I know you have 1000 things to read on this topic, but usually people are trying to sell to you. We genuinely want to help. So if you are reading this, you’re probably one of the many founders getting their head around hiring. Perhaps you have just raised and now need to strap into the hiring rocket ship. It might be taking up too much time or maybe you don’t know where to start; or perhaps your teams don’t have experience hiring; or maybe you simply don’t like doing it!

To help out, here are the top 4 things you shouldn’t do, from employer branding, attracting, selection to onboarding people.

1. Assume everyone knows how awesome you are

Sorry to remind you, but the fact remains that 75% of start-ups fail. So when people join your company, they are taking a huge risk. They want to see inside your business, warts and all. They want to figure out if you’re going to be one of the 25% that makes it. Of course you should share your vision, your story and create excitement, but don’t assume everyone wants to work at your amazing workplace if you haven’t communicated it well enough. What is your employee value proposition? Where do people go to find out about your company? Do you have a careers page? (I mean a good careers page!). You throw the kitchen sink at impressing investors, so why not at potential new employees? Start to work on how you are seen in the eyes of jobseekers.

2. Approach hiring differently to customer acquisition

From marketing to product development, you are set up to learn what works and what doesn’t and to iterate. So why wouldn’t you apply this lean start-up way of working to recruiting? As the old adage goes, if you’re not testing, you’re not learning. In this great HBR article, you can see the surprising power of online experiments, and I believe they should be applied to hiring.

To get better at applying an experimental mindset to your hiring, start by finding a tool to collect all the data you can. This can be as simple as a Typeform with a Google sheet and a kanban style Trello board (I’ll soon be sharing a free template for you to use). You don’t need a fancy or expensive Applicant Tracking System to get started, you just need a way to get testing! In these days of no-code tools, you can give people the freedom to use what they are comfortable with and integrate it into your own personal ATS.

Once you start to feed your funnel, you can then create a dashboard that gives you early warning signals of blockages in the funnel, and you can then begin to test to learn. You want an early warning system, so sync this with Slack or Teams to notify you of impending doom!

To begin with, assume you know nothing – wait for the data to come flowing in before making assumptions. Once you start to see where the drop off is in your funnel, start to apply A/B testing to see what interventions move the needle.

The downside of this is that it takes time to set up. The upside is that you’ll have an edge over your competitors who are hiring for the same people as you, and I can guarantee you they are not doing this right now. 

3. Rely on instinct or gut feel

We all have a gut instinct about whether we like someone when we meet them for the first time – it’s human nature. But problems arise when founders believe this gut feel is a good basis for making hiring decisions.

Founders may believe they have a sixth sense for identifying a good candidate, but in reality they’re just basing their decision on whether they instinctively like someone, not on whether they’re actually the best person for the job.

The fact is that our brains are biased towards coherence not accuracy; our decisions are influenced by information that isn’t ‘rationally’ relevant (e.g. can I have a beer with this person or can I talk to them about Strictly Come Dancing?).

We are all searching for the path of least resistance, “cognitive ease” in this case – the easier our brains process something the more true it feels.

So as a general rule = trust your gut when you’re very experienced and well practiced in something. Don’t trust it when you’re operating in unfamiliar territory.

This study provides an analysis on algorithm vs gut. It concludes that humans are better at identifying needs, but in terms of assessing if a hire will be successful, even basic algorithms outperform humans by 25% (these algorithms can be as basic as creating a scoring matrix and introducing structured interviews).

So stop using ‘fit interviews’, ‘brain teasers’ and ‘think on your feet’ questions and start thinking about how you can get to a higher degree of confidence that the candidate will be successful in the role.

4. Underestimate the importance of onboarding

Onboarding should start from the first contact regardless of whether or not that person joins the company. Don’t fall into the start-up trap of just providing a MacBook, some stickers, a branded t-shirt (don’t get me wrong I have a good sticker laptop full of them), adding a buddy and thinking it’s done – it’s nice, but that’s not the important stuff.

If you ignore the psychology of onboarding, you probably don’t have a good onboarding process. Start by asking yourself if you are creating Psychological Safety/Psychological Equity and how you are fostering Cultural Connection. Then begin to measure their impact by using a survey like this one.

Are you creating a frictionless onboarding process when it comes to legal and compliance? Using free downloaded employment contracts, or not using e-signature tools are two prime examples of lazy onboarding. Create a contract that people will actually read that is in plain English or engaging like Tony’s Chocolonely’s employment agreement. Not everyone has a printer so allow people to digitally sign contracts. And for your internal processes, look at ways to automate as many repeatable admin tasks as possible.

Day one and the first few weeks are highly important for the individual, so think about how you can create a moment or moments to really make an impact – get this book for inspiration.

So there you have it: the 4 big hiring mistakes made by scale-up founders. If I catch you doing them, expect a knock on the door.