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The most challenging part of growing my company has been, without question, hiring talent, and in today’s market, the demand for high-caliber staff members is disproportionate to the supply. And while it’s fabulous that so many great companies are experiencing record growth, this competition for employees shows few signs of abating — and is likely to get worse, in fact. Companies can no longer get away with dangling a solid salary and benefits package in front of potential employees; they must also, among other incentives, provide them with the means of making a meaningful impact — to help them understand why their work matters.
For startups in particular, this process can be even trickier, as they typically don’t have the resources to shower potential hires with cash and perks. In addition, these early employees are often asked to take on a variety of responsibilities, regardless of their original job description or title.
When you find the right hire, it can be like striking gold for your team and your company. Like many founders, I’ve made some missteps in how I’ve approached this, but the takeaways have been invaluable.
1. Hiring must be a priority from day one
Gathering a staff is hard work, for all parties involved, but the process can be especially frustrating and discouraging for founders because it takes valuable time away from other company-building efforts. But if you and your team don’t prioritize recruiting strong talent from the beginning, the consequences can be dire, especially as a business grows.
Many startups fall into the trap of hiring only when it becomes too painful not to, but in my experience, if you’re feeling the pain, you’ve already waited too long. In the early days of building Lumanu — a software company based in Oakland, California that specializes in tools for invoices, payments and collaborations — hiring was so challenging that I made the decision to focus first on developing products. In hindsight, I should have prioritized sharing my mission and vision to more prospective employees. Hiring great talent takes time, and it’s never too early to build relationships with people who may eventually join your company. An added benefit to that effort is that there’s no better practice for telling a business’s narrative than pitching it to candidates dozens of times a week.
Related: 6 Tips for Hiring the Right People
2. Always be looking
In any given week, at least 50% of a founder’s time should be dedicated to hiring activities — from improving your employer branding to networking with prospective hires to interviewing. Today’s job market is more competitive than ever, making it critical to get in front of it. Whether conducting a formal job interview or simply chatting with someone at a social event, don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and let people know what you’re looking for and why. If you do an effective job pitching mission and vision to a potential hire, the more likely they are to keep an opportunity top of mind. This might not lead to an immediate hire, but it may plant a seed.
3. Hire for strengths instead of mitigating weaknesses
It’s important to hire those who are smarter and better than you in certain areas. Ask yourself what core competencies you’re looking for and hire based on how well an individual can meet those needs. One of my favorite questions to ask is, “What’s your superpower?” In my experience, the best candidates are always improving on their strengths — they know where these lie and can articulate how to apply this superpower to make a meaningful impact. I’m also more inclined to hire someone with a strong spike in one or two areas rather than a jack-of-all-trades. Then I can focus on blending unique skill sets and experiences among multiple people to build a well-rounded team.
Related: 4 Hiring Practices You Needed to Drop Yesterday (and What to Do Instead)
4. Emphasize cultural fit
I consider it one of my biggest responsibilities to attract talent that not only embraces company culture, but adds to it. An employee who is not so aligned can quickly wreak havoc, even if they bring a great deal of skill and experience. Hiring for this kind of fit means being upfront about what your enterprise is, why you’re doing the work you’re doing and the types of people and interactions you’re seeking, including asking values-based questions to ensure that your philosophy aligns with that of the candidate’s.
For example, when I interview, I like to conduct a “post-mortem exercise” — ask them what they think could have happened if, in six months, we part ways. This provides me with the opportunity to be radically candid about what it’s like to work at Lumanu so that candidates see our company from different angles, warts and all. At the same time, it provides me with a clearer understanding of what’s truly important to this person and what they can (and can’t) live without.
Hiring may never be a walk in the park, but by making it an intrinsic part of how you grow, you can help ensure that you’re constantly adding value to a business and its culture. And who knows, hiring just may become your superpower.