Climate change is one of the defining issues of our time, and as a climate company, your hiring decisions can make a huge impact. That's why we're excited to launch our new Climate Hiring Playbook! It's packed with everything you need to know about finding, attracting, and hiring top climate talent.
Turning Painpoints into Process: A Guide to Hiring at a Start-Up
All early-stage climate founders have been there — your workload is overflowing, you need more structure for your operations, and the gaps have made it exceptionally clear that it’s time to make your first hire. But where do you start?
Ideally, you would have outlined these conversations months ago, put together a structured road map for your hiring trajectory, and outlined your onboarding process. But you’re a start-up! You’re a few-person team whose to-do lists are already filled to the brim.
In this blog, we will outline why hiring as a start-up is exceptionally challenging. But, most importantly, we will share some solutions that have worked for hundreds of early-stage founders. If you apply these tips, your hiring strategy will be far less daunting, and your new team members will have a smooth interview and onboarding process.
First, we will go over the obstacles:
1. You likely have limited funds
You want the best candidates from the best companies. However, these people typically have high price tags. Getting the best people for the job to accept the offer can feel like an uphill battle.
You also are likely stretched for a recruiting budget. You can’t justify spending extra money on top-notch recruiting software and must make it work with a tight budget and the least flashy tools.
2. Lack of internal recruiting or HR team
One of the main reasons you’re looking to hire is that you have limited capacity and need help. Hiring takes up a good chunk of time if you’re doing it correctly, and that’s something you are already stretched on. Many larger organizations have an entire internal team dedicated to filling your open positions. However, you have to find the time in your already busy day.
3. Likely never hired before
If you’re like most start-up founders, you have limited experience hiring. You must teach yourself the new CRMs, how to read resumes, and what to look for in an ideal candidate. Another significant roadblock is that you’re likely hiring for roles outside your expertise. For example, it can be challenging for a technical leader to know how to vet a salesperson and accurately assess their ability to do the job.
4. No clearly defined process
If you haven’t hired much, you won’t likely know what works for you and your team. You must build out your operations on the fly, which can take too long. Many hiring managers or founders can make on-the-spot decisions that aren’t rooted in logic but rather a fear of making the wrong choice.
Now, on to how you can compensate for these struggles with solutions:
1. Be scrappy
You don't need the nicest CRM. See what you can make on your own. Greenhouse, ZipRecruiter, Koalifi, and other tools have small team options. You can even create your own CRM using a free Notion template.
The process you follow speaks volumes about your company. A well-defined, efficient hiring process allows candidates to glean insights into your company's operations. On the other hand, if you take months to interview numerous candidates, it can also reveal aspects of your company's functioning. Every interaction with a candidate should be valuable and provide fresh perspectives—it's a mutually beneficial exchange.
We encourage you to be extremely realistic about what your hiring needs are. A common mistake we see frequently is a founder wanting to develop a marketing department, so they look for a CMO. Executive-level positions are expensive and hard to fill with the right people, not to mention these people are typically used to having large budgets and a team of people to get the job done. Whereas, if you were to hire a mid-senior marketing professional who is adept at wearing many hats and isn’t used to large budgets and expensive tools, they could likely hit the ground running and get the job done. Then, in the future, you could attract executive talent to up-skill the department.
To address the salary expectations for top talent, you need to ask about this early in the process. Be extremely clear about your budget with the candidate before it’s too late. You need to know their ‘must-haves’ long before the offer stage. This way, you can make your offer appealing to them. Say you can’t match their salary expectations, but they voiced their desire for work-life balance. You could offer a lower salary with more equity and increased PTO days.
2. Work smarter, not harder
The interview process is a two-way street- you must focus on selling the opportunity to the candidate. Far too many hiring managers solely focus on vetting the candidate from their end and fail to get to know the candidate and their needs, and then end up with the offer not being accepted.
Always have a pipeline of candidates — don’t go through in batches — make sure you always have someone at every point in the process. This means that even when you have started interviewing, you will still be reviewing resumes and doing phone screens. The goal is to have your top choice candidate and at least two backups.
3. Leverage your network
Many founders new to hiring can feel intimidated by hiring outside of their area of expertise, which might encourage them to hire to ‘take things off their plate.’ While this may help in the short term, it will not set you up for a long-term successful hire. The key to a successful start-up is hiring for growth, not gaps. The top reason people leave jobs is because they no longer see growth potential. If you hire someone with room for ownership and growth, they will likely be a far better investment in the long run.
Do you have any founders in your network who have hired for a similar position before? Leverage them and ask what they learned from the process and what they would do differently. It’s likely that they have a record of their interview questions; getting a copy of these could be a helpful starting point.
Similarly, do you have any HR professionals or recruiters with whom you have an established relationship? They will likely be more than happy to help guide you.
Be honest with the candidate about your lack of direct experience hiring in this area of expertise. Your honesty and candor shows a lot about your leadership style and could potentially make you look more appealing in their eyes. To help you get a better sense of how they could direct the company, ask questions about how their prior experience could be applied to this role. Encourage them to give you real-world examples of what they would do to help drive your company.
4. Clearly define a reasonable hiring process beforehand
Document, document, document! After every hire you bring on, sit down and reflect on what went well and, more importantly, what you could have done better. Write all of this down and start carving out your process. Your first hire will not be great, but with all things, the more you do it, the better you will get as long as you’re intentional about learning and improving your process.
Be thoughtful and intentional about every touchpoint. There must be value in every conversation!
Don’t hire based on gaps and workload. Hire on what your future goals are. For example, if one of your software engineers is struggling with too much work, a reactionary hire might be to hire another software engineer to take some off their plate. However, a possible reason your engineer is overworked is that you don’t have realistic account managers working and conveying your needs to the client. The better long-term strategy here would be to hire a customer success manager who can level-set and ultimately take that work off your engineers.
Follow the tips in the blog, and you will be well on your way to establishing a strong hiring process that helps you propel your climate solution forward. That said, the Climate People team knows better than anyone that this is tricky. If you’d rather focus on your day job and leave the hiring to a team of experts — we’re only one message away.
Hiring can be one of the most stressful things a founder must do in the early tenure of their company. A significant misconception is that you have limited control over how the process unfolds. However, this couldn't be further from the truth. With a well-defined process, treating your candidates like humans, addressing their concerns head-on, being realistic with your expectations, and moving quickly, you can get the right people on your team. As a climate company, you have a rewarding mission that can be a huge asset! People want to work on something bigger than themselves. Use that to your advantage but not as a crutch and an excuse for a poor hiring process. Good luck out there!