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Has your startup has reached the point where you need to make your first hire?

Or maybe you made such a mess of your last hire, that you want to figure out how you can get it right this time around.

Whichever camp you’re in, this handbook designed specifically for startup employers will be able to help you.

Using this handbook, you’ll learn all that you need to know about the hiring process and also how you can avoid some of the common pitfalls that most startup employers tend to come across.

From making a hiring plan to selecting from your shortlisted candidates, we’ll explore all of the key aspects related to finding the best person for the job.

Though SAAS startups will benefit the most from the guide, the concepts shared will arguably work in any industry.

By the end of this handbook, you’ll understand exactly what you need to do to find the right person for your company as well as how to keep them there so that they can produce results for years to come.

Let’s get started!

Download the Startup Recruitment Checklist:

Planning for hiring

Before you jump into the process of hiring an employee, you need to gain some clarity on precisely what you’re trying to achieve.

Doing so, will stop you from making any mistakes that might lead to you hiring the wrong individual –  a mistake that could cost you money, time or even the reputation of your company.

Thankfully, it’s easy to gain clarity, by asking yourself the following questions…

Question #1 – Do you really need to hire someone?

After seeing that question, you might be thinking – “Of course I need to hire someone, or else I wouldn’t be reading this!”

And whilst that’s a valid point, it’s still worth asking yourself the question.

After all, many startups end up hiring people much sooner than they need to and there are many horror stories out there, based on companies that hired too early.

Hiring early can produce an extra cost that you might otherwise be able to do without.

This potentially includes office space, as well as wage bills.

Hiring too early can also harm company culture. Something you’ll want to protect as much as possible.

So how do you know if you’re hiring too early?


If you can’t provide clear and concise answers to any of the questions in the rest of this section (or the handbook for that matter) – you’re probably in a position where you’re hiring too early.

And if you’re in such a position, it’s probably better to hold off on hiring someone, until you can provide concise answers.

Question #2 – Will a contractor do?

If you feel like you absolutely need to bring someone onboard – question if a contractor might be a better fit option for the company.

Working with contractors is a good idea if you only need help with a short term issue.

Using contractors can also be more cost-effective in the short term, as you don’t have to provide employee benefits.

There’s an emphasis on the short term because, in the long term, contractors can definitely be much more expensive than an in house employee.

Question #3 – Which role would benefit your company the most?  

If your startup is like other startups, you’re probably working with a tight budget.

And so whilst you might be in a position where hiring for multiple roles would be ideal– focus on just one for now.

However, if you’re not sure which job role should be prioritized, here are some things you need to consider…

What are your startup goals?

  • What are the goals for your startup in the next 3-6 months?
  • Out of these goals – which ones would make the biggest difference to your startup

What steps need to be taken in order to achieve this goal?

  • What specific tasks need to be completed in order to achieve these goals?
  • What is your company in shortage of, when it comes to achieving this goal?

Different companies will uncover different results when asking themselves these questions.

Some may find that building a better product will take their company to the next level – and so they’ll bring on a developer/engineer.

Others, however, might find that improving their sales will move the needle the most – and so these individuals will bring on a salesperson.

Question #4 – How would you define the role?

Once you understand the role you need to fill, you then need to define the role.

The best way to do this is by clearly defining the ‘day to day’ tasks that your new hire will be focusing on.

Try to schedule out each hour of their day and list what outcome each hour contributes to.

Having this information at hand also makes it easier when advertising the role, or when you’re reaching out to potential candidates.

That’s because 76% of job candidates have stated that they want to know what their ‘day to day’ will look like, ahead of time.

You’ll also want to focus on some general aspects of the role such as –

  • What this individual will be responsible for
  • What outcomes they will help achieve (and also prevent)

Question #5 – Do you want to work with rookies or experienced individuals?

You might think that the obvious answer here, is to work with those who have experience.

And whilst experienced individuals can seem like a good option, in some instances, rookies might actually be the better option for your startup.

The chart below helps to point out some of the differences between hiring rookies vs. hiring experienced individuals.


  • Will settle for lower wage
  • Might take longer to achieve certain outcomes.
  • Will need training
  • Won’t always request equity


  • Will demand higher wage
  • Will often be able to achieve outcomes quicker, because of their experience.
  • Won’t need as much training, if any
  • More likely to request equity

As shown, experienced can often help you achieve your goals quicker.

They’ve probably dealt with similar problems before and so they can figure things out pretty quickly.

Their ability to do this, however, means that they’ll often demand a higher wage, as well as some equity.

Rookies, on the other hand, don’t have as much experience but can be cheaper as a result.

The kind of employee you want to hire will depend on your budget and what you’re willing to put up with.

Question #6 – Are you dealing with late-stage vs. early-stage hires (Generalists vs. Specialists)?

Now, odds are you’re dealing with early-stage hires – especially if you’re reading a guide on hiring.

But it’s important to understand the distinction between late-stage hires vs. early-stage hires, no matter the case.

That’s because it helps to appreciate the importance of hiring generalists over specialists when you’re a small company making your first few hires.

Though you might have a plan for the future of your startup– things can, and often do change.

If you hire someone who is a specialist,  they’re going to struggle to adapt to this change, and they might not be of any use if you ask them to do something that wasn’t in the job description.

Generalists, however, know a little bit about everything.

As a result, if your company suddenly finds itself in a position where changes need to be made, generalists will still be able to bring value to the company.

