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Hiring a First Employee: Startup Hiring 101

Kristin Bachman
5 min read

Hiring a first employee at a startup is one of the biggest early milestones you’ll achieve. And because you won’t be hiring new employees too often at this point in your startup’s life, you’ll want to give plenty of thought to the different responsibilities, duties, and skill gaps you need to be covered, as well as the type of person who will best fit your company culture. 

Overall, you’ll want to make sure you maximize the employee’s value to your organization.

What positions should you fill first? How do you build the right hiring infrastructure for your business? How do you win over candidates who are hesitant to work for a startup? We’ll address these questions and more in this piece.

The first 5 people a startup needs: crucial startup roles

As a startup, you likely lack the time and resources to hire dozens of employees right off the bat. Instead, you’ll want to prioritize positions that are most critical to the success and growth of your startup in its early stages. A few of them include:

  • Chief executive officer (CEO). The CEO is the highest-ranking executive in a business and oversees the entire organization.
  • Chief operating officer (COO). The COO oversees the daily operation of the company and reports directly to the CEO. The COO is typically second-in-command to the CEO.
  • Chief marketing officer (CMO). The CMO oversees all marketing initiatives at an organization and reports directly to the CEO.
  • Chief revenue officer (CRO). The CRO oversees all revenue-generating elements of an organization and reports directly to the CEO.
  • Production manager. The production manager oversees the vision, development, manufacturing, and delivering the organization’s goods and services.
  • … or others. While all startups need to make sure that the key pillars of the organization are in place, key roles differ from business to business. Be sure to hire for your startup’s greatest long-term needs.

For smaller needs that may not require a full-time staff member, consider outsourcing those duties to third-party on a part-time or contract basis—whether it’s an independent contractor or agency.

Tips for hiring your first employee

Hiring a first employee at a startup can be a daunting task. Unlike at a large company, where a team can cover for skill gaps and pick up slack where it’s needed, the startup’s first employees have immense responsibility. Here are a few tips for hiring the right first employee for your startup:

Hire flexible people

Because startups evolve rapidly from their early stages, flexibility is one of the key traits you should look for in a new employee. As priorities change and new processes are implemented, you need people who can be agile and adapt their roles, responsibilities, and focus.

Hire independent workers

In a startup environment, only the bones of your company infrastructure will be in place. Without supervisors, managers, and other people to oversee productivity, you need to hire independent self-starters who can drive growth and impact success.

Hire people who have different perspectives

While you might often think that cloning yourself would solve some of your business’s issues, consider that different experiences, backgrounds, and perspectives are crucial to growth. Having multiple perspectives will help your business make the best possible decisions. 

“Hunt Club has become our go-to partner for acquiring incredible talent.” Find  out why G2 CEO Godard Abel leaves hiring to Hunt Club.  

Navigating candidate fears of joining a startup

At a startup, the first employees are often the most difficult to find. But persuading candidates to join your startup is an equally difficult challenge.

Nine out of 10 startups fail, making the decision to join your startup a risky one at best. How can you convince a candidate to join your early-stage startup? What can you offer to help ease their worry and make the opportunity to feel more secure?

Offer competitive compensation

There is little reason for a highly qualified candidate to choose your startup over an established business if the dollars don’t add up. While you may not have the money to outbid large companies, it’s important that you at least offer competitive compensation.

Sell them on your business

Similar to how you would earn the support of investors, sell your business to your candidates. Paint a full picture of your business, showcasing your business plan, company infrastructure, vision, values, and culture. This will go a long way towards ensuring candidates that you’re offering a stable opportunity.

Sell them on their role

If there’s one major selling point of working at a startup, it’s the roles that employees are given. Startups entrust their first employees with plenty of responsibility and many candidates enjoy that challenge. 

Show your candidate that there’s a clear role carved out for them and that they will function as a key cog in the company’s direction and decision-making processes.

Offer opportunities they might not find elsewhere

Your company may not be able to offer comprehensive benefit packages at this point, which means you’ll need to get creative with benefits

Accommodating their needs, offering flexible hours, and providing work-from-home opportunities will help offset what you may be unable to provide in traditional benefits.


How to create a hiring infrastructure

Systems and processes exist to promote organization and efficiency. Without a strong hiring infrastructure in place, you may find that the hiring process is highly expensive and drawn out, and that top candidates often slip through your fingers.

What does a hiring system look like?

While hiring systems may differ slightly from company to company, they typically include the following steps:

  • Identify a need. Especially at a startup, you don’t hire an employee without having a clear need. Determine what role is most important to fill.
  • Craft a job description. Once you have a title, a list of responsibilities, and skill gaps you need your new hire to fill, carefully craft a job description that will attract the right candidates.
  • Source candidates. Post your job description and ad to job boards, recruitment sites, and social media networks. Also, consider referrals as a method of sourcing candidates.
  • Review and screen candidates. Review applications and resumes and start narrowing down your list to the top candidates you want to consider for the position.
  • Hold interviews. Conduct interviews with shortlisted candidates. Determine in advance how many “rounds” of interviews you plan on holding.
  • Check references. If you don’t already have references from your candidate(s), request and check them as a final measure.
  • Make an offer. Extend an offer to your top candidate. This letter should include the position’s salary, benefits, and start date.
  • Onboard your new employee. The onboarding process is often overlooked but can make or break the employee experience. Provide proper orientation and training for your new employee.

What technologies and tools do you need?

At a minimum, you’ll need to develop a hiring plan. This spreadsheet is your roadmap for hiring—not only for the next few weeks but also throughout the coming months and years. Your hiring plan should include the following:

  • Headcount (positions and departments)
  • Annual salary
  • Start month
  • Payroll timeline

You can also leverage recruiting software to make the hiring process more efficient—such as applicant tracking systems and candidate relationship management tools. Keep in mind that you’ll also need active accounts on job boards, career sites, and social media networks to move quickly and waste no time sourcing candidates.

Finally, if you plan on conducting digital interviews, you’ll need to use software with two-way and recording capabilities.

Doing it yourself vs. hiring an agency

If the hiring process already sounds exhausting, that’s because it is. While some startups opt to conduct the entire hiring process internally, many benefit from working directly with a recruiting agency.

The reality is that startups often lack the expertise, experience, and resources to perform the hiring process properly. Not to mention, most startups don’t have recruiters on staff. Recruiting agencies, on the other hand, have established hiring infrastructures and networks, allowing them to operate on behalf of the startup and deliver stronger candidates, much faster.

Leverage the expertise of a top recruiting agency for your startup

If you want to give your startup a recruiting advantage, consider partnering with a top recruiting company such as Hunt Club. Hunt Club leverages the power of relationships and referrals to find the best talent. 

Whether it’s identifying your hiring needs or finding the right candidates for your startup, we can help.

Ready to hire top talent for your startup? 

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