This article was published on July 3, 2020

4 most common startup recruitment mistakes I’ve seen as a VC

Don't repeat other people's mistakes

4 most common startup recruitment mistakes I’ve seen as a VC
Iskender Dirik
Story by

Iskender Dirik

General Manager, Samsung NEXT Europe

Iskender Dirik is a German entrepreneur, venture capitalist, and tech executive with 20 years of experience in the digital world. He is curr Iskender Dirik is a German entrepreneur, venture capitalist, and tech executive with 20 years of experience in the digital world. He is currently Managing Director and General Manager at Samsung NEXT Europe and is also Venture Partner for EQT Ventures, one of the largest Venture Capital funds in Europe.

So you’ve cracked product-market fit for your startup and it’s time to scale. As a founder, the first and possibly biggest challenge you’ll experience at this point is how to grow your team. Attracting and identifying talented potential employees who share your vision is vital. 

However, for the significant majority of founders, who have little to no hiring experience, it’s easy to fall into several traps — not least, underestimating the time and effort the hiring process demands. Last year some 71% of tech startup founders in the UK and Ireland reported experiencing difficulties hiring staff over the past year. 

In my experience advising founders on their recruitment strategy, as well as in my own experience of hiring, there are four common pitfalls I’ve come across.

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The lessons to take from these are just as relevant if you’re redesigning your hiring processes in light of COVID-19 and moving to a remote setup — so pay close attention. 

1. Not realizing that your hirers are your marketers

Your startup’s hiring team aren’t just helping you grow your team, they’re acting as representatives of your company to prospective employees. If they do a great job and offer a positive candidate experience, then it’s great marketing. If they do a bad job, you’re going to risk putting off potentially great candidates. 

The unfortunate truth is that many hirers, especially those with little training or experience, aren’t offering a good candidate experience — and word can get around. 

Unless there’s a feedback channel, the majority of the time you’ll be blissfully unaware of the damage your internal hiring team might be causing. More than once I’ve seen founders discover the damage their hiring team was doing only when a candidate they knew personally reported back to them. 

A friend of mine ended up in this position recently when, unbeknownst to them, their hiring team approached me for a mid-level position that didn’t match my profile in the slightest.

To avoid this, and to make sure your candidates actually want to work for you, you need to start thinking of your internal recruiters as marketing people, responsible for how your company is portrayed. 

Invest in training them and make sure they appreciate the importance of giving candidates their undivided attention. As well as prioritizing the interviews themselves, this means providing meaningful post-interview feedback and creating a detailed, 360° view of each candidate.

It’s also vital that you then keep checking in on how members of your hiring team work. Test them by role-playing as a candidate. Pay attention to how they present the company and how they react to potential questions and concerns. You might be surprised by what you learn. 

2. Not defining your processes

First, be clear and aligned on who it is you want to hire. It’s crucial for there to be clearly defined candidate requirements. These might revolve around different competencies you’re looking for, which you should design your questions around. Every interviewer should then have a scorecard that they can use to assess each candidate for different competencies, qualities, or skills. 

This makes it simpler and fairer to compare different candidates. Beyond this it’s important that you make it clear who interviews whom and when, as well as who has what decision-making powers. 

Secondly, you need to be able to clearly articulate to candidates what the hiring process will involve, including the different interview stages and when these take place. 

Candidates won’t appreciate unexpected surprises along the way. In particular, if the prospective employee is going to be working in a distributed team (at least for the time being), you should aim to create a remote interview setup that gives them a sense of how your team works day to day, and gives you a feel for how they’ll adapt to that.  

3. Valuing experience over potential

One mistake I often see is in founders who are fixated with looking for candidates who have certain kinds of experience on their CVs. Besides the universal advantages of hiring from as diverse a pool of candidates as possible, for a fast-moving startup, where adaptability and on-the-job learning is key, potential is often far more valuable than experience. 

The same goes for hiring candidates from non-startup backgrounds. It’s not uncommon for founders to shy away from hiring candidates from big corporates for example, and worry about whether they’ll have the flexibility and willingness to take on tasks outside their job description. 

Yet in many cases this couldn’t be further from the truth. At Samsung NEXT we look for a mix of candidates from corporates and other non-startup backgrounds as it helps to maintain a diverse talent pool. 

4. Working with the wrong external hiring agencies

Outsourcing to external recruiters can be a massive time-saver if you need to rapidly accelerate hiring. However, this comes with two major caveats. First, it is critical to choose a partner who not only recruits but will also advise recruiting best practices. Second, the agency must have experience with the type of roles to be filled. 

Start by taking a similar approach to the one you take with  your internal hiring team — that is by keeping a close eye on the way they work and how they represent your company. 

All too often startups put their faith in external recruiters who have little to no understanding of either the job role or the company they’re recruiting for. This leads to spending unnecessary time interviewing candidates who you might have otherwise ruled out at the screening stage. 

To avoid this you need to work closely with your recruitment agency to make sure they understand your company culture and what you’re looking for. I’ve often found that smaller, more specialized agencies are able to get a far better grasp of this than large, generalized firms. 

You should also be getting them to visit and spend time in your office and, if possible, organizing regular one-on-one meetings with them. In the end it’s vital to remember that, regardless of how you work with external recruiters, hiring still needs to be one of your company’s core skills. 

Overall the hiring decisions you make as an early stage startup will have a greater bearing on the development of your company than those at any other point. By taking care to avoid these four mistakes — and investing the necessary time and resources into perfecting your recruitment strategy — you can build exactly the team you need to help you scale. 

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