The recruiting tips you need to build your ideal startup team, by Georges Janin

Sign up here for the monthly newsletter. Great content always.


How to poach a candidate from Ariana Huffington #Part 1

We were nearing the close of the deal. We snagged a superstar developer who did great on the interviews, killed it on our coding tests, and got along well with the rest of the team. I negotiated hard with the CEO to get him a strong offer. We were a small startup, and he was coming from AOL – so we really needed to stretch ourselves to make it work. That said, it was coming together – and I could see that signed offer letter on the horizon.

Then I got a call from him. AOL was going to make a counter offer, and Ariana was going to have a chat with him. 

ARIANA HUFFINGTON IS GOING TO SIT DOWN WITH HIM??!!! Oh ok, well now I’m fucked. She will probably offer him enough cash to bail out Greece, not to mention a hard sell to stay. How the hell do you resign from a quasi-celebrity anyway? I remember, that night – I began sourcing again for his role. I was convinced he was not going to come over.

But I had something very powerful on my side. I knew what to sell him on.

Recruiting systems are optimized for candidate evaluation. As a startup, you want to make sure your candidate is knows his stuff technically, works well on a team, and could easily hang out with you guys for beers after work. A good process will allow you to determine this efficiently and systematically. Honestly, most companies haven’t figured this bit out – so “congrats” if you have.

But when your candidate is getting a counteroffer from Ariana Huffington, with all due respect, your little system ain’t worth shit.

Here is the problem: good candidates are going to get offers from you and 10 other startups. They’ll get offers from larger companies with giant paychecks. They’ll be asked by VC’s to start their own companies. And they’ll get crazy counter offers.

So why will they choose you? You have no idea. Because you have no clue what to sell him on.

Most recruiting systems are not optimized for that. So what ends up happening is that when it is time to “close”, you will just say how awesome you guys are, reiterate some generic startup pitch like a broken record, and pray.

Ariana Huffington eats your prayers for breakfast.

Instead, you need to do the work that larger companies fail to do – you need to understand this person’s deeper needs. You need to dig into a place that is more emotional than rational.

You need to find out what basic fear/desire spectrum does this person sit on.

We might seem complicated, but we all have simple needs. Love, Money, Sex, Power, Belonging. Figure out what this candidate’s needs are, and you’ll have a massive leg up. You’ll be able to come out on top, over larger companies, sexier startups, and bigger counter offers.

The question is, how do you know what this person deep needs are? And how the hell do you make that happen in an interview??

In the next post, I’ll give you a solid system to do just that. 


A Quick History of Recruiting Agencies

Seth Godin wrote an interesting post a few days ago, called Beyond Geography. It is applicable to many industries, but it definitely struck me when it comes to recruiting.

So, here are the 3 stages of recruiting.

Stage 1: Geography

I wasn’t around to witness it, but I’m assuming most recruiting agencies started this way. “I know all the direct marketers in Boston” and boom, you have a small firm ready to go. Information was scarce, and so procuring it provided an incredible amount of value. Your “direct marketers in Boston” directory was probably the best around, so you could easily take advantage of that. A bit ho-hum, but hey – its a business.

The candidates themselves were probably content but not ecstatic about the service, but then again – they didn’t really have much of a choice. Basically you were the equivalent of the local laundromat. No offense.

Enter the Internet….

We are currently at the later stage of what I call the Commodity Period of recruiting. This tumultuous stage is defined by extremely low barriers to entry, pissed off candidates, and more emails than a Sakawa operation.

Now anybody could type in “direct marketers” and geo target “Boston”, and voila – all that hard phone work that you tirelessly put in throughout most of the 1980s is gone. You can throw it out with your shoulder pads and hairspray. Your “directory” is no match for the ultimate directory, LinkedIn.

Suddenly everybody is a recruiter. Show me somebody with a pulse and sign me up to a LI Pro account, and I’ll show you a fresh recruiter!


In tandem with this information access, email basically drove the cost of reaching out to somebody to zero. InMails and mail merging especially ensured that candidates were getting hounded multiple times a day.

Suddenly our direct marketers from Boston were getting emails from people in India advertising a job in Kansas doing part time work. Again and again and again. And they become jaded, guarded, and cynical. “All recruiters are horrible” they say.