And so whilst specialists can be useful for established companies that need to improve results in a very specific part of the company, for startups, generalists are the better option.

Therefore, lookout for people who have a wide range of skills and are willing to adapt, when reviewing potential candidates.

Question #7 – Is your startup a place that people will want to work?

Wages aren’t everything when it comes to attracting ideal employees and there are plenty of people out there who won’t join a company, even if it can provide them with a higher wage.

The good thing is that because wages aren’t everything, you’re now given another way to attract top talent, even if you can’t pay top dollar wages – something that most startups have to deal with.

And you can do that, by making your startup a great place to work.

One of the best ways to do this is by creating a great company culture.

Many startups don’t really have a defined company culture that they can promote.

If you’re in this position, here are some questions you can ask yourself to help you start defining your company culture –

  • What does your company stand for?
  • What goals is your company trying to achieve?
  • How is your company trying to change the world for the better?
  • What are the values of your company?

Once you’ve answered those questions, you’ll have a lot more clarity about the culture of your company.

You can then use that information to convince people that they should work for you, even if they’re going to end up with a lower salary.

People are also interested in the ‘side benefits’ that come with the job.

These side benefits generally relate to the flexibility and growth opportunities that your company can provide. Depending on the location of your startup, it might also include healthcare.

When trying to gain clarity on the side benefits that you’re equipped to be able to provide, here are some things you’ll want to consider –

  • Do you provide any kind of healthcare benefits?
  • How many holiday days can you provide?
  • Can people work at home?
  • Do you reward the achievement of outcomes or hours worked?
  • How do you help people grow, once they’re part of your company?

Side benefits can also include things that make your workplace innovative in the way you ask employees to work.

For instance, some companies are finding more success with defining daily work schedules based on outcome achievement, rather than forcing people to work a certain amount of time.

Whilst this works better for some companies than others, it’s this kind of thinking that can help you differentiate yourself from other workplaces out there.

The question of company equity

Note: Please do plenty of due diligence before offering company equity and always speak to a lawyer before you arrange equity agreements. Providing company equity is tricky, and you want to make sure that you create watertight contracts that protect you, in case something goes south.

Equity can be a great bargaining chip when you don’t have the ability to offer high wages or when you’re trying to attract top-level talent.

Equity also motivates people to work harder, since they’re now invested in the success of the company and will benefit if it is ever sold at a high valuation.

In simple terms, there are two ways that you can provide company equity – 

  • Upfront Equity
  • Stock options

To begin with, you’ll need to issue shares and then ‘section off’ these shares off, in terms of who you’re going to be giving equity/has a potential right to equity.

The chart below shows how this works –

Early stage employee equity chart


Note: Convertible notes just means loans that can also be turned into equity.

You’ll eventually be left with an ‘Employee pool.’

All the equity you give to employees will come from this segment of shares.

Whilst there’s no standard number for the number of shares you’ll want to issue, when starting a company, it can be a good idea to issue a significant quantity.

Doing so gives you a lot of freedom, especially if you go through funding rounds.

That’s because by issuing a large number of shares to begin with you’ll minimize the odds of having to restructure the company because you’ve run out of shares.

It also makes it easier to create section off the shares that will contribute to the’ employee pool.’

Leonard Kim for instance, recommends 50 million shares.

If you don’t account for employee equity ahead of time, and you have to issue more shares later on – you’ll end up having to reduce your ownership levels in the company, in order to create more shares.

This is known as ‘dilution.’

This is where existing shares now become worthless because the value of the company is now spread out over a larger number of shares.

Of course, if you own 100% of a company, then you’re inevitably going to experience dilution when you give other people shares of the company.

But…If you account for the shares you might give employees and investors, ahead of time, and make it clear what level of ownership you’re happy with, you can minimize the psychological and economic impact.

How much you give employees people will depend on how you want to set things up.

Some companies like to provide equity-based on how recently someone has joined the company.

The table below shows how you might do that –


Some companies, however, find that it is better to provide equity based on the job title/experience, as shown in this chart –


You can also use more complex formulas to figure out how you should compensate people, in terms of equity.

Buffer is a prime example of how that can be done.

Buffer open equity formula

However, using such formulas is arguably better when your company is larger and you’ve already hired a significant number of people.

Now let’s review the different kinds of equity.

#1 – Upfront Equity

This is where you give people equity as soon as they join the company.

Upfront equity can seem like a good deal for employees because they’re given something valuable right away.

You might want to set up something known as ‘vesting’ however so that people can’t sell their shares right away.

# 2 – Stock options

Stock options work in a slightly different way to upfront equity.

With stock options, you create a situation where employees can buy a certain number of shares at a certain price, at some point in the future – even if the actual price of an equivalent share goes up.


Someone might be given the option to buy 10,000 shares at $0.20 per share, after a five-year period.

After five years, a single share might be worth $1.00.

However, the employee is still allowed to buy the set amount of shares, using the prearranged price.

They can then sell those shares for a healthy profit.

Things to keep in mind when offering equity

When granting people equity in your company, be it stock options or upfront equity, you might want to build something into the contract, to ensure you’re getting the most out of them.

# 1 – Set a vesting requirement.

The time between when people make this agreement and when they can actually buy shares is known as the vesting period.

Setting a vesting requirement for your equity offers you provide, makes it so that people can’t sell their shares, as soon as they get them.

