back to blog

Startup Hiring: 5 Mistakes to Avoid

Woman stands behind sign that says "Hire Me"

Over her career, The HT Group Senior Technical Recruiter Kalyn Blacklock has helped several startups staff up. The top question she’s asked: Where do we start?

“Software and SaaS founders will usually start by staffing qualified leaders like VP of Sales/CRO, VP of Marketing/CMO and CTO to grow and manage their required teams first. Once these leaders are in place, they staff technical—developers, engineers, tech support and implementation—because they need a team that can develop the product. Then sales teams and marketing teams are added. I’ve noticed operations, including the COO, and client services are usually put on the backburner at the beginning,” she says.

It may seem like a simple roadmap but, within it, several wrong turns can occur. We asked Blacklock and The HT Group Business Development Manager Ross Flowers the most common hiring mistakes and how startup founders can avoid them. Here’s what they had to say:

    1. Hiring too fast or ahead of schedule. “This is the top mistake I’ve seen across the board,” Blacklock says. It’s a classic trap for startups: trying to get as many butts in seats as they can, staffing for every position at once. “But this blows out the budget, which can prevent a startup from investing in a solid product or service to sell. Hiring too fast usually ends with an early round of layoffs and budget cuts.” She offers a real-world example: a startup that hired both inside and outside sales right away so that the teams were on hand and ready to go once the marketing and product teams finished firming up messaging. “After six months, there was still no real understanding of what the message should be, and the target market wasn’t yet defined, so many in the sales teams—who hadn’t yet had a chance to sell—were laid off. It was a painful lesson for the startup to learn.”


    1. Not vetting top talent. “Just because your pick for C-level is bright and shiny doesn’t mean he or she is a diamond. It could just mean that they’re a hella-good salesperson!” Blacklock warns. Not everyone is cut out for the startup life or has the right expectations, as this article points out. She adds that hiring an executive without vetting can lead to critical communication issues, too. “All leaders need to know and be on board with where the company is, what the end goal is, and all the steps in between. The minute your leaders are off the page is the minute the culture and company begin to crumble.”


    1. Hiring without a vision. Many times, startups will settle on a hire who can function within a current role but who may not be able to grow as the startup grows. This often happens with technical recruits as startups focus on immediate product development but lose sight of the bigger growth picture. “It’s a matter of reactive versus proactive hiring,” explains Flowers. “For most positions within a startup, it’s critical to find the right resource who shares the same vision as leadership and can take the role to another level.”


    1. Recruiting on their own. “The first couple hires usually come from someone’s network, but once that’s exhausted, many startups feel they can keep leveraging their network without consulting outside recruiters and hiring specialists,” Flowers says. This practice, however, usually lengthens the hiring cycle and weakens the candidate pool unnecessarily.


  1. Mimicking what other startups have done. Flowers cautions that too many startups try to emulate the hiring success of other companies without considering how they operate differently. “I’ve heard startup founders say, ‘Well company X did it this way, so that’s our best bet.’ But they don’t think about culture or industry differences, which may impact their teams and, ultimately, their product development moving forward,” he says.

For more tips, read our previous post State of Hiring at Austin Startups, With Advice from the Top and contact our technical recruiters today.