The Great Shakedown

As Godin says, “a commodity business always lives on the knife edge of cheaper”. And we are beginning to witness it now. An internal recruiter using tools like TalentBin, Greenhouse, and Linked In Recruiter, is consistently getting the job done at for less. More and more companies “don’t work with recruiters”. Like the switch from bows and arrows to guns, it may take a bit – but it will happen.

Stage 3: Community

Nowadays, the real value is not in the access to the candidate or having a huge database, but in earning the talent’s attention and trust. And that leads us to the final phase in our recruiting trilogy: the community. The agency of the future will create a group of like minded people who trust them – a tight knit talent pool that will time after time return to them whenever they plan on changing jobs. It will be narrow but go deep.  It will be the Shake Shack to the other firms’ McDonalds.

The Geography based recruiter makes placements by just being there. The Commodity recruiter makes placements because he’s sent the most emails. The Community recruiter makes placements because the candidates trust him.



Contingency Recruiting: A Model based on Distrust

I need to get a website built, so I got some designers together and made a proposal: “How about you each build me a site, I’ll pick the one I like the most and then pay the best designer”.

I was promptly chased out of the building.

Actually, that story is made up – but something very similar happens everyday in the world of recruiting. And for some reason, you don’t hear stories of recruiters banding together to chase out some stupid Corporate HR person.

They actually accept it. Its called contingency recruiting. Most recruiting is done “on success” which means that a recruiter only gets paid once a candidate has been placed and working for 90 days.

And it is one of the reasons why the industry is so messed up.

Contingency recruiting sounds sort of awesome on paper. Get a bunch of people working for you. Pay on results only! Nobody owes anybody anything. Hard to imagine a better situation. That said, all that wonderfulness belies hidden costs that hurt you, the recruiter, and all the candidates that go through your process.

The first thing to keep in mind is the subtext of a contingency recruiting relationship. What is the implied meaning here? Here is my crack at it:

I don’t monetarily value anything you bring to the table, except for a body who has been there for 3 months.

I don’t trust that you will do the work, so I will withhold paying you until I see a result.

So with that delightful working relationship as a base, you wonder why people complain so much about contingency recruiters.

Get what you pay for

What happens when you work with a contingency recruiter

  1. No plan: you could work with a recruiter to build up a list of top companies to poach from, your competitive advantage in each case, and a custom pitch. But you don’t.
  2. No thoughtfulness: recruiters are operating from such a high sense of uncertainty, that “spray and pray” becomes the modus operandi. Crappy canned emails and sloppy pitches ensue.
  3. No honesty: a recruiter will tell you that the candidate is “super pumped” when he’s not. Maybe there is some flaws in your process that could be corrected? Don’t expect the recruiter to be truthful – again, he just needs the body in there for 3 months.
  4. No perseverence: notice how recruiters just stop sending you candidates when the going gets tough? Emails stop getting responded to as quickly? That’s because you aren’t incentivizing them to.

Hidden costs 

Your employer brand

“Yo dawg! I got this incredible job, a hot opportunity. Its in PHP, or Git if you prefer. Its at this hot startup called (INSERT YOUR COMPANY). Just take an interview.”

Multiply this interaction by 1000, and you have a recipe for an employer marketing disaster in the making. No number of hackathons with free pizza will save you. You’ll be the butt of developer jokes. You’ll be the job of last resort.

Your time

When you pay for the Flash Pass at Six Flags, you are saying that you are willing to plunk some cash down to preserve your time. When you use a contingency recruiter, you are saying that your time is secondary compared to saving money. Since they are incentivized to get somebody, anybody, in your company, you’ll get tons of crap. Remember, when recruiters say “spray and pray”, they are aiming at you.


A recruiter is not bringing any value until I get a candidate, so I’m not going to pay him. Everything else is “cost of sales”.

Bullshit. I once had a client who was looking for a senior product manager type with eCommerce experience. I got him meetings with dozens of candidates from some of the most prominent players in the industry. He fine tuned his interviewing process to make in more efficient in light of all those interviews. He learned a ton about what needed to be done for the role and the company, and got a list of all the places where he could poach from.

I didn’t end up placing somebody there, so I got squat.

No hard feelings, that is the nature of the game. But you can hardly say that I didn’t add any value. In fact there is a company called Gerson Lehrman Group who charges a boat load of money for basically the same service.


