5 Challenges of Hiring as a Startup… and How to Overcome Them

In September, many companies start their next fiscal year. After the summer months, the new budgets are available to kick off new business plans. With fresh KPI’s in place, September is also a popular month for companies to publish new vacancies into the job market. For a startup, compared to a corporate, hiring new people comes with a few extra challenges. It’s important to define those hurdles and tackle them effectively. After all, building a team is crucial for your startup’s success on the long run! Let’s see if you can relate to the challenges we discuss in this article.

Writing a job description? Our tips will help you out! Read them here.

1. Haste – Timing is Key

Whilst building a business from the ground up, you’re probably drowning in to-do lists that remind you to validate your offering in the market. You’re looking for partners to test your MVP, defining your buyers persona, creating a pitch deck to present your business to potential investors, looking for a working space. In the meantime, you have to call your accountant and oh… come up with something to eat while you’re working late hours (and don’t even mention the gym!).

1+1=3

When you’re already fully occupied, it’s an easy excuse to say you don’t have time to have job interviews with potential hires, let alone writing that job description to attract candidates. Yet, it’s important to look at the long term benefits of hiring. How long can you keep up being the founder/ CFO/ sales guy/ Marketing creative/ developer/ designer at the same time? The time you’ll invest in building a team now will most certainly pay off in promising business. 1+1=3, you know?

The Right Person at the Right Time

If you do take the time to look for extra man-or-woman power, keep in mind timing is key here. Hiring the right person at the wrong time is a big no no. Imagine you’ve found the perfect Project Manager with relevant experience in your industry. Will that person be happy, if your startup doesn’t have any projects yet? Most likely, the Project Manager will resign after about 4 months. Think of all the effort (and money) you spent on hiring that person. Wait for the right time to hire and hire strategically.

Recruitment Plan

This doesn’t mean you have to create a complex recruitment plan to make sure you hire the right people. An easy fix here would be to think of your business plan as your recruitment plan. Simply add a column that states, for example: “to achieve KPI X, I would need Y developers by Z time”.

Summary:
1. Hire the right person at the right time
2. Look at the long term benefits of hiring
3. Your business plan will tell you when and who to recruit

2. No One Knows Who You Are – Brand Yourself!

When people look for a job, they also assess to which extent they can identify themselves with the brand of a company. Vegetarians will most-likely not consider working for a fast food chain selling burgers. How do you create this identity for your startup, if no one knows who you are?

Your Startup’s Identity

Again, think of the easy fixes you can realize on a short term. What is in your control? What do you want them to know about you? Before defining a shiny branding, write down your mission statement, the values you want to carry out as a team and the culture you want to create in your working environment. Once you’ve written them down, articulate them always, in everything you do!

Digital Presence

Next, you can work on a first online strategy. Create a website for your business and be active on LinkedIn. Always focus on communicating the mission statement, the values and the culture. You can create a career page or an “About us” page, if you don’t have any specific vacancies yet. Find out more about how to set up a career page here.

Personal Branding

Next to the digital presence of your startup, it’s meaningful to build your own personal branding online, which – naturally – strongly relates to your startup. After all, you are the brains behind your business! Some easy tricks for personal branding: share content which you can identify with on your LinkedIn account, comment on people’s posts or even create your own occasional blog post. The latter is the perfect channel to express the identity of you company. Finally, don’t forget to optimize your LinkedIn profile. Do you mention your company’s offering? Do you have a link to your website?

Last but definitely not least, it’s crucial to keep connecting with people who might have the potential to work for you or with you some day. Even if you’re not hiring at that moment. Believe me, they will be useful on a day you’d least expect!

Summary:
1. Write down your mission statement, values and culture
2. Mention the above everywhere and always
3. Build a career page or an “About us” page on your website
4. Work on your personal branding
5. Keep connecting, even if you’re not hiring

3. No One Knows Who You Are – Gain Credibility

The third challenge startups encounter when hiring is about their credibility. No better scenario than clients spreading the word about your company’s offering, right? You gain credibility into the market and thereby, you will attract people who want to work for you. As a startup, you still have a very limited number of clients, so you have to create credibility in some other way… Just like your clients, employees can also promote you as a good employer to potential recruits. Being all alone in your startup, you are your biggest, but only, ambassador. So let’s see how we can gain credibility in this case.

Create Thought Leadership

To create thought leadership in your industry, you can attend events and conferences. “Urgh… another event… It takes a lot of time!” … Yes, we hear you. Nevertheless, use this time to your benefit by becoming an active part of the event. Why not present yourself as a speaker on the event? Being on stage talking about your passion and expertise is the perfect channel to position yourself into the market as an expert. It’s an excellent opportunity to communicate your startup’s identity and purpose! This will help you gain credibility and attract potential recruits in the end.

Testimonials

Also, don’t forget the power of testimonials. Ask people how they’ve experienced working for you and spread this message on your website, and why not add a quote in a job description as a sticky eye-catcher? Think of employee testimonials as client testimonials: they are crucial for your startup’s credibility!

Summary:
1. Don’t be a passive attendee at events.
2. Become a speaker, spell your expertise, be in the limelight
2. Ask everyone for testimonials: employees, business partners, clients

4. Big Companies Have More to Offer

When talking to startups, I often hear them saying that corporates have more attractive offerings for candidates than startups. But do they really? Let’s take a look at the image people have from startups vs. corporates:

  • Startups are often described as fast, passionate, always looking for opportunities, focused on creating impact, related to new technologies, growth, disruption, nothing is written in stone, risky and small.
  • Characteristics people link to corporates: money, big organization, rigid inefficient, stability, bureaucracy, opportunity, clients and powerful.

As you can see, there are advantages and disadvantages on both sides of the equation. It all comes down to WHY someone wants to work for you. What are they looking for in an employer? Employees often value lifestyle and good management way more than cash. Working in a small, passionate and flexible team, with a focus on a healthy work-life balance, can be way more attractive than cashing a big salary. Working in a startup also offers a faster path to accelerated learning.

As a startup, you can compete with corporates simply by offering your employees perks that go beyond money! Focus on the fact that when working in a startup, people can create big impact and can co-create the future of the company. Nothing is written in stone, so there are lots of opportunities to make a real difference.

Summary:
1. Startups have more non-monetary perks to offer
2. Think of the impact someone can create

5. No Money to Hire

This challenge is a big one. Hiring fixed employees is expensive, especially in Belgium! However, there are creative ways to first build a team, and then remunerate them with alternative solutions. You could start by hiring interns or freelancers, for example! When hiring people, it’s important to make a difference between the need to build a team and the need to get a job done.

Getting a Job Done vs Building a Team

When you want to build a team, you seek for people who can relate to the company’s identity and are passionate about creating a success story for your startup. These people are in for the long run! On the other hand, sometimes you just need someone to create your logo, to write an article or to handle the extra work coming in during a busy month. In those cases, it’s best to consider hiring an intern, freelancers or remote workers. They will get the job done, nothing more.

Alternative Remuneration

If you do need some full time employees, don’t forget there are many alternative ways to remunerate them. Did you ever think of IP remuneration, a stock option pool, or partial ownership?

Summary:
1. Building a team is different than getting the job done
2. Think of alternative remuneration for your employees

If you’re interested in alternative remuneration, you can contact our EY expert Sophie Blieck for a free EY expertise session!

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