#2 – Create conditions

Conditions will help prevent people from taking advantage of your equity offer.

You might want to make it so that people can only have access to company equity if they have been an employee for over a year and they haven’t been fired.

The importance of screening

You don’t want to waste time speaking to job candidates that aren’t going to be a good fit for your company.

Thankfully, you can use a screening process to make sure that, for the most part, you’re only speaking to people who would be considered ideal candidates.

The use of a screening process is also a good way to weed out time wasters that just apply to every job opportunity they come across.

You can do this at the start of the hiring process, or near the end, once you’ve shortlisted some people.

Here’s an email designed to screen shortlisted candidates. It comes from SAAS customer support company GrooveHQ

And then here are some of the questions that they ask candidates.

As you can see, these questions are designed to screen people, so that GrooveHq can learn more about the way that they solve problems.

If you want to ask people questions, using a screening process, you’ll need to set up a system that’ll allow you to efficiently ask candidates questions.

One way you can do this is by creating an application form using Google Forms.

To do create an application form, head over to https://docs.google.com/forms/ and once there, click on ‘Template Gallery.’

You’ll then be able to select a form template known as ‘Job Application.’

After selecting this template, you’re given the chance to adjust the form so that it meets your needs.

Though it depends on which stage of the hiring process you’re screening candidates, it’s often helpful to ask some general screening questions such as –

  • What experience do you have that’s relevant for this role?
  • What skills do you have?
  • What projects have you worked on in your own time?

Note: As with the GrooveHQ example, you might also want to ask people to solve certain problems, in order to see how they approach challenges.

These problems don’t always have to relate to the job at hand and can just be used to how they approach common, but mission-critical, problems.

It’s also a good idea to screen people based on their personalities so that you can figure out how they’d fit into your company culture.

Weirdly, is one of the best recruitment tools out there, when it comes to this kind of thing.

Full disclosure: We’ve worked with this company but we love their product so much that we actually use it for our own recruiting process.

Weirdly creates a simple quiz that’ll help you learn more about the personalities of potential candidates.

Weirdly will then analyze the results and provide you with information that lets you know more about the personalities of your ideal candidates.

Based on the information you receive, you can then screen people, who on paper, looks like a better match for your company culture.

Another option is to use Hundred5. With Hundred5, you start the recruiting process with job-specific skill tests. The system evaluates each and every answer sums up the score and picks out the best performers. From there on, you focus your energy only on that shortlist of top performers, while everyone else is handled and contacted automatically by the system.

This method gives back the valuable time spent on manually separating skilled applicants from those non-qualified applicants who are just trying their luck. Also, getting people’s attention with a simple but catchy test lowers the barriers to apply and helps to engage a greater number of candidates to pick from.

Managing the hiring process

The hiring process can get really messy, really quickly.

You’ll often have a lot of candidates reaching out to you and so you’ll need a solution that will help you keep on top of things.

After all, your inbox is probably cluttered as it is, and you don’t want to make things any worse!

Luckily, there are some recruiting solutions you can use that will help keep headaches down to a minimum.

Recruiting tools, generally help you –

  • Post job ads
  • Track where candidates are coming from
  • Keep track of the hiring process for individual hires
  • Build a talent pool of candidates
  • Manage the onboarding process of new hires
  • Manage existing hires

Some of these features are more valuable than others

Tracking candidates is particularly helpful.

Doing so allows you to figure out which recruiting methods are working the best.

You can then adjust your hiring approach so that you’re not wasting time on methods that don’t work.

Building a talent pool is also an incredibly helpful feature. 

Having a talent pool can help shorten the time it takes to find ideal candidates for future positions.

As soon as you start promoting an open position, there will be an influx of candidates.

But not all of these candidates will be a good match for you right now – even though some of them might be perfect, later on, as the company grows.

By adding these people to a talent pool, you don’t lose track of these individuals. And so when you do need to make a new hire, you can just check your talent pool to quickly find the right person.

Plus, if you’re using recruiting methods such as Inbound Hiring (of which we’ll cover later), potential candidates will always be reaching out to you.

By adding these people to your talent pool, you’ll now have a method of keeping track of individuals that would be a good match for future positions.

Have a tool to help you with onboarding is also beneficial.

When you have a reliable onboarding solution, you can easily give new employees all the information that they need to know, as soon as they become a part of the team.

As a result, you don’t have to keep repeating yourself when hiring new people in the future.

Here are some tools that you can use to help manage the hiring process

Each tool has a different interface and price point and there is also some variation in the features provided.

It is recommended that you check each of them out, to find the one the works best for you.

Note: If you’re new to the world of hiring employees, then you might not know how best to manage everyone in your company. If that’s the case, then you might want to take a look at using some kind of HR software.

Kin HR, is an example of some HR software that is affordable and newbie-friendly.

Using it, you can easily handle all of the data you might have related to specific employees.

Inbound Hiring

Though a relatively new concept, Inbound Hiring is quickly gaining steam and is becoming one of the most effective ways to hire people.

The idea here is to set things up so that ideal candidates find you.

This might include those are actively looking for a job, or those who are just assessing future opportunities.

Inbound Hiring works well because it fits in with how employees actually search for employment opportunities, as research suggests that 73% of candidates start their job search on Google.

Inbound Hiring can potentially also lead to better retention rates.

In one study, 70% of adults said that they would feel more confident that a job is for them if they found it on their own. This is compared to a situation where a company or a recruiter convinced them to take on a job.