Not all contingency recruiters are horrible. Some are actually awesome. But they would be 100 times more awesome if you paid them upfront. They are doing well IN SPITE of the shitty contingency setup.

One day I hope I will never have to accept a contingency offer again.


The Sorry State of Recruiting

Something is rotting in the state of recruiting.

You know when people go out of their way to shit on recruiters, something is profoundly wrong with the system. When service is bad, most just put up with it – it’s only when something hits a certain level of unbearable that you see stuff like this. And this. And another one. Here again.

We need to be honest about the biggest problem in recruiting today: the candidate experience is abysmal.

The average developer will receive multiple solicitations per day. Often jobs are hidden from her until she meets a recruiter in person. The recruiter then tries to muscle her into taking an interview. Or does a bait and switch with two different jobs. Often, communication just ends, as the candidate wonders what happened. Then several months later, the recruiter will start the process over again.

We are racing to the bottom. We have learned that 1000 emails = 20 calls = 5 meetings = 1 placement. That is a destructive equation. It doesn’t take into account the collateral damage.  Linkedin Inmails are arguably the laziest form of communication ever devised, and are losing their value faster than the Venezuelan Bolivar.

And hardly anybody seems to care. Go to most recruiting agencies, and scratch a bit beyond the glossy marketing surface. What you’ll find is pure apathy.

Check out this small interaction. See how quickly it descends into troll level taunts. The “I don’t give a fuck about you” is lurking so closely to the surface, it takes but one email to bring it out.

Numbers, Inmails, quotas, emails, all these are things are a barriers between the recruiter and the humanity of somebody who is considering a new job. It’s the same distance that you feel when you are on United Airlines, and you can see in the steward’s eyes that he doesn’t want to be there, that he just wants to go home.

This affliction affects not only agency recruiters but internal ones as well. Once their hiring manager says “pass”, then they often cut communication with the candidate and let them fall into the abyss.

The contingency model is fucked

Imagine you needed somebody to build you an iPhone app. You get a handful of developers and tell them: “I want you each to build me an app, and I’ll pay the guy who makes me the version I end up going with.” Sounds nuts, right? Well, that is how recruiting works, and that is why it encourages “spray and pray”, race-to-the-bottom stuff.

You would imagine that those app developers would begin mass producing garbage in the hope that something sticks somewhere. And you’d be right! In fact, something sort of like this happened in the design/logo world with a company named 99 Designs. And look what happened.

But for some reason, recruiting is the great exception. Clients expect recruiters to do an incredible amount of work upfront and get paid only if the client decides to go with their find. Never mind that there is a huge value for the client in terms of meeting tons of people, understanding the market, testing their interviewing process – a recruiter will never see any of that unless a placement is made.

Using retained search services (payment upfront) with a proven recruiting firm is much healthier approach. But then again, it requires much more courage on the client’s side, so don’t count on that soon.

Tech won’t solve all problems

Someone from Silicon Valley would take a look at all this nonsense and say “this is ripe for some disruption!” Of course they would. A SaaS app that leverages fancy algorithms will obviously put top talent in companies. Of course one of the most personal and emotional decisions people make every few years can be solved by a machine.

There are some interesting companies that are helping the process though. Entelo and Talentbin do a good job of finding and organizing candidate info. DeveloperAuction flips the model, and puts the power in the developer’s hands (although I would argue that that fans the flames of diva culture amongst developers).

But ultimately, technology solutionism is a fool’s errand when it comes to something as complex and human as somebody’s career.

Diamonds in the rough

There are some great recruiters out there. Ones who do all the important stuff, who’ll email a candidate just to see what’s up, not necessarily because he has a “great opportunity”. Just as there are a handful of awesome people at United Airlines who just happen to love what they do. But the problem is – that attitude and corresponding behavior is not systematized across an agency. We need a Trader Joe’s or a Virgin America of recruiting, if you will. 

An agency that commits to creating a stellar candidate experience, placement or not, will ultimately win. They will have influence over the best candidates –  they will be able to charge a pretty penny for that, and they will finally be able to force clients to accept another model than contingency recruiting.

Its a shame that one of the most important roles in any company is being performed so poorly.




How to Talk about Money

Along with sex and your favorite Taylor Swift song, the subject of money is often something people are uneasy to share. Its wrapped up in ego, emotion, and sense of self-worth. For a recruiter – it can often be treading on thin ice. I personally blame America for all of it, but that’s just me. This stuff just doesn’t come up as much in France!

