Unfortunately, most other tactics that work for larger companies aren’t going to work to hire your early-stage team because you don’t have a talent brand. Cultivating a talent brand is a long-term investment, and you just don’t have time or resources for that.
Inbound applications & career sites
Many founders think that the first step to hiring is to launch a career site and post some jobs. This almost always ends up being a waste of time. As a small startup, no one knows you exist, so how are candidates going to know to look for your career site?
To make matters worse, in the off-chance that a candidate finds your career site, there’s a very low probability that they’ll be the right candidate. I would advise against spending much time on your career site to hire your early-stage team or consider not having one at all. At Gem, we didn’t have a career site until we were ~40 people and raised our Series B.
The one exception to this rule is if you’re starting a company that many candidates would know about, e.g. a B2C social app that’s blowing up, or a company started by a founder of a wildly successful open-source project. But let’s be real, that’s not 99% of startups.
As a litmus test for prioritizing a career site, ask yourself how many inbound candidates you get today (e.g, inquiries to info@ or your work email)? If you aren’t getting any inbound applicants without a career site, I guarantee you won’t get any by having one.
Campus recruiting may not be the highest ROI use of your time as a startup:
- It can take several campus trips to break into a new school. There’s a bit of a chicken & egg problem where you need to hire one really strong new grad to gain credibility with the rest of the student body.
- There’s a long delay from when they start. Many of the best students decide on their full-time offers in the fall, but don’t start until the following summer (~9 months later). You need people now!
- Most successful campus recruiting strategies include an internship program, which helps you evaluate students while giving them valuable experience and a taste of what it’s like to work at your company. Without one, your close rate will probably be a lot lower, because new grads won’t know much about your startup. Internship programs make campus recruiting an even bigger investment with a longer payback period.
- Lastly, most new grads are relatively junior. You’ll spend a lot of time ramping them up.
Given how long it takes to break into schools, the delayed start, and time ramping, campus recruiting probably isn’t your best bet to hire your early-stage team.
The big exception is if you’ve recently graduated yourself, in which case you should definitely be recruiting people you know from school. But the best way to do that is by
Meetups have super high variance and there are a ton of reasons why hiring from meetups is tough as a startup:
- Industry conferences, where sponsors send a few members of their department, are almost always a waste of time. The quality of talent is all over the place.
- Not every founder has the right personality. It takes a highly charismatic person to strike up a conversation at conferences & meetups.
- You may not have the credibility to recruit at top meetups. The best meetups are often small and highly-specialized. If you aren’t an expert on the topic, it will be difficult to gain the credibility and respect of those who attend.
- Even if you somehow find a great meet up where you have credibility, you probably won’t make a hire quickly. Again, the best meetups usually have fewer people (e.g. not an industry conference) and the people who attend aren’t there to be recruited.
Meetups can be an effective way for larger companies to build their employer brand, which is a much longer-term strategy that pays off over multiple years. But as a small startup, we need to focus on things that help us hire our team now. We may not be around in 5 years.
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