How Startups Can Hire X Factor Candidates in a Tough Market


It’s tough hiring at startups right now. Most of the types of talent you need to recruit are in really high demand, and to be competitive as a startup you don’t just need a person to fill the position you’re hiring for, you need the best person.

You want candidates with that “X factor.”

On top of all the recruiting competition among startups right now, you’ve got a generally tough hiring climate to compete with. In the U.S. we’ve got the lowest number of unemployment claims since 1973, combined with the highest number of positions going unfilled the U.S. has ever recorded.

Finding employees is hard for everyone right now. So if you’re recruiting for a startup, and really just trying to find top talent, you’ve got it extra hard.

Here are five hiring tips that can help you hire in these extra difficult circumstances.

5 Tips for Making Impossible Hires

Ok, so you’re on Mission: Impossible, recruiting edition. I’ve talked to several people in the position of recruiting for startups who feel like they’ve been asked to do something that just cannot be done.

Here are some tips to help make miracles happen.

  1. Use Glassdoor and Google to get into candidate’s heads.

One of the keys to attracting great candidates is knowing exactly what it is that they want.

Here are two specific ways you can get start getting great information today.

First, go to Glassdoor and search for the position you’re hiring for.

Click on one of your recruiting competitors in the left sidebar and then on “Reviews.”

Read through the reviews, paying close attention to the “Cons” section. Are there any that come up repeatedly? Take note of these.

Now, go to Google and do a search that looks like this: “inurl:forum [job title].”

For many positions, there will be a popular forum where people gather to discuss the ins and outs of the job, and often times they’ll speak openly about things they hate about it.

Now gather up all these “cons” of the job. Can you flip some or all of these into “pros” of working at your startup? For example, if everyone’s saying that there is no work-life balance in this position, can you institute a strict 40 hour work week?

If a lot of people are complaining about lack of paid time off, can you double the PTO of your closest recruiting competitor?

Things like this may cost you a little, but if it wins you the best talent, it’ll be worth it.

Now, after you’ve turned several pros into cons, it’s time to get the word out.


  1. Write job ads, not job descriptions.

This is something we see quite a lot. People posting the internal technical description of a job to job boards, rather than a job ad.

The difference is that a description is just meant to be a technical document used internally to describe what the ideal hire looks like, and what success for their job means.

A job ad is meant to attract the ideal candidate.

You can create a great job ad by taking the info you gathered in the first tip, and pouring that into your job posting.

Then talk to your employees and find out from them what their favorite things are about the job, the office, their colleagues and the location. Use that info to flesh out the job ad. Leave the requirements down to the bare essentials.

This will produce a job ad that really stands out on your average job board, where people are still generally posting lists of bullet points of what they want in an employee.

This may have worked during the great recession, but now, in a job seeker’s market, you need to sell your positions.

  1. Find hidden talent among freelancers.

Freelancers are a great option for startups. You can try a freelancer out on a contract basis, and see if it pays off to have someone in a particular position, and if a specific hire is the right fit.

If for some reason it doesn’t work out, you can just end the contract whenever you need to and move on.

Sites like Upwork, Hubstaff Talent and let you check out many freelancers from all over the world.

Using sites like these, a startup could run a contest to unearth hidden talent. Just go to your favorite freelance site, create a task that would be a good demonstration of someone’s talents in this position, and invite several freelancers to do it. Compare the results, and bring the best one on as a freelancer. If all goes well, you may want to turn them into an employee down the road.

  1. Do some targeted headhunting.

Talk to your very best hires and find out what the best teams were that they worked with in the past. Jump on LinkedIn and find out who else worked at those companies during that time.

This is likely to be the peak of the company’s hiring, and so you’re probably looking at several “A” players.

Send them a message using some of those “pros” you’ve created from common cons to tempt them into checking out your company.


  1. Catch employees that bounce.

If you see a great candidate get hired somewhere else for a position you need to fill, send them a congratulatory email that mentions that you’re hiring the same position, and asking if they know anyone that might be a fit. Again, mention some of those “pros” you’ve created.

They may just know someone, which is great.

But sometimes a candidate will take a new job and then realize after they’ve been exposed to the company’s real culture that it was a bad move. If that’s the case, you may be offering them the perfect escape in your position.

Ok, I hope those 5 tips have made your job a little less impossible, and gives you some “X factor” employees. There are still great employees out there, but a big part of it is making sure that you’ve given them good reasons to work with you. Good luck!

Paul Peters is content marketer and job ad writer with Betterteam. Before Betterteam he spent 6 years building an education startup, where he was was involved with many aspects of the business, including hiring and marketing.


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