How To Hack Hiring, for Startups

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Guest Blogger

December 15, 2015

Crystal HSCrystal Huang is the Co-Founder and CEO of ProSky, a high-growth startup and #500strong company. She previously led marketing for Vivint, which sold one entity to Blackstone for $2B and brought a second entity to IPO. She loves spending her free time with her family, designing, and shopping.


At ProSky, we believe that “your people are your greatest assets”! I know that sounds cliché, but the fact is that at all stages of a company, an organization’s people can make or break a company. The merger of HP and Compaq in the 90’s seemed to be the story of hope. In the end, it nearly devastated the company because the two corporations had too different of people and culture to work in sync. The Harvard Business Review reports that nearly 80% of all turnover in a company is a result of  bad hiring decisions. HR.com writes that it costs $7,000 to replace a salaried employee, $10,000 to replace a mid-level employee, and $40,000 to replace a senior executive. Even worse, a bad hire can cost a company more than $25,000. 1 in 4 CEOs report that it costs their companies more than $50,000 per bad hire.

As a startup, when and how do you start hiring the right people? I get a lot of feedback from startups who tell me that they don’t have the big war-chest to attract top talent and as a result can’t start early. More tell me “Oh…we’ll wait till Series A or B to hire the good ones”. It is vital that the first hires are great recruits as they will help you, as founders define your company culture and work processes and as a result, help shape your company’s success.

Knowing When to Hire, and When to Let Go

Find the right people who fit within your company culture right off the bat or get rid of those who don’t… fast! I know startups can get so worried about finding talent, that they will sometimes take whoever they can find. Some shops are also afraid of letting talent go, even when the new hires don’t fit the culture.

We had an employee once who had huge trust issues. Right off the bat, his personality and the way he worked did not sync with everyone else. Meetings were torturous as we always had to convince him to do things a different way. The final straw came when we found out that he was monitoring our emails and calendars. If we had continued working with him, I know we wouldn’t be anywhere as successful as we are now. If we had let go of him sooner, we could have had more time to find the right candidate for our team.

Hacking the Hiring Process

So how do you hack hiring as a startup? Obviously, you can’t compete with brand name companies like Facebook or Google,but you can do a few things that will help narrow that gap! Here are four tips to get you started:

  1.  Stop looking at resumes! Candidates should show, and not tell you what they can do. Consider assigning them projects instead. You can tell how great of a skill-set a candidate possesses by working with him/her, and see what kind of personality they have to know if they will be the right culture fit for your company.
  2. Have candidates try projects in teams. You will be able to identify who is a great collaborator and leader. You will see who is self-motivated and who comes up with great ideas when push comes to shove. You will identify  who has an amazing work ethic and who lets details slip through the cracks. Not only will you be able to hire great employees this way, you will be able to hire employees for specific leadership tracks or teams.
  3. Have conversations with your candidates. Forget all the personality tests, weird questions, and definitely the same old boring interview questions. Get to know the candidates. Have a genuine interest in who they are, what they have done, and most importantly, what they want for their future. You can always train someone but you can’t change their personality and belief system.  
  4. Use your existing employees. Some of our best hires have come from employee referrals! Our employees were hired because they fit and understand what our company needs to be successful.. You can offer fun incentives like a free massage, free lunches for a week, and so on for employees who bring in great candidates. It definitely beats paying a third-party recruiter 25% of an annual salary!

The Hands-on Approach

Millennials are the candidates who are entering the workforce or are in the workforce currently. They approach job seeking in a different way. They don’t just want job security. They want to work for a company they are passionate about. They will even take a lower salary if it means working for something cooler and better. At ProSky, we have worked with candidates who’ve done projects for “no-name” companies. These candidates were skeptical at the beginning, but were in love with the company by the end of the recruiting process..

Project Dashboard

What changed? For one, the company mentors or recruiters really took the time to get to know these candidates. They gave them actual projects with lots of good, constructive feedback. One CEO even brought his laptop around his small startup office and introduced the team of candidates to everyone in the office. He also took an interest in each candidate and offered great advice. The candidates loved this management and hiring approach and wanted to work for him.

Projects and conversations, when paired together, can promote your company in a different light. When done right, they can elevate your company’s coolness level. At ProSky, we have helped numerous companies find the right fit through this very model. We’re happy to report that employee churn rate for the companies we partner with have dropped significantly and companies have reported a much more harmonious and happy workplace.

The moral of the story: Hire right. Spend the time to get to know the candidates you will be calling “your people”.

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