Matt Blair

Matt Blair

I read that you learn more from a poor example than from a correct one. I don't believe this but that means my site will be a success.

Hiring for an Early-Stage Team

How to build a foundational team

4-Minute Read

These are some notes I took from a hiring event I attended. I hope they help someone in the future (even if that someone is me).

The Impact of Your First Hires

The first team members will shape the culture and set the operational norms for your company. Their influence is profound and lasting, making it essential to focus on two primary criteria when hiring:

  • Competence: Can they get the job done?
  • Collaboration: Can they work well with others?

Recruitment: A Time-Intensive, High-Stakes Process

Recruiting for early-stage teams is time-consuming and requires a focus on quality over cost. Always recruit to specification, not to budget. This means hiring individuals who exhibit universally valuable traits:

  • Resourcefulness
  • Self-awareness
  • Hard-working and committed
  • High integrity
  • Good attitude
  • High personal and professional standards
  • Effective communication (context-dependent)

Do not lower your standards due to workload pressures. A bad hire can create more work and disrupt team dynamics.

Upholding High Standards

It’s common to feel that your standards are too high during the hiring process. Maintain confidence in your criteria, and trust that the right candidate will come along. Being organized and in sync during the hiring process sends a strong signal about your company’s culture. Disorganization is a red flag to potential hires.

Clear Communication and Documentation

Over-communicate and over-document every aspect of the hiring process. Assign a single point of contact for each role or candidate to ensure clear and consistent communication. Every candidate should always know their status in the process. Ghosting is unacceptable.

Writing things down helps clarify and align the team on various aspects, such as:

  • Role scope and job description
  • Hiring process and decision-makers
  • Ideal candidate profiles
  • Motivational Red Flags

Be cautious of candidates primarily motivated by:

  • Getting rich
  • Fancy titles
  • Leading large teams
  • Becoming public spokespersons

Such motivations often lead to dissatisfaction.

Leveraging Networks and Team Involvement

Referrals from your network are the best way to find top candidates and yield the highest return on investment. Everyone on your early team should be involved in hiring decisions to foster trust and alignment.

Use Slack channels to keep the team updated on hiring progress:

  • Role-specific channel: Weekly updates about the candidate pipeline.
  • Candidate-specific channel: Detailed updates and team impressions.
  • Diversity and Inclusion

Prioritize getting Under Represented Groups (URG) and Under Represented Minorities (URM) on your early team. Once you have a large team of white men, diversifying becomes significantly harder.

Preparing the Team for Hiring

Define what makes a candidate a good fit for your company. Consider how they will work within your specific context. Develop a clear perspective on essential qualities and ensure everyone agrees on what’s necessary versus nice-to-have.

Defining the Hiring Process

Clarify the decision-making process. Determine if everyone must agree or if there’s a tie-breaker. Identify potential candidates by sharing LinkedIn profiles of individuals who exemplify the ideal candidate. Define outcomes and role scope clearly.

Creating a Job Description

A well-crafted job description is crucial. It should include:

  • A brief explanation of what the company does and its ambitions.
  • Reasons to believe in the company’s potential.
  • A title that captures attention.
  • Day-to-day responsibilities framed as questions or problems to solve.
  • A personal, engaging tone.
  • Clear instructions on how to apply.

Structured Interview Process

Don’t just throw candidates into interviews. Each interview should assess specific competencies. Prepare an interview plan outlining:

  • Evaluation criteria (hard and soft skills)
  • Interview phases and owners
  • Specific questions for each phase

Keep the total candidate time to about 10-15 hours.

Evaluating Candidates

Use a structured evaluation process to avoid bias. Have everyone rate candidates decisively and make final decisions promptly. Attitude and cultural fit are critical, especially for small teams.

Making Offers

Create clear standards and guidelines for offers. Ensure fairness in compensation and equity to maintain trust within the team. When extending an offer, be specific about why you chose the candidate to make them feel valued.

Closing Candidates

Closing requires a concerted effort:

  • Assign an owner for the closing process.
  • Engage the entire team in welcoming the candidate.
  • Use personal touches like handwritten notes or celebratory meals.

Parting Ways

If someone isn’t performing, address it within three months. Delaying necessary terminations is detrimental to both the team and the individual.

By adhering to these guidelines, early-stage companies can build a resilient, high-performing team that sets the stage for future success.

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