21 Great Hiring Tips From Successful Startups and Small Businesses

So, you want to hire humans for your startup.

It’s a tough task. Important, no doubt, but tough. When you hire humans, you take on the responsibility of finding people with similar goals and values who believe in your mission enough to reach for the stars. You also take on the cost of failure – which is a team full of strife and frustration at a time when you need a cohesive team working towards the goal of getting the business off the ground and seeing where it fits.

So, take it from us. Consider hiring bots.


Okay, we get it. What a piece of work humans are! Infinite in faculty and noble in reason.

As a bunch of humans who are also interested in hiring other humans, we’ve done our fair share of reading to figure out how to be good at it. Here are some of our favorite, valuable tips – everything from knowing when to hire someone to collecting the right feedback. If you have a tip in mind or a comment about one of the tips, please make sure it to leave it as a comment. Now, buckle in and let’s get started!

We firmly believe the key to successful hiring lies in the timing of it. Hire too early and you’re essentially paying someone to sit around and twiddle their thumbs while waiting for opportunity to knock on your door. Hire too late and you miss an opportunity to make a difference.

1) Hire if it’s necessary for the product to get through the door

A successful product is not the sum of its parts. You need good engineering, good design, good marketing…the list reads on and on. When you hire, look at whether it’s necessary for the product to reach its market.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fsFEgNdIBSE&w=560&h=315]

As Girish Mathrubootham, CEO of Freshworks Inc. says,

What’s necessary for your product to get through the door? To build a successful world class product, it’s not enough to have just good engineering. You need to have good engineering, good marketing, good design and the whole value proposition is what makes the product a winner. As the CEO, you have to respect every functional area and hire the best people.

2) Hire when tasks to be done will generate money

Neil Patel, co-founder of CrazyEgg, HelloBar and Kissmetrics, has a simple rule of thumb: hire when tasks to be done will generate money. If you have a reasonable degree of confidence that your new hire will do at least one of those two things, go for it.

It’s been said that the only two purposes of an employee are to: 1) make money for the business, or 2) save money for the business.

3) Hire if your workload is overwhelming

Growth can be deceptive. It isn’t always easy to predict when you need more people on board, especially when your business demand ebbs and flows with the months. No one knows better than Willan Johnson who owns a pool-cleaning business in Los Angeles.

The nature of Mr. Johnson’s business means that he needs more people in the warmer months but he also has to factor in the nature of jobs (vacuuming and scrubbing takes more time than chemical treatments) and the amount of time it takes to drive from job to job (“Everyone wants their residential pool service on Friday”). How does he tackle this tricky situation?

When employees who should have x hour work weeks, have 2x, hire.

Hours worked. He calculates the number of pools the company has to handle and estimates the hours required for each job. He divides this by the standard 40-hour work week. If the result is greater than the number of employees on board, he hires.

4) Don’t write a job description

Instead of writing a requirements section, describe the kind of person you’re looking to hire. Changing organizations have changing needs so it’s hard to predict just how long you’ll need a given skill set.

This is something Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, learnt the hard way when she was scaling her online ad platform team at Google.

I did not go look for people with online ad sales experience. And that’s a good thing, because there was no one with online ad sales experience.”

So, instead of limiting her pool to people with experience, she chose to focus on skills. Her approach was to hire the best and the brightest so that they bought their passion and dedication to their jobs and worked hard.

I’d say it worked for them.

5) Use a jobs page to describe your work culture so candidates know what they’re getting into

Career sites are pages in your website dedicated to displaying your employer brand and a list of open positions that you’re hiring for. It’s what anyone who wants to work for you looks for as soon as they land on your website. Use your career site to describe your work culture and perks to attract the right kind of candidates. Here’s a few tips on how to design a rockstar career site and set the right expectations with candidates.

Balsamiq does a great job of this with sections describing the good stuff, the bad stuff (For example, “We believe in pace, not deadlines”) and their influences on their jobs page. When I reached out to Giacomo Guilizzoni, Founder and CEO of Balsamiq, to ask him about why Balsamiq decided to list the negatives as well as the positives, this is what he had to say:

Hiring someone is very much like entering a long-term relationship. I believe in being honest with prospects, they should know what they’re getting into with eyes open.

Some other options:

  • Get the best people you already have on board to talk about why it’s awesome to work in your company. 
Or if you work at reddit, just do it whenever
  • Get candidates to post their interview experiences on social media. This could work for you or against you but if you focus on handcrafting a 11-star hiring experience for everyone involved, the needle edges closer to “for you” rather than “against you”.