But the uncomfortable money chat is nothing compared to a deal gone awry. All the effort, selling, interview setting up, all leading up to making an 80k offer to somebody who last made that 10 years ago. Don’t waste your time, or theirs. Have the money talk.


Here are a few tips to navigate these often uncertain waters.


Do it early 

The further you get into an interview process, the higher the stakes become. The candidate begins to realize that they could actually be working with you, and goes from job hunter to hunted. And when you are hunted, you are on your guard.

Suddenly every question you ask sounds like “what does he want from me?” to the candidate. Salary of course is the biggest of these questions.

Ask for the salary info early, before you get to that level. He’ll be more than happy to share at that point, cause hey, you’re just talking.


 Share your range

If you still got nothing, you might as well make the first move. Offer a range of what you plan on paying. Be honest, there is no reason not too.

Just caveat this conversation with “this doesn’t mean that your exact salary will be this, but it gives you a ballpark”

The best you can hope for with this is that somebody who is totally out of range will quickly get eliminated from the process early. The worst is that somebody who was underpaid by a previous employer will get a market salary thanks to you. I’m sure that you’re all sad because you can’t continue underpaying him…you CAPITALIST PIG!


Ask them for what they are looking for

Focusing on a number they want is often easier than on what they have currently. So if you are having trouble getting their actual salary out of them, talk about their ideal salary. This has two distinct advantages:

  1. You don’t have to commit to giving them that necessarily, because it is an ideal salary.
  2. If their ideal salary happens to be rather low, then congrats! – you’ve locked them into a deal that works super well for you.


Create a 3rd party bad guy

The easiest way to get somebody to open up is to make them feel that you are on their side. So get on their side!

I often will say that my job is to get the candidate the highest possible salary, and probably will have to negotiate with the CFO who wants to keep as much of it in the bank as possible. The more info I can get from him, the better.

So CFO=bad! You=good!


(Slightly shadier way) – Have a written form

 Create a form that all candidates fill out when they interview. Ask for contact info, maybe make them answer a few questions, whatever you feel like adding. But the key is to ask for comp – and here is what you can write.

“What was your most recent salary?”

For legal purposes, we will ask for a W2 from your previous employer before making an offer.

“Are there any particular circumstances related to you compensation that we should know about?”

A bit shady yes, but there is nothing like a little legal threat to get them to give you a real number. The last question allows them to explain a particular situation, say if they were a freelancer, or were getting paid a lower salary for some reason.



Hiring Guide: UX Designer

Welcome to Tech Talent Digest Hiring Guides. Their purpose is to help you understand how to find, evaluate, and hire the best talent for your startup.

Each guide will feature an expert in a specific field. Our first expert is Michael Tyrrell, UX Designer extraordinaire.




Michael’s background

Started off at Razorfish where he worked on projects such as Ford Sync and Hulu.
Got recruited to one of the hottest product agencies in the industry, Hard Candy Shell, where he helped design one of Foursquare’s earliest interfaces and worked on Gawker’s redesign.
He now does freelance work on two HR related startups, Jibe and Greenhouse. He’s also building his wine related startup – Winezeus.


In a world where anybody can throw some buttons and blocks on a page and call themselves a UX designer, how do you filter?

Please note: most of the interviewing is done using a portfolio of work. If the UX has nothing to show, then don’t consider him (unless there is some very compelling reason).



Every tab, button, box and drop down menu that you see on a site has been chosen. Sometimes, there is a solid reason for each choice. Often there was none. A good UX person needs to be thoughtful, and deliberate in his choices.

In the interview:

Get examples of their work, and have them talk you through it. Everything must have been considered. Everything must have been deliberate.

Don’t prompt them at first to explain, as that should be the first thing they do.


Sales intelligence, persuasion skills

A good UX person is constantly internally selling his thought process across the whole organization. He will be subjected to criticism, and asked to go back to the drawing board again and again. He’ll need the social intelligence and sales skills to understand what needs to be changed, and why.

In the interview

Look for classic intelligence skills, and emphasize social intelligence. Critisize the work, and see how he responds. He should use your critisism as the base for an insightful conversation, not a reason to be defensive or shut down.


A translator of tradeoffs

There is no perfect interface and no right answer. A good UX person will be able to come up with a couple different options, and be able to translate the tradeoffs between them – especially in the context of certain business objectives.

