How Talent Acquisition Changes as You Scale a SaaS Startup

How Talent Acquisition Changes as You Scale a SaaS StartupThe early days of a startup are crazy.

You have a small group of brilliant and adventurous people taking on tasks they’ve probably never done. Tight budgets leave you doing things like building desks out of doors because they’re cheaper. Your whole focus is solely directed at the goal of getting your product out there in front of customers, who probably don’t even realize how much they need your product yet.

Fast forward a couple of years and those brilliant and adventurous people now have job titles and (more or less) set job descriptions. Your engineers are spending most of their time finessing the UI and developing new features rather than building fundamental structures and foundations. You have a solid customer base that’s avid about your product – and just keeps growing.

Except – as brilliant as they are – that small group of people no longer has enough hands to do everything that needs to be done.

It’s time to scale your startup – but you need to do it fast, accurately, and strategically. So where do you start?

To find out, I sat down with Process Street‘s very own head of talent, Rosy Bellorini, to get an inside view on how to get the talent you need to scale your startup.

Let’s dig in!

So you’re ready to scale your startup…

“If you think about talent acquisition in the commercial sense, what we do in recruitment is practically sales, and we also have different stages of our funnel.” – Rosy Bellorini, Head of Talent, Process Street

The aim of talent acquisition is always to get the right people in the right positions at the right time. Startup, small business, tech giant – that aim never changes.

The difference is that your average tech giant will have standardized this process way back when, while the startup is still in the planning stage.

talent acquisition company culture check-in questions

Before a startup’s talent acquisition team does anything else, they need to make sure the following three things are firmly set in place:

A job for every tool & a tool for every job

“At the end of the day, [you need a] CRM that’s flexible enough to allow you to design your process by position. There are a lot of tools out there that are too global for them to be appropriate for a startup.”

When you’re working within a small team, everything is a bit of a challenge. Don’t get me wrong – large teams have challenges, too, just different ones.

A small team needs to find the tools that will enable them to operate as effectively as if they were a large team with plenty of individuals able to handle very specific scenarios.

Your applicant tracking system (ATS) needs to be powerful enough to automate mass functions that allows your team to not only handle inbound applications, but also follow-ups and outbound efforts as well.

Centralize your talent acquisition approval process

“Before it goes out to the world that we’re hiring, we start out with [the question]: What is the process of ensuring that the recruitment team is actually working on the roles that are actually approved and budgeted for?”

Increasing your company’s headcount costs money. There’s the short-term investment of advertising, networking, assessing, and so on, but in the long-term, you also have to think about the investment of salary, insurance contributions, training, retirement programs, and all the little incidentals that will be involved throughout that person’s time with the company.

You don’t want your acquisition team spending time (and money) on prospects your company can’t actually afford because one of your managers put in a request that wasn’t authorized or that that department wasn’t eligible for.

With a centralized approval process, you avoid that risk and establish a clear sense of transparency in the acquisition process. Everyone knows which positions are being prioritized, which teams are able to open new positions, and what the budgetary constraints are.

Don’t skimp on team training

“We can miss out on hiring someone amazing because that person is not properly trained. So the training is also a huge part. It has to be uniform, and it also has to be something that we’re strict on.”

Interviewing practices can be very tricky to navigate, especially if it’s not something someone has done before. There are a lot of regulations and restrictions that need to be followed to ensure that the process is equitable and unbiased – both from a legal perspective and a basic decency perspective.

I’ll dig deeper into this later on, but your candidates don’t exist in a vacuum. If they have a bad experience with your company – and especially if multiple people have bad experiences – it will get around that you aren’t offering a great environment to work in.

As a result, you risk losing exceptional prospects because someone made a dumb comment, or made a decision based on a bias they weren’t aware of.

The first rule of Startup Club

…is there are no rules to Startup Club.

Hyperbolic, sure, but the fact remains: Every startup is completely unique and different. Ask any executive at a startup when you should think about scaling or when you need to create a particular department and the answer will inevitably start with: Well, it depends…

(Or, more often the case: Don’t even try W until you gain X funding.)

talent acquisition key tips to get top talent

Despite every startup having its own particular trajectory, there are some universal rules for acquiring talent every startup needs to keep in mind:

Know your customer & appeal to the person

“Every pipeline should always have options so that you can choose the best step forward for that role. The last thing we want is to have someone join and then not be excited and then just leave three months later.”

