How to Hire Great People

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Don’t underestimate the importance of great hiring, it is critical to the success of your startup. Finding the right people can take months. Given the large number of candidates you’ll need to assess, it’s best to create a process around recruitment. At SendHub, we built a process with the following goals: decide fast, be thorough, spend the most time with the best candidates and leave a good impression. After much iteration, our process worked well and we hired a great team.

Here’s an overview of the approach.

Use the Best Sources

Your first step is outreach. Don’t put bad candidates into the beginning of your process and expect a great hire on the other side. The best sources of strong candidates are, in order:

  1. Former colleagues and friends
  2. Referrals, especially if from 2+ people
  3. Filtered marketplaces, e.g. Hired, A-List
  4. Specialist job boards, e.g. Hacker News, Stack Overflow
  5. Recruiters, traditionally the weakest source

Filter First

Most candidates will have deal breakers like timing, skill set, location and work eligibility. It’s best to cut them out of the process now, before wasting time on both sides. For example, if you don’t support 100% remote work or can’t wait up to a year for them to be local, most international candidates should be asked about their visa status:

Hi — are you eligible to work in the US? If not, I’m afraid we can’t move forward. Really sorry but I hope you can understand — it’s out of our hands.

There are also similar templates for responding to applications that aren’t a match for an open position.

If an initial review of the candidate is positive, respond with preferred next steps and an overview of the process:

Hi John,
We’d love to pursue this. We usually start with a short challenge, if that works for you? You’ll have 48 hours to complete the task once we send it and you can schedule the exact time you want to start. I’ve also included an overview of our hiring process below.

It usually takes strong candidates ~3 hours, so please let me know when would be a good time for you?

Hiring Process
1. Work Challenge
2. 30 min Phone Interview (~50% of candidates are able to skip this step)
3. Onsite or video chat interview, ~3 hours.
4. Offer — we usually give these on the day of the onsite/video interview

Work Challenge

The best way to judge if a candidate can and wants to do the work, is a small task similar to the problems they’d face in the job. However, it takes effort to produce good challenges for candidates. In addition, the time commitment required means you’ll have to do initial calls with candidates in high demand. Once the challenge scheduled, send the instructions at the agreed time:

Hi John,
Please find the challenge attached. Please get it back to me within 48 hours.

If you have any questions or get stuck, we suggest making a reasonable assumption and stating those assumptions in your work. This is because it’s tough for our team to turnaround requests quickly enough to be helpful.

Respect the time a candidate has invested in you and grade their work promptly. We’d promise a decision within 72 hours in our response to a submission and aim for 48 hours. At this stage there are a number of possible outcomes, so create templates for each: incorrect submissions, move to phone interview, pass and schedule onsite interview.

Onsite Interviews

Ensure your team is prepared for onsite interviews by tracking candidates throughout the process to build a shareable profile. This profile and the interview schedule are sent to the internal team before the interview date:

Tentative Interview Schedule, starting at 2pm, 30 mins each.
Matthew [​2 — ​2:30​pm]
Mark [​2:30 — ​3p​m]
Luke ​ [​3 — ​3:30​pm]
John [​3:30 — ​4pm]
Peter [​4 — ​4:30​pm]
Paul [​4:30 — ​5pm]

Profile with resume and challenge: [Link]

The document to fill in your notes is located here [Link] and interview questions are located here [Link].

Criteria and questions should be determined in advance and linked in the above template. The questions should include behavioral and cultural topics (be careful of bias) as well as technical, with the interviewer taking notes on responses during the interview.

This provides real-time feedback giving later interviewers the opportunity to focus on the candidate’s questions, now a match has already been established. When you do find your next team member, make an offer on the same day as the interview, to improve your chance of getting them onboard.

As a founder, you can never spend enough time on recruitment but time spent doesn’t always improve results. Although you’re unlikely to great results immediately, you have to persist and improve your process. If you don’t hire the best people, someone else will and they’ll beat you — badly.

This article is part of a series on Startup Hiring & HR.

Where to Find the Best People
How to Hire Great People
How Interview Projects Stop Bad Hires
How Startups Make Offers People Sign
7 Reasons to Give Employees More Equity
Why You Have to Fire Fast
How to Cut Your Startup’s Costs Without Layoffs
Doing Layoffs the Right Way

Sterling Road invests in pre-seed B2B startups based in North America. Full process here: sterlingroad.com/process.

You can reach me here: ash@sterlingroad.com

Thanks to Sean Byrnes, Mar Hershenson, Ryan Pfeffer and Kaego Rust for reading drafts of this.

Special thanks to Ryan Pfeffer, and the rest of the SendHub team, for working with me on this process.

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Written by

Pre-seed Investor. Email: ash@sterlingroad.com. B2B, US only. I work with founders for 3 months before investing. More info: http://SterlingRoad.com/process

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