It’s not unusual for a co-founder/early employee to start his or her own venture or pursue another opportunity. Unfortunately for those remaining, it’s hard enough to find a innovative rockstar who can hack it as employee # 1. It’s even harder to find someone to fill his or her shoes.
Here’s my 2 cents on finding Employee # 1 - again.
Email Everyone You Know. Make it witty, short, and general. Sample subject line: “I want to hire the smartest person you know.” Offer a referral bonus. Your goal is to make your company seem awesome and accessible to anyone who’s ever heard you mention it.
Use Craigslist Wisely. Post early and often. Monday morning postings at 10 AM attract better candidates. Write outstanding headlines and copy. For inspiration, type “startup” into “all jobs” and ask yourself what you would click on. Post both blindly and publicly – mention the company in one post, don’t mention it in another. Post to multiple categories.
Don’t Pay to Post Jobs at Colleges – Even Ivies. Nearly all colleges allow you to post to their school system for free. The downside, unfortunately, is hacking together way to collect all responses in one location. I didn’t say it was easy – but think of all the money you saved! Make sure your posting sounds zippy and fun. Remember, the end goal is to attract as many resumes as possible.
Undergrad Business Programs Will Help You. Babson, RPI, Stern, and Wharton really like startups. They particularly like when startups hire their graduates. Furthermore, their Career Services departments are friendly and will help you compete with the banks and consulants for top talent. You want them on your side. Befriend someone in career services and have them help you out – ask which professors teach entrepreneurship, how to get in touch with top students, and to be put on the mailing list for their student business competitions.
Screen for the Exceptional. Resume screening is tedious and repetitive. I tackle it with a 1-3 ranking system. Look for something unique on a resume: high test scores, oddball internships or capstone projects, personal websites, particular interests, and generally things that make you say “huh, interesting.” Anything outstanding gets a 1. Anything solid gets a 2. Anything unexceptional gets a 3. Recalibrate after 20 resumes or every conversation with an outstanding candidate.
Look for Athletes, not Sprinters. Your Employee #1 should the best executor and juggler you’ve ever seen. This never comes across on a resume. Yes, engineering, applied math, and comp sci degrees are nice. But they don’t necessarily indicate that a student is adaptable in an early-stage environment. Which brings me to my next point…
When in Doubt, Call: Call all of your 1′s and 2′s. College students are often terrible resume-writers and haven’t yet learned to sell themselves. Get them talking about their experiences in detail. Ask what they think it would be like to work in a startup. Ask what they’d do with $5,000 to start a business. Ask them to talk about their favorite products and services. You might just be surprised how great they are.
When in Doubt, Try a Test Project. Projects are often the easiest way to narrow down a final round of applicants. Pick something that demands fewer than 10 hours, has a clear deliverable, and requires obscure research (think competitive analysis, channel strategy, or pricing structure of a new product).
Check All References, Even Unlisted Ones. Have the student walk through his or her relationship with each listed reference. You should be confirming these details (reporting relationship, performance, hours worked) with the references themselves. Make it a point to uncover at least one unlisted reference, either from the candidate or from the other references.
How and where are you finding your first employees?