Field Guide
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Startup hiring

Hiring is a muscle an organization builds over time, so it’s critical to put a process in place earlier rather than later. Having a clearly defined hiring process can help early startups avoid costly and destabilizing hiring mistakes.

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Keeping in mind that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to recruiting — and each company develops their own process to align with their unique culture — here’s a high-level breakdown of an end-to-end recruiting process for early hires.

1. Prepare for the hiring process

  • Identify the need for a new position
  • Write a job description for the new role or get a job description from the hiring manager (see Write great tech job descriptions for tips)
  • Select the interview team
  • Approve the salary range from hiring manager

2. Recruiter conducts a pre-screen interview

Make sure the recruiter, hiring manager, founder, or whoever conducts the initial outreach conducts the pre-screen before the formal interview process begins. This helps disqualify any candidates who might not be a good fit. Forward the candidate's materials to the hiring manager if all looks good.


3. Hiring manager reviews resume and relevant data points

In the case of hiring UX or UI engineers, this part of the process usually involves a portfolio review, and for sales roles, requires quota and revenue targets.

In our experience, we've found that the majority of UX/UI engineers want to work on consumer products. Oftentimes, the challenge with UI/UX is finding someone who has SaaS experience and is motivated to work on an enterprise product.

For sales roles especially, make sure you understand their compensation expectations before you bring them in for an on-site interview. If you can’t do that, continuing the conversation might be a waste of time.

4. Hiring manager does an initial interview

Don’t let schedules be a deterrent. If you can't meet in person, do a video call if needed and work around the candidate’s schedule to demonstrate how interested you are. Make sure to ask level-appropriate questions.

For example, if you're looking for a software architect, asking a question around data structures and algorithms would not be appropriate. The candidate might be rusty, causing you to reject a potentially strong candidate. You also risk offending an experienced candidate by asking questions that are too basic.

5. Schedule ‘on-site’ interview and pre-sync with the interview team

If possible, keep the hiring process to one technical interview (two for remote candidates) and one "on-site" interview (or, in the case of remote companies, video interviews). Before the onsite interview, make sure everyone on the hiring team is on the same page. Be sure to communicate with the candidate about the interview process time line, so they know how much time to budget.

  • Assign specific questions for each interviewer to ask.
  • Each interview should be one hour (45 minutes for the interviewer, 15 minutes for the candidate to ask questions). There should be at least two technical and one cultural interview.
  • Limit to no more than five interviews in a day. (More than this, and the candidate will start to tire, and the interview quality will go down. It’s also unlikely you’ll learn anything more in six hours vs. five.)
  • Be mindful of asking questions that are appropriate for the candidate’s experience level and remember to provide the opportunity for them to ask any questions they might have about the role or company culture.
  • Schedule the hiring manager or founder last. If all is going well, let them know so they can be in pure selling mode.
  • Provide lunch for the candidate so they can get a sense of the company culture. If the interview doesn't fall during lunch, have one session be centered around culture where the candidate can ask any questions they might have.

6. Track all interview feedback

Require interviewers to give a “yes” or “no” immediately after each interview. 

  • If everything is positive, tell the founder so their session can be a pure sell of the company
  • Example: At AppDynamics, founder Jyoti Bansal would talk to any candidate, regardless of level. They would walk away impressed by his enthusiasm and the concrete plans he had for the business. 

7. Debrief with the whole interview team within 24 hours

Let the candidate know either way, whether it’s a rejection or an offer ASAP. 

8. Reference review/back-channeling can be useful, but takes up valuable time

If you’re going to do a back-channel reference, start from the minute the candidate's resume is submitted so you don’t bottleneck the process.

9. Be transparent with all candidates throughout the process

Last but not least, make the offer to the final candidate in a timely manner. As for candidates who do not make the final cut, send them a thoughtful email thanking them for their time.


Early-stage hiring