Hiring for a startup can be difficult. For most businesses, employee compensation is its greatest expense. However, startups rarely have the people, time, and money to get everything they need.

Running lean is not the same as doing without. Running lean just means you need to hire smart. Here are a few characteristics you may want to look for in talent acquisition:


Startup HR means looking for people who are willing to wear many hats. Until the company gets up on its feet, even the CEO and CFO will need to be willing to vacuum their offices and make photocopies.

Everyone can do these additional tasks. However, you need someone who is not only willing to do them, but enthusiastic about doing them. You might want to look for people who have had a range of experience, particularly jobs that show they are willing to get their hands dirty and will not be offended if you ask them to answer their own phone.

You will also want to find people who are team players. Startups are, by definition, in their early stages and there may only be a few employees in the office. Morale could be destroyed by a single diva in such close quarters.

Your first employees must also be flexible enough to learn new things. Not every employee will have every skill you need, at least during the startup phase. This is true for even seasoned employees. Your company’s general counsel might have 20 years’ experience in writing contracts, but might have never filed a trademark application before. This is one reason why many startups have learned from startup HR consulting firms that you hire for potential, just as much as you hire for qualifications.


During the startup phase, you will depend heavily on just a few employees. Not only will you rely on them to help you create the policies and procedures for operating the business, but you will also rely on them to help build the business itself.

At this stage in a business’s life, it needs people to come up with a way to fix problems when they see something that does not work, whether that something is the business’s marketing plan or payroll system. Moreover, everyone in a startup has to be invested in the company’s products or services and every employee is tasked with thinking of ways to improve them.


Your early hires will set the tone for your company. People who are amicable, cooperative, and kind, will help your business develop that same kind of company culture. As such, your startup HR hires should have personalities that fit within the company culture you wish to develop.

Personality also includes corporate values. You should think about your corporate values and make sure your first few hires fit into those values.

For example, if your corporate values include a conscious effort to be diverse and inclusive, you might want to discuss these values with your candidates to ensure their views match yours. You could ask candidates how they feel about 27 Fortune 500 companies (more than 5%) being led by female CEOs in 2017 and gauging their reaction.


Since your business is a startup, you might not be able to offer your startup HR hires the same kind of compensation packages they are used to. However, you can offer them something they cannot find at established businesses: the spirit of entrepreneurship. Your first few hires will need to be excited about getting in on the ground floor without becoming paralyzed by fear about the risks startups entail.

With your initial hires, you cannot afford a bad hire. However, looking for intangibles, like personality, entrepreneurial spirit, flexibility, and creativity, you can find an employee to fit in with your startup.

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