Filling leadership roles, in particular, can be a challenge for a startup. On the one hand, you want someone who has the experience, the background, who’s been here before.

Those people, however, are in high demand. They have offers coming left and right, and are likely already earning a fairly decent salary.

You might look at a prospective candidate and think there’s no point in reaching out. What do you have to offer that a more established company hasn’t already?

To put it simply: People join startups for all sorts of weird reasons, and you can never really predict the road that will bring a new hire to your door.

My favorite game is to ask my colleagues how they ended up at Process Street. I’ve yet to get the same answer twice. The one thing everyone says – including myself – is: It sounded interesting.

To snag your ideal candidates, you have to find out what interests them and appeal to them from that angle. Not everyone is going to find working at a startup exciting or interesting. Some may even feel it’s a step back.

Others, however, are going to jump at the opportunity to build processes, teams, and structures totally from scratch. Those are the people you want in your company: the ones who get excited about new things.

NGL – money matters, but your other offerings do, too.

Every candidate has their own network

“We’re the first face that [candidates] see whenever they interact with the brand. So it’s important to remember that we’re in the people business, not herding cattle.”

A candidate’s experience through the recruitment and interview process is so, so important. I really can’t stress that enough.

When you’re scaling and you have loads of positions to fill, you’re sifting through thousands of applicants. It gets overwhelming and the applicants become numbers, not people.

They are people, though, and each one of them has their own network of friends, family, colleagues, and professional contacts that they can either refer to your company or away from it.

Even if that candidate doesn’t turn out to be a good fit for a particular role, they may be perfect for a role later on. Or they may know someone else who would fit the role. Or they get hired at another SaaS company, remember their positive experience with you, and reach out to collaborate on a conference, marketing opportunity, or just building that professional relationship.

Don’t ghost people. You never know what opportunities will open up down the line.

The best advice you’ll ever get

Rosy really said it best, so I’m going to leave it to her:

Don’t say no
to new tools.

Often you come in with a specific level of experience: This is how I’ve always done it, and it works that way.

And sure, it does work that way. But you could save yourself 30 minutes of nightmare admin work just by exploring different ways of doing it.

I’m really seeing the benefit of how much [automation] helps me save time and do things with more accuracy. When you do things manually, you make mistakes.

It doesn’t matter how experienced you are, be open to new tools (ATS, CRM software, online meeting tools, etc.) and new things that other companies are doing. Join webinars as much as you can.

You can’t be
the expert
in everything.

Things in the people division are constantly changing. What was HR like even five years ago? You don’t even call it HR anymore. It’s not the same as it is today.

Stay abreast of all the changes in the market. Otherwise, you’ll end up doing things the hard way just because that’s the way it worked before.

The Process Street process

“Using [Process Street workflows] speeds up the process massively. It’s less paper trail. It’s less chasing. Each individual person that’s required to make an evaluation of the request gets a notification, and if they don’t react to it, it’s as simple as sending that link over.”

In order to centralize our internal talent acquisition process, Rosy, et al, have turned to – you guessed it – Process Street workflows.

And why not? We have full access to an incredibly powerful platform that improves transparency, accountability, and communication. It’d be kind of ridiculous not to take advantage of that.

Now, instead of getting a bunch of disconnected requests on Slack, there’s a dedicated workflow for requesting a new role. The manager enters all the details of the job – title, salary bands, seniority levels, etc. – which gets sent to the head of that department

Using the approvals feature, the department head, VP of People and Operations, and our CEO are all able to quickly review the details and sign off on whether a new person is actually needed right now (as opposed to internal promotions) and what the company can offer that person.

Once they’ve all given the OK, Rosy – via our Zapier integrations – gets an email with everything she needs to know to move forward with the acquisition.

Dynamic due dates ensure the process moves swiftly – lasting no more than 2-3 days – and task assignments make it clear where a bottleneck occurs.

There are a lot of ups and downs in the talent acquisition process – both for candidates and for the company. Sometimes the person you really want takes another offer; sometimes you have to turn down someone that has a lot of potential but not the right experience.

Utilizing the right tools, process documentation, and automation, you can ensure the experience remains a positive one – and that you get the right talent for your startup.

Share your talent acquisition life lessons in the comments!

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Leks Drakos

Leks Drakos, Ph.D. is a rogue academic with a PhD from the University of Kent (Paris and Canterbury). Research interests include HR, DEIA, contemporary culture, post-apocalyptica, and monster studies. Twitter: @leksikality [he/him]


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