6 Useful Tips for the First Recruiters at a Start-Up

Oct 21,2019

Having worked in the recruiting world for several years now, I’ve seen it all. I started out at staffing agencies before transitioning to high-growth start-ups in Silicon Valley, and it’s been a rewarding journey to build companies from the ground up. Being the first recruiter at a rapidly growing company like Instabase has been a wonderful experience. It’s definitely challenging at times, but that’s what makes it fun. The first recruiter has quite the task ahead — from operating as a one-person team to shaping the future staff of a young company — but I can confirm that it’s all worth it in the end. Here are 6 tips that I have found useful along my journey as the first recruiter at Instabase.

Execute on small wins

It’s critical to get momentum going, even if it’s little victories. When I joined Instabase, we would have our entire team join the candidate for lunch. While it’s exciting as a candidate to meet the entire team in a casual setting, it would not scalable as we grew the company. We adjusted this process to include a lunch with a few members of our internal team, who are not directly involved in interviewing the candidate.

Another good example of a small (but impactful) victory was with one of the first candidates we recruited for Instabase, who ended up joining the team. The candidate gave the feedback that he wished he had a more well-rounded explanation of our benefits. We took that feedback seriously and created a benefits one-pager to share with external candidates and internal employees. These little projects may not seem as if they will be big game changers, but they help recruiters develop credibility not only as an expert, but as someone focused on execution.

Identify the critical things you need to be successful and build a plan around it.

First, get a sense of the landscape you are in. A few good questions to get the ball rolling include:

  • What are the tools at your disposal?
  • Who are the external sources your company is or isn’t working with?
  • What were mistakes previously made?
  • How involved are the managers with recruiting?
  • What initiatives already exist?
  • What does headcount look like for the next couple of quarters?
  • Is there a developed growth plan for the team that takes into account what is needed to sustain the product?

First recruiters should take the time to carefully consider these questions. I recommend start with documenting the current recruiting process and then analyzing that process to determine what is missing from your toolbox in order to succeed. Upon joining Instabase, one of the biggest challenges we faced was the lack of a website and public Instabase brand. Noticing that this was one of the largest gaps with recruiting led to a company-wide rebranding project, so that we had a website and brand to share with the world. Creating this brand and identity was also crucial for fostering an environment of growth for our sales and other Instabase teams.

Find internal champions

There will always be those amazing allies who advocate for making recruiting not only a priority, but a part of the company culture. Find those champions, understand their motivations, and give them the tools needed for successful hiring on their team. Several involved managers wanted to help with sourcing, but didn’t know how to talk to candidates. I proactively built out several templates with customizable fields that any of our team members can use, along with training for our managers and team leads.

Experiment and be creative

I don’t believe it’s a good practice to come into a new environment with the intention of shutting everything down and building up from scratch again. Try to stay open-minded and conduct a few experiments that test how incremental changes impact the space you have been welcomed into. Once you gather some data and have taken time to learn about your surroundings, you will be better suited to advocate for the necessary changes without rocking the boat.
We recognized that we wanted to keep the bar for recruiting talented folks very high, so my challenge became how to scale at the necessary speed. Diving deeper — how do I turn a process such as interviewing, a subjective process, into an objective one? Currently, we are experimenting with a values-based point system in the form of a technical interview rubric. The goal with this approach is to allocate points based on a system that incorporates our values and the criteria on the test, but that is easy to teach. We want to have many team members ready to interview, while also keeping the experience consistent for candidates.

Think about scale

Inevitably when a company hires a recruiter, the company is going to grow the size of its teams. Many early stage start-ups don’t equate the size of a People function when forecasting growth. Eventually, there will come a point for any first recruiter when they need help and a team to execute on their recruiting goals (i.e. coordinator, second recruiter, People Ops, etc). When I joined Instabase, I knew we needed to hire someone to manage our three offices, as well as a People Ops expert within that year. As you build out programs, be mindful and creative to ensure a solution remains workable when the company grows to 5–10x the current size.

This is honestly the most important thing to remember as the first recruiter at any company. You will be walking into a new role that hadn’t even existed until you came along. It’s likely that the company tried many different and unique ways to attract candidates prior to you joining, and sometimes things worked out, sometimes they didn’t. At this point, the company is ready and asking for help and you are the expert they brought on board. So take a deep breath. No matter how crazy things are or how much chaos there may be, you were hired as an authority on the subject matter and recognized for your applicable skills. You made it through the interview (which is the hardest part) and you belong and deserve to be there.

Instabase has been through quite the transformation since I joined in January 2019. We went from 16 to 45 people globally. We added new departments. We added new branding. We don’t have plans to slow down and are excited to continue to grow all of our teams!

If you are interested in careers at Instabase, please see our current openings here.