The Five Questions You Need to Answer to Succeed at Startup Recruiting

For the last couple of months, I've been recording interviews with founders and recruiting professionals for the Startup Recruiting Podcast.  Despite my best efforts to make it tactical--full of hacks, tips, tricks, etc., the common themes that keep coming up are much more about meaning, mission and values.  At first, I'll admit it felt a little fluffy, but more and more I realize that without answering questions about the "why" of what it's like to work for your company, you're never going to be able to write that pitch e-mail, LinkedIn message, or have anything convincing to say in an interview.  

Here's what every founder should put in some time to not only have an answer, but to make sure that answer is backed up by actions, incentives, and real effort at your company:

1) What's the reputation for greatness that will attach itself to your employees long after they leave?  

Will your company be known for being a great place to learn to sell?  To scale lots of data?  To build brand?  To push the envelope around computer vision like at Clarifai?  What kind of a challenge will a VC know that they can back a former employee of yours to tackle?

2) Why are employees at your company great teammates to each other?

If 1+1 is going to equal something more than 2, your team will have to be better together than as individual contributors--so while you might think the most important question is how they're going to do that, you'll realize that if you can handle the "why", they'll figure out the how.  Check out the x.ai employee pledge for a great framework on this.

3) What is it that you sell?

You don't sell a product.  You sell something else.  Is it time?  Is it piece of mind?  Is it a lifestyle?  Reliability? Clarity around what your customer cares about and why they buy your product usually means your employees are focused on what matters most--and helps you figure out which potential new hires are best suited to deliver.

4) Why would an employee recruit their friend?

You know why you started the company--but that doesn't mean it's the same reason why a front end developer would tell their friend the growth marketer to join.  Thinking about the incentives for your individual contributors to recruit others keeps you focused on the day to day of each employee up and down the org chart.  Can you create an environment as clearly articulated as Do Something?  Is it because you're hiring people others would like to work with like at Zola?

5) What will this company look like in five years?

It's highly unlikely that you'll survive five years if you can't imagine it--and a strong founder vision not only provides direction around day to day tasks, but also inspires people.  It's really easy to get stuck on the metrics you need to get to the next round and to forget to play the long game of people development and skating to where the puck is going.

Bonus: What are others likely to hear about your organization?

Your recruiting brand is different than the brand around your product--and should be attended to just as intentionally.  Etsy spent a lot of effort making sure the Etsy culture permeated outside its walls.  What are you doing to spread your company's culture?