In the interview

Ask for an alternative solution to a particular wireframe that he created. Look for calm and especially clarity in his explaining why one solution is more advantageous than another.


A facilitator

A UX person does not have all the answers. His goal is rather to bring together all the other stakeholders in a startup to decide on the optimal layout for a website. So you need someone who knows how to collaborate with others and let them put their concerns on the table.

In the interview

Bring in several types of people in your organization, such as sales, marketing, and development. Ask him to speak to their specific needs, and see how he manages potentially conflictual demands.


RED FLAG: Someone who “fetishizes the deliverable.”

A UX designer will spend days building together wires and then have one review that will force him to scrap the whole thing. There is no room for a diva here.

The other important thing to remember is that wireframes get thrown away. Its wasted time to make them all pretty. Many UX designers get caught up in their own work – and forget about the process that they are a part of.

If somebody treats their wireframes like a masterpiece, show them the door.


Say you’ve found the perfect candidate. How will you sell him?

UX Designers like deep product work with a lot functionality, less marketing or branding sites. Its much more interesting to design a CRM tool with tons of functionality than a microsite selling a new brand of shampoo.

Highlight the hard problems that they will solve.


The Art of “Headfarming”


Let me tell you a few things I hate.


  • Horseback riding (the horse doesn’t like it anyway!)
  • Cheese
  • Ice Skating

Let’s talk about the last one. Gardening is the most boring thing ever. Seriously.  It mostly involves waiting around, and doing a whole bunch of mundane activities again and again, and again. At any given moment, absolutely nothing is going on. How people find that soothing baffles me.

Every 3 years or so, I try to tell myself the opposite and buy a basil plant or something. One month later I decide it would be cool to make pesto…and go to Whole Foods. Another plant bites the dust.

This preference is probably what drew me to recruitment. Its different every day, full of varied and exciting moments – big ups and downs. I mean, its called “headhunting” for a reason. But actually, you might as well call it “headfarming” because gardening skills are the secret sauce to great recruiting. “Headfarming” just sounds a bit off to me.

So if you too find gardening to be dreadful, you are all out of luck. Because good gardening skills are what seperate out the best recruiters from the flashes in the pan.

If you recall, recruiting is a system. A constant process of very small, seemingly mundane tasks that need to be done. Sure there are the glorious moments, the closing, the tough negotiation, the beaming candidate with that dream job. But I guess its also glorious to pick the first blueberries of the season in your backyard.

So people, I implore you – organize yourself. Create a garden. Don’t go out and try to shoot in the dark. A cold call here, an email there. I am sure you are amazingly charming and a real treat on the phone – but that is not going to work out long term. One day there won’t be anybody to hunt, and you’ll go home hungry while the gardener stuffs his face with blueberries.

So how do you organize a “recruitment garden”?

I see two axes to this figurative garden we’re creating.

A plan

You need a process for every interaction you have. What are the steps? What happens if they say “no”? What email do you send today? You need to build a decision tree of sorts with different options. This is stuff that you should not have to think about ever. Once the flow is mapped out, you need a CRM system that works as seemlessly as possible.

Everyday tending

If you talk to candidates only when you need something from them, you’ll lose. People see right through that crap. What you need to do is figure out how to do that at scale. What can you send? How can you personalize?

Scaling caring is a hard thing to do. The easiest ways to do that are to create a niche so that candidates can be part of a community, and make sure that the non-caring parts of the job are as automated as possible.

Recruiters, focus on your gardening skills and pick up a Martha Stewart catalogue. I guarantee you that the victory will feel all the sweeter when you know that you cultivated a candidate relationship that nobody else can replicate.


The Power of a Recruiting System

Read any start up success story, and you usually hear the same thing: a founding team as close as Siamese twins, a product market fit as perfect as an oasis in a desert, or more successful pivots than a professional Polka dancer.
One thing you rarely hear about are systems.

Systems. All sorts of systems, working in varying levels of harmony, make a start up (or any company really) hum along.

You have a system to bring in new clients, sell them on your product, and close them (a sales pipeline)

You have a system for acquiring new users, putting them on an email drip campaign and getting them to convert (a user acquisition funnel)

But do you have a system to identify, court, and close all the great people who will make your company successful?