5.5) Vet your job descriptions before you post them

In hiring, every word counts. All it takes is a few words for your job description to go from cool to hurtful and un-inclusive. So, before you post that JD to the Internet where nothing can truly disappear, you could ask your team members to look over everything you write or…you could use Textio. Textio is an augmented writing platform that helps you examine your content better and make sure it’s more appealing and diverse.

6) Hire through referrals

Let’s face it, getting the measure of someone during a job interview is tough. So, why depend on just that? Ask your team to refer the best people they’ve worked with to your organization so that you have their judgement to go on as well when you make a decision.

Finding out answers to soft-skill questions like, “Are they a go-getter?” will also be easier when you have someone on the inside to validate your assumptions. This is an approach that Freshworks Inc. used to great effect when making our first early hires.

While we depended on employees to refer their all-time favorite co-workers as they came to mind, Google took this a step further by having their People Ops team sit down with their employees and comb through their social networks. Lazlo Bock, former SVP of People Operations at Google, goes into this approach in great detail, in his book, Work Rules!

In the context of generating referrals, people tend to have a few people who are top of mind. But they rarely do an exhaustive review of all the people they know….. nor do they have perfect knowledge of all the open jobs available. We increased the volume of referrals by more than one-third by jogging people’s memories just as marketers do. For example, we asked Googlers whom they would recommend for specific roles: “Who is the best finance person you ever worked with?” “Who is the best developer in the Ruby programming language?”

This way, they wouldn’t have to just depend on someone floating to the top of their mind to recommend them.

7) Use industry-specific job boards as well besides the usual suspects

Sites like LinkedIn, Indeed, Monster offer a huge pool of applicants but you’ll also have to contend against the industry heavyweights as well. So, instead, why not try your luck with niche job sites?

Some of them are industry specific and some of them are for people united by a common concern (“We want to work remotely”). Here are a few great resources to help you find niche job sites:

Some recommended reads:

How to source developers from Stack Overflow

8) Mine your social networks

And your employees’. Use LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter’s reach to your advantage by advertising your job openings there. Chances are that some of your best prospects might already be following you or your team and will be interested in the opening. We even found a stat to convince you.

67% of people who found their most recent job on social media used Facebook to do so” – Jobvite

9) Post in communities

Want to hire a customer service rep? Don’t just post in Indeed or LinkedIn. Post in communities that support representatives are most likely to frequent like SupportOps or SupportDriven.

To start you off: 12 Awesome Slack Communities for Professionals

10) Look outside your geographical region

Sometimes, the best person for the job is across the world from you. If the position you’re hiring for doesn’t necessarily need them to be in the same physical space from you…why look for someone who can be?

Why settle for the best person within 200 miles when you can go for the best person worldwide? 

Even if you don’t want to go fully remote, for certain functions, the advantages of having remote team members are more numerous than the disadvantages. Buffer’s support team (and a few other members) is strategically spread over the world, in different time zones, so that their service follows the sun. We’d recommend you give it a good, long think before you close the application window.

10.5) If your ideal candidate works for someone else, try anyway.

Sometimes, the candidate you like the best is one who never applied for the job posting. That doesn’t mean you should give in and cry in a corner.

Build a relationship with the person so that when they do think about leaving their current position, you’ll be on top of their mind for their next opportunity.

11) Collaborate with your team

Get everyone invested onboard right from day one because hey, they’re going to be the ones actually working with the new hire. That’s why Wistia makes sure to have its hiring managers partner with the recruiter from get go because no one understands the work to be done like the hiring manager.

It’s important for the hiring manager to be a close part of the process because they will be working closest with the new hire. A working example of this was when Alyce (Content Strategist!) worked with me to hire Meryl (Writer!). Since she understood the work to be done, she was the best person to partner with to write a magnetic job post, set up the interview process, and screen candidates.

This transparency and inclusion meant that Alyce was able to see everyone who came through the funnel, and we were able to make the best possible choice in hiring Meryl!”

The easiest way to collaborate painlessly is to use an applicant tracking system like Freshteam. When you use an ATS, you don’t have to spend time forwarding emails and following up on to-dos and interview feedback. Everyone can just log into an ATS and be caught up in a jiffy. The best part? Most applicant tracking systems send out automatic email notifications so the onus of keeping everyone updated shifts from you to the ATS.

12) Do ‘blind’ auditions to make sure you’re not losing out on diversity of experience

Research shows us that an unconscious bias is just the brain using shortcuts (like prior experience) to make quick decisions. Like (and I am aware of the silliness), they look like my kindergarten math teacher and I never liked my kindergarten math teacher because she told my parents I was a cry baby. So, even though the candidate might be perfect for the position, you’d be prejudiced against them to an unfair extent because of their resemblance to your kindergarten math teacher. You might even reject them because of this uneasy prejudice.

