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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Management

Hiring for Your Start-up? How to Find the Right Candidates

At big companies like Google, there’s a constant influx of resumes—candidates clamoring to work for a company with billions of users, top salaries, and free food.

But for early-stage start-ups, resources are tight. You can’t necessarily pay market salaries or offer fancy perks—or even guarantee that your company will still be around in six months. Many great candidates have never even heard of you. And yet you want your first team members to not only be exceptional individuals, but to live and breathe your start-up.

Fortunately, there are people who (like you) thrive on uncertainty and late nights fueled with lots of coffee, and who would rather build a company from the ground up than work somewhere established like Google or Facebook. They value equity and ownership over salary and stability, and they don’t care about catered lunches or on-site gyms.

So where do you find these people? Here’s how InstaEDU found its first five employees.

Personal Networks

If it seems like tapping into your personal network is a recurring theme when starting a company, that’s because it is. Joining an early stage start-up requires employees to place a lot of trust in the founders, so having a mutual connection who can vouch for you is important to your potential hires. We sent our job postings to our friends and acquaintances and asked them to forward them along to their friends and acquaintances, and we ended up finding two of our team members (and an intern) this way.

Hacker News

Hacker News, Y Combinator’s news site, has built a great community of people who are interested in technology and start-ups. In addition to discussions around industry events and trends, there are threads that focus on hiring and people looking for jobs. And while you have to be a Y Combinator alum to actually post jobs, we just browsed the threads and reached out to people who looked like a good fit for InstaEDU. While many of these conversations didn’t pan out, we eventually found someone we clicked with. A few months later, he became our first engineering hire.


On top of being a fundraising platform, AngelList is also a hiring platform. As a company, you can browse candidates and indicate people you’d like to chat with. If they also indicate interest in your start-up, you’ll be connected over email. Because the candidates you’ll be talking to on AngelList have already expressed an explicit interest in working for a seed-funded start-up, I found the whole process to be much more efficient than reaching out to people over LinkedIn, where candidates were sometimes less enthusiastic about working start-up hours for start-up pay. We ended up interviewing a decent number of people we found through AngelList, and we eventually hired one of them.

Your Employees’ Networks

Finally, when you hire a new employee, don’t stop, declare victory, and close the pipe just yet—he or she likely has a great network you can leverage. Ask your new hires if they have old colleagues who are currently job hunting (especially if they are coming from a company that’s recently had layoffs), and find out who they enjoyed working with the most. You should be respectful of non-solicit agreements when these former co-workers are still employed, but the fact that your new employee made a transition could indicate that others are looking around as well.

Hiring at a start-up is rarely easy, but there’s an ever-increasing number of resources to help you do it. Take advantage of them! And in my next post, I’ll discuss ways to help convince people to make the jump and actually join your team.

Photo of start-up interview courtesy of Shutterstock.

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