We've all heard of the infamous Google interview questions: how many golf balls will fit in a school bus? How much should you charge to wash all of the windows in San Francisco? Why are manhole covers round?

When it comes to hiring for startup talent, there are a few challenges that entrepreneurs and management teams commonly face: attracting talent, compensation or lack thereof, and timing. Does the company then hire for talent or trainability? What is the impact of culture and fit on hiring decisions? How can management think outside of the box to solidify hiring efforts?


The main hiring concern for any early stage startup is its ability to attract talent. With minimal brand recognition and reputation, visibility is understandably lacking amongst prospective employees, much less the crème de la crème of the talent pool. Startup management can battle this by recruiting the assistance of their internal networks, whether it be current contacts or finding people who worked with existing team members in a past life.

But perhaps more important is new startups must have a story to tell, a vision to paint and a purpose for prospective employees to align with and get behind. Without this foundation, even a large pool of high quality talent won't do any good. Candidates will only be fully dedicated and on board if the company's vision, and their role in accomplishing the vision, is clear.

This clarity and dedication also helps startups deal with a major challenge facing them on the hiring front: compensation. Startups can illustrate the plethora of non-monetary opportunities on the line for employees, paired with equity offerings, to get the right people on board for the right reasons. This allows the startup to compete against higher-paying companies while remaining lean by keeping salary expenses low.

Finally, if hiring efforts begin after the need for a role is realized, it’s already too late. Recruiting should be a continuous effort with a consistently filled pipeline of talent. As Michael Tanenbaum, Founder & CEO of ConnectCubed, frames it, “You need to hire just before you need the person.”

This preemptive recruiting strategy prevents startups from rushing when the need for a position rises. A hire should never occur out of desperation to fill the position; getting the right people on the bus, as opposed to just filling the seat, is vital.

Recruitment/Interview Strategies

The meat and potatoes of this topic: recruitment and interview strategies. There are two methods employers of both startups and major corporations alike take. Does the company hire for someone who has the credentials, experience, etc.? Or does it hire for potential, trainability, and “softer” skills so the candidate can grow within the company?

Whether experience or trainability, hiring managers must make sure the method fits the madness. If the company heavily emphasizes mentorship and internal promotions, then trainability with a focus on culture fit is likely more beneficial. However, if the company needs someone to come in and hit the ground running, presumably in a more senior position, existing experience and knowledge is a must.

Paul Peters, previously with Betterteam, also recommends treating potential employees like customers and approaching hiring from a marketing perspective. Sell the job; address not just the responsibilities and requirements but also the team, the company, the benefits, and the location.

Finally, startup hiring managers must think outside of the box. For instance, in dealing with a shortage of local talent or candidates who are willing to relocate, consider going remote for certain positions. Similarly, if a shortage in cash is preventing bringing on a candidate full time, try hiring freelancers instead. Resources, such as Upwork, exist to make hiring freelancers exceptionally easy for employers. In fact, the turnaround time to having someone on the job is often within minutes.

During the actual interview process, employers need to realize the importance of culture and fit at such an early stage of the organization. Beyond looking purely for hard experience and/or credentials on paper, there must be reading between the lines to spot the soft skills, as well as personality and value fit. One toxic hire could be detrimental to a startup during the earlier, more fragile stages of development. Generally speaking, individuals must be comfortable with risk and uncertainty, while being adaptive and open to change.

The last step in ensuring startups are able to not only hire, but also retain, top talent, is a constant and honest self-check on the organization. There are multiple resources online that allows companies to check on workplace pain points, such as Glassdoor, that allows for improvements. Such improvements benefit not only existing employees but also for remaining attractive to prospective talent.

About the Author

Lilian Shen is an Associate with the Rebel Venture Fund and an MBA candidate at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. She received her Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of California, Irvine in sunny Southern California. Lilian is in business development for Madrivo, a Las Vegas-based Inc. 5000 digital agency.


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of RVF or UNLV. In addition, thoughts and opinions are subject to change and this article is intended to provide an opinion of the author at the time of writing this article. All data and information is for informational purposes only.