and joining entrepreneur-focused groups. Additionally, entrepreneurs often post job openings on startup-focused job boards and websites, which attract candidates interested in working in a dynamic startup environment. They also might directly reach potential candidates, especially for specialized or high-level positions. Entrepreneurs sometimes collaborate with recruitment agencies specializing in startup hiring, though this can be more costly. The key is to combine traditional methods with creative strategies that align with the startup’s culture and goals, ensuring a fit in skills, mindset, and adaptability.

How do I recruit people for my startup?

Recruiting for your startup involves a strategic approach that combines clarity, outreach, and assessment. Start by clearly defining the roles you must fill, including the skills, experience, and cultural fit necessary for your startup. Use this to craft compelling job descriptions that list requirements and sell your startup’s vision and culture. Leverage both online and offline channels for outreach: post on startup-specific job boards, use social media, attend industry networking events, and tap into your personal and professional networks. Regarding the selection process, focus on candidates who show adaptability, passion for your mission, and growth potential, as these qualities are particularly valuable in the startup environment. Remember, your first few hires are crucial as they will set the tone for your company culture and growth, so take your time to find the right fit.

Is recruiting new employees a challenge for entrepreneurs?

Yes, recruiting new employees is often a significant challenge for entrepreneurs, primarily due to the unique dynamics of startups. These challenges stem from limited resources in terms of finances and time, which can make it difficult to attract top talent who may be drawn to the stability and benefits offered by larger, established companies. Startups also often require candidates with a specific blend of skills and adaptability to thrive in a fast-paced, ever-changing environment, which narrows the pool of suitable candidates. Furthermore, entrepreneurs must find candidates with the right skill set and those who align with the startup’s culture and are passionate about its mission. Despite these challenges, effective recruitment is crucial for startups, as the right team can significantly accelerate growth and success. Therefore, entrepreneurs must be creative, proactive, and strategic in their recruitment efforts.