At first glance, Inbound Hiring can seem complicated.

But if you’re familiar with inbound marketing, then you already know a great deal about Inbound Hiring.

That’s because Inbound Hiring, is just like creating an inbound marketing campaign – except the idea is to attract employees, not clients.

The graphic below helps illustrate the general process of inbound recruiting.


 In order to create an effective inbound recruiting strategy, you need to focus on…

  • Creating an Employee Persona
  • Creating content
  • Promoting content
  • Nurturing talent

Let’s go through each of these steps.

Note: In order to get the best results, you’ll need to through this process, for each individual role you’re hiring for.

Step #1  – Creating an Employee Persona

If you have any experience with Buyer Personas, creating an employee persona shouldn’t be too hard.

An Employee Persona is essentially a fictional character that represents your ideal employee, for a certain role.

Creating an Employee Persona makes it much easier to create marketing material that will attract the kind of employee you’re after.

Here’s an example of a relatively simple Employee Persona.


The more detailed you can make your Employee Persona, the better it will serve you and the better your Inbound Hiring results will be.

Thankfully, by asking the following questions about your ideal candidates, it’s really easy to come up with a detailed Employee Persona –

  • What are their demographics? (Age/Location)
  • What are their goals?
  • How would they use your company to achieve their own ‘selfish goals?’
  • How does your company align with their purpose/passion?
  • How does your company align with their values?
  • How does your company align with their concept of an ideal workplace?
  • How does your company align with their needs outside of a competitive wage?

You’ll also want to get a better sense of how they consume content and how they go about researching opportunities.

Knowing that will make it easier to get your brand in front of them so that you can begin the process of attracting them to work for your company.

Step #2 – Creating content

Engaging content is one of the biggest leverage points you have when trying to attract candidates using Inbound Hiring.

If you’ve developed an effective Employee Persona, creating engaging content is not that hard.

To begin with, it can be a good idea to create content that clearly answers the questions from earlier –

  • How would they use your company to achieve their own ‘selfish goals?’
  • How does your company align with their purpose/passion?
  • How does your company align with their values?
  • How does your company align with their concept of an ideal workplace?

Stories can also be incredibly powerful when trying to convince someone that your company is the right place for someone.

Here are some of the story formats you might want to create content around –

  • Stories of how the company was founded
  • Stories based on how your company is helping the world
  • Stories of existing employees and how they’ve been able to achieve certain things/progress/ grow thanks to the company and how the workplace operates – i.e. Flexible working hours/work at home

It’s important that when telling stories, you highlight people who represent your ideal candidates and have achieved similar aspirations, as a result of working with your company.

Doing so helps ideal candidates clearly envision how working for your startup will help bring them closer to their ideal vision of the future.

Whilst it doesn’t necessarily relate to SAAS or startups in general, here’s an example from fashion brand ASOS that clearly illustrates how you can approach content.

ASOS LinkedIn post

ASOS has developed a specific content approach for LinkedIn, that is radically different from what they’re doing on other platforms, more customer-centric, such as Facebook.

The decision to post Inbound Hiring content on LinkedIn is a calculated one – an action that ASOS takes because people on the platform are always looking for new opportunities.

After all, 87 % of active and passive candidates on LinkedIn are open to new job opportunities – so they’re willing to let themselves engage and be influenced by ‘Inbound Hiring content.’

Note:  Be sure to create content in a variety of mediums. Doing so makes it easier to distribute your message across multiple platforms and widen your reach.

Step #3 – Promoting content

There’s no shame in actively promoting your content.

Doing so can help you get in front of people who might not have otherwise considered reaching out, had they not been exposed to your content.

One of the best ways to promote your content is by using paid promotion.

Running Facebook Ads, which are targeted based on your Employee Persona’s can be a good way to get in front of ‘passive candidates.’

Note: Passive candidates are individuals that aren’t actively looking for a job, but can be convinced to join your team.

The same goes for LinkedIn and YouTube (especially if you have videos).

With LinkedIn, you can use something known as ‘Sponsored updates.’ These can get a little expensive, however, and so you’ll want to be strict about your targeting and budget.

Step #4 – Focus on ‘Nurturing’ talent

Ideally, you’ll want to have a way to capture ‘leads’ from your content, so that you can ‘nurture’ the talent that engages with your brand.

People who read your content might not want to become an employee right away, but if you make a good impression, they’ll keep you in mind when they do decide to make a change.

You can do this, by consistently sending these individuals content that they’ll resonate with.

Keep in mind that you don’t want to be pushy here if you ever want to reach out to them.

The goal is to build a relationship with these people and not to bug them into joining your team.

Don’t want to ask them for a resume via email, right off the bat. If ever.

A better approach would be to schedule a phone call.

During the call, you can learn more about their goals and how they want to develop their career.

When you know that, you can better explain how being a part of your company will help them to achieve such goals – all of which makes the idea of joining your company much more convincing.

Self recruiting

If you want to take charge of the hiring process and be as proactive as possible, the ‘self recruiting model’ might work best for you.

With self recruiting, you’re reaching out to candidates that look as though they’d be able to fill the role you’re hiring for, even though they’re not actively looking for a job. As mentioned, these individuals are known as ‘passive candidates.’

As with Inbound Hiring, you’ll want to create an Employee Persona ahead of time, so that you know exactly what kind of candidates you’re looking for.