What’s the best way to make sure you don’t factor in unconscious biases? If you’ve got the time, you could give your team some unbiasing training the Google Way or you could go The Voice way. The Voice isn’t just great entertainment you watch when you’ve got the flu, it’s also got some great hiring lessons in there.

Lesson Numero Uno: Use a tool like Gapjumper to do blind auditions. Blind Auditions level the playing field for all applicants and make sure you’re not losing out on diversity.

12.5) Reply with rejections quickly and kindly

No one likes to be the bearer of bad news but there are times when you just have to gird your loins and just do it.

Don’t put off sending out rejections until you’ve made a complete shortlist. If you know, you know so bite the bullet and just send out that rejection letter. Sending it when it’s still fresh on your mind also makes it easy for you to include one or two lines with feedback on their resume so that the candidate knows why they didn’t make the cut. This way, they’re not left wondering about what might have been and know for certain whether it’s a closed door or not.

13) Don’t interview like the NFL

The NFL selects its athletes through a combination of tests – physical exams, interviews, intelligence tests and the usual gamut of running, lifting heavy things trials. This method might seem fair but it’s actually no indicator for performance in the field. Tom Brady, the inarguable star of the 2017 Superbowl, was picked 199th as fourth stringer when he took the tests.

In a Signal vs Noise article, Nathan Kontny, CEO of Highrise, examines this strategy and compares it to common interview processes to come to the conclusion that,

no matter how many screening questions, interviews, sample projects, etc. we do, the best data comes out of actual real life work situations.”

For Highrise, “Don’t interview like the NFL” means online chat interviews. Highrise is a remote company so a lot of high-power discussions happen over chat. It’s a real world test of how they work so they included it in the process so that they know if it’s going to work out even before they make an offer. What’s your “Don’t interview like the NFL”?

14) Try them on for size, if possible

In a similar vein, Automattic (the makers of WordPress, WooCommerce and Simplenote) shed the tried-and-tested job interview approach to make all of its shortlisted candidates work on a project.

In an article for the Harvard Business Review in 2014, Matt Mullenweg, CEO of Automattic, expands on how they zeroed in on this approach:

The more we thought about why some hires succeeded and some didn’t, the more we recognized that there is no substitute for working alongside someone in the trenches.

“So we gradually changed our approach. I still personally review most of the résumés we receive, and we screen out about 85% of candidates immediately, for lack of relevant experience, lack of technical skills, or mistakes on the application. (One thing I don’t pay much attention to is education: I’m a University of Houston dropout, so it would be hypocritical of me to obsess over where or whether someone went to college.) Candidates then have initial interviews, usually via online chat.

So, instead, they have candidates work with them for three to eight weeks on a contract basis. Candidates work on real tasks alongside the people they’d work with if they were hired by the company. The goal, Mullenweg explains, is not to have them finish a project or do a set amount of work; it’s to allow Automattic to quickly and efficiently assess whether this would be a mutually beneficial relationship. They can size up Automattic while Automattic evaluates them.

At the end of the tryout, everyone involved has a great sense of whether they want to work together going forward so everyone wins. Automattic also makes it lucrative by paying candidates $25/hour for their trouble.

This approach might sound painful and complicated but it’s reaped great benefits for Automattic.  Overall, they’ve ended up hiring about 40% of the people who try out with us. In the article, Mullenweg disclosed that in 2013, they hired 101 people, and only two of them didn’t work out. In the entire history of the company, they’ve hired 270 people, and only 40 of them are no longer with them.

So, if you can, bootcamp it.

15) Develop an interview question bank

Different interviewers have different interviewing styles and different qualities they prize in a co-worker. So before you start interviewing candidates, make sure to get everyone on the same page as to what skills you’re looking for and how you’re going to test them for maximum efficiency. Some people prefer to create detailed application forms so that they can reserve interviews for validating assumptions rather than forming new ones.

Here’s how Balsamiq hacks this process:

“First we create a very long and detailed Google form that’s meant to replace the first hour-long interview. It’s intense and should take about 30 minutes to complete. This alone filters people quite a bit,says Giuseppe Guillizoni, founder and CEO of Balsamiq.

We don’t ask for age, sex, a photo, LinkedIn URL or even a CV at this stage: this ensures we focus on people’s answers instead. When we have enough candidates, we close the form and ask a few of the best ones for their CV and LinkedIn URLs, and to meet them for a quick 30-minute interview over Google Hangouts

Of course, you can just use your question bank to get first-time interviewers up to speed on your hiring process and make sure that you provide a consistent hiring experience.

