Adding talent to a start-up changes that company forever, and I mean forever. If you add talent to a larger company it changes as well, but the impact is a fire cracker not a sonic boom. That means if you are going to work with start-ups, adding talent to their growing teams, you have to be part Talent Agent and part Private Eye. You have to understand the role to cast it well and you have to dig for the truth about past performance and then understand how that impacts future performance. In my opinion it starts with working your network, looking for top product people you know and then seeing if they might be interested in a new challenge. At the same time, since I am not an "all my eggs in one basket" kind if gal, you need to start looking in that second and third degree area of you network too.
So what does that mean? Well start asking people you know for referrals, or poke around Linkedin, the web, social media, in articles on relevant topics, and see who you can dig up that is in someway connected to you and then get to work. Oh, and if you haven't guessed yet you don't need to be a recruiter to do this, but you do need time and the desire to build and maintain a network of great talent. Let me give you an example of the process I use and hopefully it will help you find the best talent for your growing company.
Yesterday I talked to a candidate for a Product Manager role I am trying to cast. Yep, Talent Agent at work. She was someone in that second degree, having been referred to me but the referring person had never worked with her just knew her socially. I spent over and hour with her on the phone, much to her surprise, as she had spent no more than 30 minutes with the other four recruiters she had spoken with the week before. I then scheduled a time to meet her in person. She had the skill set, answered all the questions as I had hoped, but I still needed to test the cultural fit. So, we met for over an hour, I got more questions answered, and found a personality trait that I wanted to validate before sending her to my client. Now the Private Eye skills come in.
That evening I sent out emails to a couple people who had worked at the same companies she had, but after she had left. I wanted to find out what legacy she had left behind. Good or bad? I also called an HR professional I knew who worked with her at a previous company and since both were no longer there she was far more open to talk then if she had still been working for the company. And finally I asked the candidate to allow me to speak to her career coach, yes she had one, to find out his thoughts and to confirm or remove any of my cultural concerns.
It may sound like a lot of work, but I think it's really necessary if you're going to find the best fit possible for your company as a whole. Casting the right person for the role is key and understanding if any of the skeletons in their closet, and we all have them, might be harmful to your culture, your team, and your company's ability to succeed is one of the most important tasks you will have as a founder or hiring manager. Regardless of how cool your technology is, how useful your product or service is to your market, or how well funded you are, if you don't have the right team to execute all the rest simply doesn't matter.