In simple terms process of self recruiting works like this – 

  1. Create an Employee Persona based on your ideal candidate and gain clarity on why candidates would switch jobs
  2. Use LinkedIn to find people who match what you’re looking for
  3. Reach out via InMail
  4. Try to schedule a phone call
  5. If they don’t become an employee, stay in touch using email, should anything change

Let’s explore each of these steps.

Step #1 – Creating Employee Persona’s and getting clear on what will make candidates change jobs

We don’t need to explore the creation of Employee Persona’s as we’ve already covered that in detail.

What is worth mentioning, however, is that you need to be clear about why someone would want to leave their existing situation and join your company instead.

What can you offer that these people don’t have at the moment?

For 49% of people, compensation is the most important factor when it comes to accepting a new job.

However, if you can’t provide better compensation that doesn’t mean you can’t cater to the 33% of people interested in professional development or the 29% looking for a better work/life balance.

In fact, if you can put forward a compelling enough argument, you might even be able to convince the 49% that value compensation, that your workplace is the right place for them.

Think about what is missing in the lives of these ideal candidates and then come up with several answers, in terms of how being employed at your company will ‘close these gaps.’

You can only do that, though, if you really understand the mindsets of your ideal candidates.

Step #2 – Use LinkedIn to find people who match your Employee Persona

LinkedIn is like a directory that you can use to find professionals.  In fact, recent estimates suggest that there are over 400 million professionals there!

So it’s the best place to conduct your ‘self recruiting ‘ efforts.

When looking for passive candidates on LinkedIn, you’ll want to opt for one of their paid ‘recruiter’ solutions.

75% of recruiters have commented on how LinkedIn’s recruiting tools have made them more successful at hiring.

LinkedIn’s paid solutions will provide you with full access to their search features – as well some additional benefits like InMail messages and candidate tracking.

This makes it easier to find the right person and contact them.

LinkedIn provides a solution designed specifically for people going through the process of hiring, often called ‘recruiter.’

For most startups, this can be one of the better options, and LinkedIn’s basic ‘recruiter’ solution offers the following –

The most important features you’ll want to focus on are Advanced Search and InMail messaging, as these two will let you find ideal candidates and then message them.

Step #3 – Reaching out via InMails

For the most part, InMails allow for you to reach out to anyone on the LinkedIn network. They have been shown to produce an open rate that is 3X higher than what you’d otherwise get with emails.

So once you’ve found someone who looks like a good match, you can use InMails to reach out to them.

Note: Before you write InMails, be sure to fully complete your company profile on LinkedIn. Also, make sure that you have some content on offer. This gives passive candidates the chance the learn more about you, should you pique their interest.

When reaching out to someone via InMail, your primary goal is to get their attention and convince them to take a phone call with you.

Here’s you’ll want to focus on when writing your InMails –


Write in a way that’s personable and easy-going, whilst still keeping things fairly direct and straightforward.

Balancing the two can be hard, but you need to avoid coming across as aggressive, whilst not being ‘fluffy.’

Message body

If you’re stuck on what to write, use this progression when writing your message body copy –

  1. Compliment them on their past achievements
  2. State that your company would be a good place for them
  3. Explicitly state –
    1. The wage benefits
    2. Benefits that relate to their personal motivations/goals/values
  4. Ask them if they’d like to have a quick phone call

You’ll want to experiment with your approach, as different strategies will work for different roles.

Salespeople, for instance, will be much more engaged in what you have to say if you can provide a better salary and commission structure.

Here are some examples of varying messages people have sent, when trying to engage with passive candidates –


As you can see, the message above uses a very conversational tone it’s very straightforward, without being rude.

There are some compliments, and more importantly, the traits that are complimented, are linked to reasons as to why this person would be a good match for the role in question.

Subject line

The subject line is one of the biggest factors that will entice people into opening your InMails.

Your goal when writing a subject line is to build enough curiosity to get opened, without coming across as ‘spammy.’

If you’re not an experienced ‘copywriter’ this can be hard.

But consider taking a look at examples of InMails that you’ve opened in the past.

What was it about their headlines that got you to open?

Is there anything you can emulate?

If you’re really stuck…

The subject line – “Is this a fit for X” has worked well for some (with X being the name of the candidate you’re reaching out to).


Your signature lets you indirectly give people the chance to learn more about your company.

Make sure your signature links to relevant content that might help persuade this individual to respond to your message.

Here are some additional points you might want to keep in mind when writing and sending your InMails

Step #4 – The phone call

If someone responds and agrees to take a phone call with you, it’s a good sign that you might be able to convince them to join your team. However, this doesn’t mean that you should make the call all about your startup and be forceful in getting them to join the team.

On the call, the candidate should be doing the majority of the talking and you want to gain a better understanding of what they want to achieve.

When you hear about their personal motivations and goals, you’ll be in a better position to educate them on how your company can bridge the gap between their current circumstance and their ideal situation.

You’ll also want to explain the opportunities in your industry, to help quell any fears related to career progression and the possibility of being left with ‘low demand’ skills.

Step #5 – Staying in touch

In some cases, people won’t necessarily make the move to your company right away, even if they initially seemed interested.

With these individuals, it is important that you stay in touch.

One way to do this is by making sure they sign up to your Inbound Hiring newsletter. You can then send them content that helps showcase the benefits of working at your company.

You may also want to check in on these individuals every couple of months, using a phone call, to see how they’re doing and if they’re interested in making a change.