Recruiting is a system like any other. That is the first thing you need to realize. If you don’t treat it as such, and recruit in a haphazard and ad hoc way, you will pay for it. In fact you’ll probably be paying people like me an average of $25,ooo per engineer and for that I say THANK YOU. Your lack of discipline is my meal ticket.

Anyway, enough of me chideing you. Let’s take a look at a possible recruiting system.

Recruiting Process

This is what a basic recruitment process can look like (click on the image for better resolution)

This is an example of how a recruiting machine can run. Please bear in mind that your start up might have a different or more intricate process. That’s great, and I encourage you to lay it out.

Why is this so important

Scott Adams once said “winners have systems”. He was speaking about going to the gym, but the same applies to recruiting for your start up.

Systems allow for consistent action from anybody in your company. New people can pick up where older people left off without you guys switching course. Recruiting never stops.

Systems allow for measurement, analysis, and optimization. Anybody interested in growth hacking will immediately see how a process like this can be tested and optimized. You can begin to answer questions such as:

  • What emails work best? From who in the company?
  • How many interviews are optimal before encountering “interview fatigue” and loss of interest.
  • What sort of follow up content work best? What is the ideal call to action in those emails?

Remember, “what gets measured, gets managed”.

So, what sort of recruiting system do you have in place at your start up?


Recruit like a pickup artist: Peacocking

Fusball fatigue

Startups claim to be disruptive and innovative, but most of them are sheep. This is especially true when it comes to in office perks. Everybody has a ping pong table, keg, and does a god damn scavenger hunt.

This herd mentality has made it rather hard for startups to stand out and attract talent via the ever elusive “culture fit” angle.

So, how do you stand out?




Think like a pickup artist

In the early 2000s, a book came out that affected the lives of many sexually frustrated young men : The Game, by Neil Strauss.

The book told of a wonderful world where picking up and sleeping with women could be broken down into a step by step process. A place where an AFC (Average Frustrated Chump) could become a PUA (Pick up Artist) through self improvement. Did I mention they used a ridiculous number of acronyms?

Like many impressionable young males, I read it and immediately was drawn in. The prospect of picking up women while using techniques that sounded like they were from Dungeons and Dragons? Count me in!

Although slightly ridiculous, the book opened me up to a principle which I have seen being used time and time again in various walks of life: peacocking.

Urban dictionary defines peacocking as: “dressing for attention. Just like Peacock’s use their feathers to get a mate.”

In the world of chatting up people at a bar, it would equate to wearing a feathered cap or a zoot suit – a bit ridiculous but enough to grab somebody’s attention and start a conversation.

And in a world where a good developer is the hot girl at the bar, peacocking can work in The Startup Game too.



Here are a few examples –

Google’s 20% time.

Zappos offering $2000 to quit.

Ticket Evolution capping work at 40hours/week.

HubSpot offering $30,000 dollars for a referral

Treehouse’s 4 day workweek



Aren’t these methods phony?

The companies obviously claim that they work. Googlers have created some popular applications on 20% time. Presumably many less committed Zappos employees are no longer there. But in reality who knows? And who cares.

Because more importantly, all these perks allow those startups to stand above the fray. Beyond the beer infused, hackathon led, pizza and pingpong covered chaos below them.

They are effectively peacocking.



How you can peacock at your own startup

The key to peacocking is to cross the line of acceptability, without going into the outrageous.

Enough to get people talking.

Of course beer, ping pong, massages, and laundry are acceptable. They keep employees at the office for longer, and so they can get more work done. You need to do something bolder than that.

Give away your two most prized commodities – money and time. Its not really giving them away either, its simply entrusting your team with them. And presumably, you should trust your team. Right?

Offer to reimburse a developers college tuition if he stays for 1 year.
Offer to donate at least 30k to the candidate’s charity of choice.
Impose French vacation laws (5 week minimum)

Do something highly personalized: go beyond the “its your bday and you said you love carrot cake, so here it is!”. Over time, figure out what the developer loves, and reward him with that. Loves photography? Get him the latest camera. Foodie? Get him tickets to Vendys. You get the idea.

Now get your thinking caps on, and make sure to add a feather! :)


How to hire your first internal recruiter

It hits you in different ways. Sometimes its the $100k invoice from an external headhunter who just placed 4 people at your startup. Sometimes its the fact that you ran out of “friends” to bring on board. Sometimes its the painful realization that if you don’t hire a full time developer now, your product roadmap might as well be a work of fiction.