16) Ask for a work sample

There’s no real substitute for a work sample. Job interviews tell but work samples show. So, before you have your candidates come in for an interview (even after, if that’s what you prefer), ask them to do a small project that is similar to the kind of work they’ll be expected to perform in the course of their job.

Of course, this isn’t always possible. What if you were interviewing a sales person? Or a research assistant? Sometimes, you might have to rely on plans rather than an actual work sample but try to push for one whenever possible, instead of relying on situation problems.

17) Ask someone who won’t be working with them to interview with you as well

The funny thing about biases is that they can be quite difficult to spot unless you know what you’re looking for. So, get someone from outside the loop to pitch in as well and validate your assumptions. Interviewing for Sales? Have someone from Legal do the value-fit round to see if the person will gel with the rest of the team.

18) Hire for values, not culture

Culture is a loose, fluid concept that’s liable to change day by day. People test for the nebulous culture fit using tests like the Sunday test but it leaves room for hiring biases to creep in. Instead, why not test if the person has the same core values as you? When people have the same values as you, the same motivations and mission, everyone’s in sync for all the things that matter. Some reading on the matter: Why A Values Fit Matters More Than Culture Fit

19) Hire future perfect people

In a Signal vs. Noise blogpost, Jason Fried, CEO and co-founder of Basecamp, expounds on the challenges of hiring someone and envisioning someone’s potential.

Sometimes someone’s a sure bet. They’re the perfect person for the perfect project at the perfect time. Their pedigree is exceptional, their portfolio is stocked with amazing work, their experience is vast, they’re a confident interview, and everything just feels right. It happens, but that’s not how it usually works. There are very few perfect people. Instead there’s a lot of future perfect people. People who have the potential to become the perfect person in the perfect role if just given the right opportunity.

So, instead of looking for the perfect person, he looks to hire future perfect people, people who are in mediocre jobs with mediocre opportunities but who can really shine if given the right opportunities. This is an approach that Girish Mathrubootham, CEO of Freshworks Inc., favors as well.

There are no bad employees, there are only bad fits (to their role). We have to find the role that matches the employee’s talent. Once that is done you can sit back and watch people take charge of their career and deliver spectacular results.

In the comments section of his post, soon after he wrote it, Jason Fried admitted that finding future perfect people is more of an art rather a science. To be exact, he said:

“I’ve also made bad calls on future perfect people in the past. I saw potential that never materialized. It’s an art more than a science. I just hope I continue to get better at it.”

It’s been almost 5 years since he wrote that post so I reached out to him to find out if he’s discovered any concrete ways of figuring out if someone is future perfect.

“I hope we’re getting better, but you only know after a long period of time.”

Art, not science. What wouldn’t we give for a mind-reader right now?

20) Use interview scorecards to record feedback

Most interviews consist of a conversation between the candidate and the interviewer. While this has the advantage of putting the candidate at ease, it poses a number of challenges while recording interview feedback.

The trouble with conversations, however, is that they come hand in hand, with unconscious biases. Research shows us that an unconscious bias is just the brain using shortcuts (like prior experience) to make quick decisions. Like (and I am aware of the silliness), they have the same mannerisms as the bully from high school so they must be the same person. You might even reject them because of this uneasy prejudice.


Another disadvantage of a free-flowing conversation is that you cannot compare one candidate to another. Any attempt to compare them will end up being unfair because a free-flowing conversation doesn’t always make sure that you uncover the same information from both the candidates. So, make yourself a scorecard and use the qualities as a springboard for your conversation. Structured feedback helps you make sure that you’ve covered all your bases and that you have all the information you need to make a wise decision.

21) Give feedback to everyone you interview

Don’t limit yourself to giving feedback just to the ones you’ve chosen to shortlist for the next stage. Feedback helps everyone grow. The interview feedback you give a candidate might just be what helps them win the next job!

Not to mention, candidates will be more comfortable giving you feedback if you volunteer information as well. Valuable feedback that you can use to source better, screen better and hire better 🙂 (P.S – Here’s a great story about Providence St. Joseph Health‘s (a not-for-profit Catholic healthcare solution) emphasis on CX and how giving and getting feedback ties into that)

And maybe even add to this guide?

If you feel like we’ve missed out on something major or feel like we’ve handled something wrongly, let us know! We love feedback.

Freshteam is an applicant tracking system that helps recruiters source, interview, and hire great candidates. You can take a look at our features here or sign up for a free 30-day trial and take it for a spin.