Approaching at the right time

When reaching out to people, bear in mind that you’ll probably get better results when focusing on those who’ve been employed at a certain company, for 9 months to a year.

These individuals have a much better sense of the shortfalls of their current workplace, with respect to their own personal aspirations.

Working with recruiters

Working with recruiters can make the whole process of hiring, a lot easier.

That’s because with recruiters, all you have to do is tell them what you want and they’ll come back with a list of potential candidates that meet your needs.

However, it’s easy to get burned with recruiters and so you’ll want to take some steps to make sure you don’t get into trouble.

Precaution #1 – Work with recruiters who understand your space

If the recruiters don’t understand your industry, they won’t be able to properly screen candidates.

This can lead to a lot of time being wasted on your end because you’ll speak to candidates only to discover that they’re not a fit.

So you’ll need to vet the recruiters as much as you’d vet potential candidates.

When speaking to potential recruiters consider asking them…

  • About their experience in terms of dealing with your industry
  • If they have helped any other companies, of which have had similar needs to your own

Precaution #2 – Brief recruiters on what your exact needs are, even if the recruiter does know your industry well

One of the best ways to do this is by simply sharing some of the insights you have uncovered, whilst asking yourself the questions at the start of this handbook.

Let the recruiter know what the ‘day to day’ of a potential candidate will look like, for example.

Precaution #3 –  Ask them about the process that they’re using to find new candidates.

Many companies find that there’s no point in paying someone who is just going to use job boards.

On top of that, you want to verify that they’re not going to be using methods that will make your company look bad.

The best way to overcome this issue is by asking them about previous projects that they’ve taken on and the steps that they went through to source candidates.

Precaution #4 – Be aware of the costs

Different recruiters will have different pricing structures and you’ll want to be crystal clear ahead of time, as to how they’re going to charge you.

Some recruiters will take a commission, based on the monthly wages of the employee. This can, therefore, lead to you paying higher salaries, than you might’ve had otherwise been paying.

If you’re struggling to find recruiters, you might want to take a look at some ‘modern’ approaches.

These solutions are considered ‘modern’ because you’re in essence using dedicated platforms that allow recruiters to bid for projects.

An example of such a platform is RecruitLoop.

When these modern platforms, the precautions points mentioned earlier, still tend to apply.

Some sites do away with recruiters completely, and instead, use algorithms to help you source the best talent for your role.

Codeity is an example of such a platform.

It essentially combines the power of algorithmic recruiting with the simplicity of job boards.

It’s hard to say ahead of time if these platforms are better than ‘normal recruiters,’ and it’s something you’ll want to test.

After all, it can be hard for algorithms to beat a recruiter of whom knows your industry well, has a ‘talent pool’ of candidates and understands how to convince people to leave one job, for another.

Placing job ads

Compared to everything else we’ve covered so far, placing job ads can seem a bit old fashioned.

And whilst that’s, in a sense true – you shouldn’t discount them as they can still bring great results.

If you want to use job ads there are two key things that you need to do, to get the best results –

  1. Find the job boards where you’re ideal candidates will be ‘hanging out’
  1. Write ‘ad copy’ that will get the attention of your ideal candidates and persuade them to engage

Here are some sites that work well for SAAS startup companies placing job ads –

If you’re trying to broaden your reach as much as possible, you might want to post your job ad on all of these sites. Be careful when doing this, though, as you might just end up with a massive influx of candidates, that all need reviewing.

Job boards tend to bring you the most ‘unfiltered’ candidates when compared to all of the other methods we’ve covered.

As a result, you might want to make use of the screening methods we talked about earlier, before speaking to any potential hires. This will help make it so that you’re only speaking to candidates that match your needs.

Even though some of the job boards mentioned above have ‘systems’ in place so that you’re only sent the ‘right’ candidates – you’ll want to use your own screening methods to keep wasted time down to a minimum.

If you want to keep things simple, consider using specialized job boards that are designed to fill roles, just like the one you’re hiring for.

Over time, you’ll tend to find certain job boards work better for your needs than others and so you’ll often have to experiment with different job boards, in order to eventually find the best one for your needs.

Writing a compelling job ad is the other half of the battle

A lot of the time you’ll find companies try to be too clever when they’re writing their job ads. Whilst this can work for some, it’s often a better idea to just keep things simple and straightforward.

If your job ad is clear and precise, you’ll do a better job at showcasing the role you’re trying to hire for, thereby making it easier to attract ideal candidates who would be interested in such a position.

In order to keep things simple, you should try to split your job board into three sections – 

  • About the job
  • About the company
  • Content (The kind of content you’d have for Inbound Hiring).

In the job section, you need to cover – 

  • The wage (plus any equity you might provide)
  • The skills needed for the job
  • The kind of past experience you’re looking for
  • Responsibilities the job entails
  • The kind of person that would be a fit for this job
  • Whether it is a remote working position or not

When talking about the company, think about covering –

  • What the ‘product’ is
  • The mission of the company
  • The current size of the company
  • Any investments the company has received
  • The future of the space

You’ll then want to link to some content that potential candidates can check out.

The resources you link to will help potential candidates learn more about the experience of existing employees within the company, as well as your company culture.

Try to link specific resources that will be relevant to the candidates you’re trying to attract, as those will be the most engaging for those individuals.

At the bottom of the job ad, you may then want to post a link to a screening test.