These many roads lead to this realization, but its the same realization none the less. Its time to hire an internal recruiter!

Its the “hire that keeps on hiring”, and there are a few usual suspects that you will most likely encounter when searching. Here are the advantages and pitfalls for each.




If you are hiring a career internal recruiter

This is the obvious choice. An internal recruiter from another startup knows how things are done. He/she can set up the interviews with the dev team, do phone screens, and get to know the candidate well. Its a shoe-in for the most part.

Bonus points if they’ve been at a fast growing startup and had to manage the hiring and on-boarding of dozens of people at a time (really hard).

They might parade around names of hot startups that they worked at, but beware – internal recruiters often suffer from the infamous “HR syndrome”.

Symptoms of this horrible affliction include non-stop talk about “team building”, “company culture”, and “bonding activities” among others. Victims will  have tons of ideas for events, meetups, and new pinball games to put in the common area.

The other major symptom is a near total absence of just picking up the goddamn phone and getting that Ruby dev into the office NOW!

Being “all about people and culture” is great and all, but it doesn’t close in demand candidates.

Good questions to test for HR Syndrome are: “how do you find candidates? what is your close rate? what sort of support have you had?”. Basically, you need to test to see how much initiative they took versus how much simply fell in their laps.

Remember, many internal recruiters are people who could not cut it at an agency.




If you are hiring a career external recruiter

There are many external recruiters who wake up one day and experience a profound existential crisis. “Sure I make money” they’ll say, “but all I do is sling resumes left and right…WHAT AM I DOING WITH MY LIFE?”. They want to build something, be more strategic, use more than 5% of their brain. Where could be a better place for them to find meaning than at your startup?

If you hire a good external recruiter, you’ll have access to an unprecedented level of hustle. You’ll have somebody who is deal focused, and won’t rest until its done. Somebody who is not afraid to pick up the phone, and can close a candidate with their eyes closed. You’re VP of Sales will be jealous!

And that blessing can also be a curse. You see, some recruiters who have been at an agency for long enough just stop giving a crap. They might pay lip service to culture, strategy, and team building, but they care only about the deal. Little do they realize that they’ll be sitting right next to the people they hire!

What to do? Filter for intelligence, industry knowledge, and passion. Ask your self if this guy or gal is in it for the long haul. External recruiters have the luxury of not working on job openings that they dislike. Not so when they become your internal recruiter and you need a hard to find candidate. Do they know anything about your tech stack, about your competitors, your potential partners? Do they read up on the industry, funding rounds…etc…? Dial your BS detector all the way to Hi Power.

Remember, you need a soldier, not a mercenary.




Take a salesperson, and give them a makeover

Why hire somebody from outside your startup, when the raw talent might very well be staring at you in the face? Indeed, recruiters and salespeople are two sides of the same coin, and if you have a sales team then you very well might have a recruiter in the midst.

The kind of person you would be looking for would be a bit of a softer seller, and a bit more strategic (read: intelligent) than the average.

A good option is to take an early sales person who was there in the early days trying to prove your product/market fit and now is just sort of selling. He is smart enough to build a team, and knows your company inside and out. He might be bored in his current role, and could welcome the switch.

A word of warning: don’t use a journeyman as a recruiter. Journeymen are those relentless, slightly robotic sales guys who need the collateral and a call list, and they are on their way. They are great once you have a product market fit, because they just won’t quit. But they are way too brutish for recruiting. You’re selling somebody a JOB – that is a much bigger deal psychologically than selling a new CRM system. It requires the requisite subtlety.




Beware of the old curmudgeonly recruiters

This is probably true in many industries, but I’ve noticed it big time in recruiting. I remember when I was a wide eyed newbie recruiter, and I had my first conversation with a guy like that.

It felt like I was working at the DMV or USPS. Not good.

So who are these guys?

These are your “do my 9-5, send out my Inmails, go home” kind of guys. They are often contract recruiters, and bounce around from place to place, plying their trade. They’ve done everything a thousand times, are impressed by nothing, and are just going through the motions…waiting for the weekend and retirement check.

Don’t hire these people. Not only do they suck, but they’ll also suck the life out of your startup.



I hope this provides some clarity on finding your first internal recruiter!