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How to source the best talent for a start-up

If you’re in a position to take on your first employees or additional staff, well, congratulations. Your business is growing and developing. Sourcing the best person for the job, however, won’t be easy, but these start-up hiring tips should make your recruitment process as quick and efficient as possible. 

The best time to make your first hire

Gauging the opportune time to recruit your first employee is always tricky. You need to be at the stage where your workload has exceeded what you can single-handedly manage, your cash flow can cover another person’s wages and bringing in an employee will help you make more money, or in some instances, make cost savings.

Outline the job title and job spec

When you’re in growth mode, you are juggling a million tasks at once and are desperate for people to delegate them too, but it’s vital that you don’t rush into hiring. Spend time defining the job title of your new hire and creating a full job description. Potential candidates can then weigh up how well they fit the job spec and you can use it to measure different applicant’s suitability for your role.

The job spec should outline why the job is interesting and challenging and emphasise any opportunities for career development. It should also explain why your company is a great place to work. Separate the job spec into required skills and desired skills. Being fluent in Spanish and an expert in SQL, for example, could be a requirement, but being familiar with Google BigQuery could be desirable, but not essential, as it can be trained on the job and you can adjust the salary to reflect this.

Know how much to pay

When you are building a business you are continually looking to keep costs - including staffing costs - down, but if your new member of staff has the potential to double your revenue you must reward them appropriately.

Take a look at what similar positions are paying and assess this against what you can reasonably afford.  The saying ‘you get what you pay for’ often rings true, but don’t just think in terms of the monthly paycheck. Candidates will also be attracted by on-the-job training, flexible working, attractive health and pension benefits, gym membership and, often the deal breaker, following a successful trial period, other employee incentive arrangements and stock options.

Consider the benefits of interns

The benefits of interns for start-up hiring is increasingly being recognised by new businesses. An internship is a paid work experience placement that normally lasts between three and six months and, if successful, often leads to a full-term permanent position.

'We are living in a time where there is huge oversupply of graduates looking for jobs, so there is a fantastic selection of talented candidates to choose from and intern salaries tend to be driven down as competition is higher than normal,'

'And, if you really understand the career goals of your interns and help them see that you are helping them achieve these, they are more likely to become invested in your business and want to stay long-term.'

Ben Rosen, CEO of recruitment consultancies Inspiring Interns and Inspiring Search.  

Attract the best talent

Attracting the best talent is one of the biggest start-up hiring challenges. It takes time and effort and if you get it wrong you have to start all over again. Once you’ve defined the job title and job spec, however, you’re ready to start seeking out your ideal candidate.

There are several ways you can do this:

Unsolicited job enquiries

You may be lucky enough to regularly receive unsolicited enquiries about potential roles and you can even create a careers’ page on your website to encourage this. If they are not suitable for any open positions, always respond to these requests politely and keep promising candidates on file.

Use your network

Use your personal and business networks, both on and offline, to promote your job vacancy. Post your role on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook and mention that you are recruiting at your next business networking event. You may find that a fellow business breakfast member is aware, for example, of a chief marketing officer looking for a new role like yours. Encourage your staff to spread the word too and reward any internal recommendations that lead to new starters. You can also research suitable applicants working in other similar roles and approach them directly about your role - they may be persuaded to make the move.

Advertise on a job board

Use job boards such as Glassdoor, Indeed or LinkedIn to get your job in front of job hunters. This is one of the cheapest and quickest ways of getting a lot of applicants quickly. You may be inundated with candidates, however, and it can take a long time to decide which to interview.

Use a recruitment agency

If like most start-ups, you don’t employ an HR advisor, or have the time required for candidate selection, you might want to use a recruitment agency to do the shortlisting for you. An effective recruitment consultant will help you to construct your job description and then screen all the applicants to ensure that all those who are taken forward for interview are pretty well qualified for the job. They can also get the candidates to complete psychometric tests or other required tasks which can help you judge their competency.

'Recruitment agents know how to attract the right candidates for specific roles and in volume. They know that to thrive in a start-up you need to be a proactive team player and will actively seek out candidates with that ‘whatever it takes,’ determined, positive attitude. Recruitment agents can save employers lots of time and money in the long run.'

Ben Rosen, CEO of recruitment consultancies Inspiring Interns and Inspiring Search.  

The Interview Process

Once you have measured each candidate’s application against your job spec and decided which ones are the best fit, it’s time to prepare for another of the biggest start-up hiring challenges – the interview.

You need to decide what format the interview will take. Do you plan to make a decision based on a single interview or will you be taking a select few candidates through to a second interview before selection? You may also want to set your candidates a task to complete as part of the interview process to assess their competency for the job and personality traits.

It can also be helpful to have a work colleague sit in on the interviews with you so that you can get a second opinion; or, if you’re operating single-handedly, you could bring in an HR consultant for the day to assist you with the interviews.

Whether the interviews are conducted face-to-face or remotely, as is often the case these days, remember that you want to impress the candidates as much as they want to impress you. A great candidate may receive more than one job offer - you want them to pick you. Conduct the interview in a quiet room with few visual distractions and no staff interruptions. Don’t don a business suit if that's not standard work attire, you want the interview to convey your start-up’s working culture.

The interview questions

Allow up to one hour for the interview, this gives time for you to ask your questions and for candidates to ask you questions too. Your questions should be designed to test each candidates ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ skills. ‘Hard’ skills are learned skills, such as accounting, familiarity with particular software and fluency in a second language, you could set a test to assess some of these. ‘Soft’ skills are harder to measure and linked to character traits, such as confidence, problem-solving and ability to take the lead.

Using your job spec, list the ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ skills that you are looking for in your employee and ask questions designed to measure these, such as: how have you used Google Analytics to improve the content of a website?; and give an example where you had to make a business decision without consulting your manager? 

How to decide who to offer the job to

Once you have interviewed all the candidates, it’s decision-making time. This is another one of those start-up hiring challenges, ideally one candidate shines out above the rest, you offer them the job and they accept. If they don’t accept, or if no one ticks all the boxes, you may decide to pick the candidate that filled most of the requirements, who you feel you can work with and be prepared to train them up in the areas where they are lacking. Alternatively, you may reject them all and begin a new search. 

Draw up the employment contract

We hope that these start-up hiring tips lead to you having a job offer accepted. The next step is to draw up a contract of employment. Our team of specialist employment law solicitors are on hand to help with this and all your employment needs. 

What next?

Hiring at an increasing rate? Make sure you have the right employment law support in place. Get in touch on 0800 689 1700, email us at or fill out the short form below with your enquiry.

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