If you have any doubts about creating a job ad, take a look at some of the existing ads out there.

If there are any that catch your attention, question what it was about those job ads that drew you in.

It might be the way that they were formatted or the kinds of words that they used.

Whatever it is – take some time to work out how you can emulate their approach so that your job ads, can be equally as interesting.

The interview process

The interview process provides one of the best opportunities during the hiring process, to learn more about your candidates.

During an interview, you should aim to learn the following about a candidate –

  • If they understand the role and the responsibilities that come with it
  • Their goals
  • What motivates them
  • Their ethical beliefs and values
  • Their skills
  • Their ability to perform

The best way to draw this information out of someone is by asking them questions and also getting them to do certain tasks.

Such questions involve asking them– 

  • How they would explain what their role is about to their parents or someone who generally isn’t tech-savvy.
  • How they would explain what the company does to their parents or someone who generally isn’t tech-savvy.
  • About the history of the company and its purpose/mission
  • Their own personal goals and how/why they think your company can help them achieve those goals
  • Ask them about their most impressive projects and biggest wins. When asking this, push them for answers in terms of exactly how they directly contributed to the project being a success
  • Which individuals/companies influence them and why

Aside from questions, you’ll also want to ask these individuals to perform certain tasks, that help showcase their ability.

You might ask them how they would solve a certain problem, for example, related to the role at hand.

Watching them perform this task will help you see how they approach problems and how they work through them.

You’ll also be able to see if they’re real-world ability matches everything on they’ve told you thus far.

You’ll also want to pay attention to things that don’t necessarily relate to the job description.

If you feel a little bit uneasy whilst interviewing this person, it might be the case that they’re simply not the right fit for your company – even if they look amazing on paper.

Going against this instinct can cost you and your company culture, in the long term. That’s because such individuals could cause brilliant, existing employees, to leave.

So at the end of the interview, think about asking yourself the following questions– 

  • Could you see yourself getting a drink with this person?
  • Are they someone you’d enjoy working with?
  • Do they seem to be open to feedback
  • Are they asking you questions when they’re not sure about something?

If you don’t feel like you can answer ‘yes’ to any of the above, you may want to consider moving on to the next candidate.

The flipside of this is that if you see someone who seems like a great person – of whom doesn’t seem technically proficient, then it might be better to hire someone else in this instance too.

If you hire this person, you might be faced with a lot of problems.

You’re potentially going to have to go through the headache of firing them and the associated costs (to your bank account and company reputation).

You’ll also need to put some time aside to go through the hiring process again so that you can find someone to fix their mistakes and do their job.

Near the end of the interview, remember to ask the candidate if they have any questions.

Sometimes, someone will be able to say something at the end of an interview, that can help you see them in a completely different light.

In most cases, however, asking people if they have questions gives them the chance to learn more about what their future will look like if they join the company.

This can reassure individuals who might’ve otherwise had doubts about joining.

Note: If you find that candidates are asking you the same questions over and over again, you probably failed to mention something essential in your job description.

Selecting candidates

You might think that this stage is the easiest, but it can actually be quite difficult as you have to make a real decision that will impact you and the future of your company.

Fortunately, there are some actions you can take to make the process easier and to improve the quality of your decisions.

One such action is to obtain the references of those who’ve made it to the selection process.

The information contained within the references can mean the difference between two candidates that are otherwise equally matched.

Plus, past behavior is often a good indicator of future behavior, and so you can quickly learn how someone will fit into your startup by reviewing their references.

Gather references from two people, who were senior to the person you’re looking to hire.

It’s also key that you pay special attention to any biases that you may have, during the selection process.

For some reason or another, you might think that only certain kinds of people do well in certain roles.

Having a bias for certain candidates is only natural – but you don’t want to let these biases get in the way of hiring the right person for the role.

For instance, you might think that a younger coder is going to do a better job than someone who is 50+.  Even though the person over 50 is actually better suited to the role, both on paper and from what you learned during the interview process.

It’s important to catch yourself whenever you let your biases get in the way, as caving into them may lead to you neglecting the candidate that would produce the greatest results for your company.

If you want to learn more about how biases can impact your hiring decision, Rand Fishkin has created a great post on the topic.

If you’re really struggling to select a candidate, consider asking each of your candidates to come in for an ‘audition.’

With an audition, you are asking potential candidates to come into the office and work with you for a couple of days/a week.

An audition is a great way to see how candidates handle the responsibilities of the role.

You also get to preview their effectiveness in a ‘real-world scenario.’

It also gives you the chance to see how someone fits into the company culture, something that’s equally important as being technically proficient.

If all the candidates left in the selection stage don’t feel right for your company – don’t hire.

As mentioned, hiring the wrong person for your company can do more harm than good.

If you’ve gotten this far and you still don’t feel right about any of the people so far, don’t be averse to starting over.

It might seem tiresome and tedious to go through the hiring process again – but it beats hiring someone who’s going to do a bad job – just because you felt like you had no other option.

Retaining – the importance of building a company culture

As you can see, the process of hiring someone can be pretty intense and drawn out.

It would be a shame, therefore, if people left your company soon after you’ve hired them – and especially if you’ve spent a lot of resources training them.

Retaining employees is something that takes work, but it’s something that you need to focus on if you want your company to stick around for a while.

The best way to retain employees is by building a solid company culture.

Building a company culture has become a bit of a hot topic.

But what does it actually take to build a company culture?

