Leadership hiring DOs and DON’Ts for Founders

Post by
Georgiana Diana
Leadership hiring DOs and DON’Ts for Founders


Meet every candidate at the very beginning of the selection process

Founder magic is a powerful and inspiring thing and no job post, agency or even internal recruitment team will be able to recreate it.  This is one of your main superpowers and you should use it to hire great people. 

Spending at least 30 minutes with the candidates is pivotal to get them engaged in your hiring process. Great leaders have a magnetic quality to attract other great leaders, and who better to represent your company than one of its founders?

Motivate candidates against an ambitious mission

While it’s always great to talk about how much money you’ve raised, your growth plans and your imminent unicorn status, don’t forget to also tell the story behind your company. Better yet, you should lead with that. 

You are not building a SaaS or Health Tech product, you are solving an impactful problem that you care deeply about and the candidates should also learn about. 

Fulfilment at work is about your mission, not your perks and it’s passion that makes a company successful. So make sure your candidates know why your company exists other than to make money.

Talk about goals, not tasks. 

Let’s face it, you are not hiring your Head of Marketing to “build your demand generation function” or your VP Sales, to “double the size of your commercial team”. You are hiring them to hit specific, strategic goals, most likely related to ARR or GMV.

So you should be very clear with the candidates from the get go about the impact you expect them to have in your organisation. If you can’t tell candidates what it is that they need to achieve over the next 12 months, then you are probably not ready to hire for the role. 

Learn about the candidate’s career expectations 

 There’s no need to ask them where they see themselves in 10 years, because 10 years ago you probably didn’t know you were going to found a business.

Instead, just take the time to learn what they expect from their next role and how they think they will grow with your company. Is there a certain area they are passionate about or something specific they’d like to drive? 

This will help you figure out very early in the process how aligned the candidate is with your role. 

Be honest

Being upfront with candidates is always better than allowing them to make assumptions. 

If you are hiring a role as part of a replacement, just be honest. It’s fine to let candidates know that your last VP Sales didn’t work out for x and y reasons, but you’ve learnt a lot from this experience, rather than trying to gloss over it. 

Similarly, if you are not sure how your organisation will evolve, don’t let the candidate think that they will get promoted to a Chief Product Officer in the next 12 months, because they will hold you to that… or quit... or complain to your investors. Either way, they will be less engaged and less dedicated to your organisation.

Save time for candidates to ask questions  

During the first interview, you can get a lot from a candidate if you allow some time for them to ask smart, thoughtful questions about your organisation and the problems that you are trying to solve.

Startup leaders should be curious and curiosity is one of the single most important attributes of an early stage team. It can push the business forward in ways you could never predict. Without curiosity you are limited by the existing skills new hires bring in, which wouldn't be so bad, except that as an early stage company there is a lot you don’t yet know.


Hire just for culture fit! 

You're still growing and chances are that your culture isn’t very broad or diverse, so why are you so keen to keep it exactly as it is? You probably have cultural blindspots inside your company that nobody is aware of and solely hiring leaders similar to your existing team may cause you to miss out on new and exciting ideas. 

Your organisation is growing, diversifying its customer base and moving fast into unexplored territory, so instead of worrying if a candidate will fit in, you should probably focus on how they will improve your existing culture.

Make your selection process unnecessarily complicated 

There is no need to put candidates through 7-8 rounds of interviews, Amazon style, to make a great hire. There is a time and place for that and it is not at an early stage.  

The market is very competitive and great candidates are snapped very fast by equally great organisations. If you want to give yourself a fighting chance you should build a selection process that is both lean and effective. 

The best way to achieve this is to incorporate into your selection process:

  • Results Expected - these are the SMART goals for the role or the problem to solve;
  • Core Competencies - these are the key competencies that the candidate needs in order to achieve your expected results and thrive in your organisation;
  • Company Values - these are the behaviours that you value as an organisation.

Limit your search to people that have done exactly the same role in the past

This is a hard one, I know, as you are trying to minimise the risk of a bad leadership hire. And what better way to do this than to take someone who’s already been through the journey of “where you are now” to “where you want to be”. Right? Well... maybe. But remember that people are rarely motivated by a “copy paste experience”. 

You have your sights set on your next stage of growth and so will your candidates. While experience is great, you should also try to match a company that wants to grow with a set of people that also want to grow. You have ambitious plans for your business and you need leaders who also have ambitious goals for their career and who are motivated to turn your business into a success story to achieve those goals.

Your best leadership hires will come from various backgrounds, some may have done this in the past at a smaller company or at a really big one, while others might come from a consultancy or a high street bank. Just keep an open mind.

Ask very senior candidates to speak to your recruitment team

If the executive agency has done a great job in briefing the candidate about the business and the role, there isn’t much else that your internal recruitment team could add.

Yes they can assess “culture add” for sure, but you are at the very first stages of your process so it should be a bit of a ‘give and take' and the candidate is not gaining a lot of value at this point from speaking to an internal recruiter. They want to hear straight from a Hiring Manager or a Founder/ CEO, gain some insights about the business objectives and understand what success looks like in this role. 

If a Founder/ CEO isn’t available for a first call, then it should be done by another senior member of the leadership team, like a VP Operations or a CFO. Someone who the CEO trusts and who will work closely with the new hire.