We’ve briefly covered some of the things you can do to establish your culture, such as defining the mission of your company and how it will change the world.

However, there are many other steps you can take, that will help you build a really awesome company culture.

It’s worth mentioning that, if you do what’s needed, your company culture also will be equally effective at attracting new employees, as it is at retaining existing members of your team.

Let’s review some of the ways you can bolster company culture as well as how you can maintain and protect the culture you’ve built.

#1 – Be Transparent

Nobody likes to be kept in the dark – but most people expect to be when it comes to the workplace.

If you can buck the trend and let people know what’s going on in the company, employees will be grateful.

Transparency helps to build trust

If shown that you’ve got nothing to hide, employees will be slower to negatively judge any decisions you make, ‘for the good of the company.’

Employees will be more understanding if you need to make any changes in the company that might have a somewhat negative impact on them – as they’ll know the ‘why’ behind the changes.

It also helps to keep distracting gossip and office politics to a minimum, as people know exactly what is going on. Transparency causes rumors to instantly evaporate.

Transparency also makes it easier to solve any problems you might have in the business

If you’re open about the problems going on in each part of the business, unrelated departments might be able to help each other.

There’s a story about Google, where Larry Page placed ‘Search Ad’ printouts on the company fridge, with the words ‘These Ads Suck’ written above them in red.

It was the responsibility of the ad team, of course, to make sure that the Search Ads ‘didn’t suck.’

However, it was the engineering team, of whom worked on the problem over the weekend, that sent an email on Monday morning, with the solution.

It was this solution, that transformed the business and leads to a product that generated insane revenue numbers for Google.

If you build a culture around being transparent, you can crowdsource solutions to problems that might’ve been hard to solve using the perspective of only one department.

Implementing transparency

There are different levels of transparency.

You don’t have to be as open as Buffer is, and post details about how much each person in the company is earning.

For most, the best way is to hold weekly meetings where you let people know what is going on and what problems/challenges the company is trying to solve.

You can also do this in a newsletter format, but doing so, might not yield as beneficial results as an in-person meeting.

#2 – Publicly display the values of the company

The values of a company and it’s company culture, are almost synonymous.

By placing company values in clear sight, employees are consistently reminded of what your company is trying to do and how it seeks to operate in the world.

Quest Nutrition, a company that grew 57,000% in three years, displays the values shown below, within its offices.

If you want to reinforce your company culture and the way people feel about working at your startup, having something like this can help.

#3 – Defend your company culture

Company culture can be a fragile thing and so you need to defend it as much as you can.

If you find certain employees don’t align with the culture of the company, consider talking to them.

If they continue to go against what the company stands for, it might be better to let them go.

#4 – Let people know how the company is changing the world

People signed up to work for your company, in part, because of the vision you have for the startup and how it is going to change the world for the better.

If you can regularly let people know how the company is directly making the world a better place – you’ll be able to remind people that they made the right decision, when they chose to work with you.

It’s stuff like this that will keep people working with you, even when headhunters reach out and ask them if they want to switch to jobs that provide greater compensation.

#4 – Provide employees with the chance to grow within the company

A lot of the time, people leave one job for another, because they want to seek out opportunities that’ll help them grow and experience some kind of career progression.

But if you can provide employees with these opportunities internally, they’ll feel less of a need to seek growth elsewhere.

How you do this, will depend on the opportunities that you’re actually equipped to provide.

Google provides something known as a ‘bungee program,’ that allows people to experiment with working in departments that have nothing to do with their existing job title.

Of course, you’re not as big as Google – but you can consider doing something similar, even if you’re a relatively small company.

Let people experiment with working in different parts of the company so that they can see how their skills can best aid your startup.

Have people do this for one day a week, over a 90 day period, to keep disruption down to a minimum.

If at the end of everything, employees fit better elsewhere, it might be better to let them stick around in their ‘new’ role.

#5 – Create events/groups

Creating events and groups can be a good way to bolster the culture and overall closeness of your team.

There are multiple ways you can tackle this, and a lot of it comes down to what you’d be willing to do.

You may, for example, want to create a book club for each department. This is an idea that worked well for one sales team.

Or you might have some time every week where people can work on stuff that isn’t related to their job description but will benefit the company.

You may even want to dedicate special days or weekends where you take employees out to do some activities.

#6 – Understand the needs of individual employees and discuss what the company can do to help them

The idea here is that you take regular one on one meetings with your employees to gauge how they’re doing, what could be better and how you can help bridge the gap.

Though this can seem to work intensive, it really shows people that you care and that you’re invested in them and their personal success.

As a result, your employees won’t just feel like another number, often producing better work due to their stronger allegiance to the company.

After all, they can’t be sure that another company will work as hard to meet their needs and care for them, as much as your company does.


Hiring new employees can be exciting.

But doing things incorrectly can lead to problems that’ll leave you wondering why you decided to hire someone in the first place!

Fortunately, though, by using all that you’ve learned in this handbook, you can dramatically cut down the odds of making a hiring mistake.

We’ve explored several aspects of the hiring process that’ll you’ll want to pay attention to.

From gaining clarity on what you want to achieve, to how you can find the right people for the role.

Finding candidates is not enough, however, and so we also took a look at how you can retain employees by developing a healthy company culture.

Provided you stick to some of the points mentioned in this handbook, however, it shouldn’t be long before your startup is welcoming a star employee.

Best of luck!

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