Here’s some top recruitment advice for startups


Hiring skills for a young and inevitably small company is tough, write Jesse Green, South Africa country manager for recruitment site Adzuna.

In fact, many business people say that when you hire your first employee, it is the start of a new era in your company. A lot rides on the first few hires being the sort of people that have both the ability and the mindset to take your business to the next level. So while the process of finding the right talent is a job itself, the consequences can be dire.

With a growing base of startup jobs in South Africa, the question for them is: how are they going to find applicants and choose the right person for the vacancies they have? This is particularly challenging for a start-up because, in general, one has (1) less budget for the process and (2) less margin for error. Some even add that making a hiring mistake at this point could make or break your firm’s dreams.

This article focuses on “reach” – how many people you can make aware of the vacancy at your startup. It goes to follow that you want a balance between the maximum amount of applicants who match what you are looking for. Some of the below speaks to relevance, so if you’re looking for a developer or a sheep shearer (both deemed critical skills in South Africa), you will have to try different tactics.

Online job portals and listings

The first place most startups turn to is the internet. Most business owners expect inexpensive job listings and huge reach, which is certainly possible, however depends on a number of factors, including things like the type of position you are recruiting for and the demand and supply for the skills you need. There are usually two key insights to getting the online stuff right.

The first is choosing the right platforms. Before you rush off to sign up to every free job portal you can find, rather look at how each of them gets reach. You’d be better off without twenty login names, passwords and alerts filling your inbox at all hours of the day.

True, you could try one or two new websites and test their relevance, however the best option is usually to do a little homework and settle on one or two good job portals that have an array of positions in the field of your search. Also, make very sure that the jobs are syndicated to a few job aggregator websites like Adzuna, as this will give you much needed extra reach.

The trick with job portals is to think about where they get their traffic from. If you are paying them for your job advert, what are you really paying for? Be frank, is it brand awareness or good applications? How much traffic do your adverts actually receive (the portals should have this available)? A final word here is that many people start their job searches on Google – perhaps Adwords will bring you better results than you think. Listing your vacancies on your own company website is essential.

The second aspect to good online recruitment for a vacancy is a great job advertisement. Definitely do not copy and paste a job description – preferably write something that appeals to the Maslow level of the job seeker you want to attract. Also remember to include the keywords that people will be searching for. Job seekers tend to ignore advertisements without salaries and company names, so if you are using a recruitment company, it is best to ask them to include these.

Social networking and word-of-mouth recruitment

Making sure your company appears on social media is fine, but many a startup gets trapped in how many likes, shares and mentions their business page gets. Depending on your product or service and industry, these metrics may mean nothing. When you recruit, they often don’t matter at all. This is why it is often worthwhile getting current employees to privately or openly recruit in their own circles. This in turn can lead to more workplace diversity and a better culture fit.

Offline media and networking

With the decline in newspaper and magazine subscriptions, you may wonder why this is even a section in this article. It all comes back to who and what you are recruiting for. Mainstream positions and many others may have gravitated online, but there remains a number of niche publications that cater well towards hiring specific skills. Senior engineers, in particular, often apply to roles advertised in their engineering field’s relevant magazine.

Looking deeper

With both companies (e.g. Google) and candidates being known to take out billboards to advertise their positions and skills, it is a good idea to think outside of the box. If you are looking for a co-founder of sorts, for example, it may save you a lot of time to simply network and go to events where potential co-founders hangout. If you are looking for developers, there are sure to be a number of programmer events in your area worth attending or sponsoring (usually the cost is low).

A caveat to all this quality over quantity is that with less cash at hand to find the right hire, you should rather err on the side of receiving too many applicants than too few. Here, branding again comes into play – having a well-noticed job advertisement can help form a community’s perception about your firm’s offering.

Not mentioned is the process and tracking of job seeker applications once they have sent in their lengthy CVs. Using an affordable off-the-shelf applicant tracking system (ATS) such as graylink’s cloudrecruit can make the process easier for startups.

Startups have no excuse for not finding high quality staff for less – the real trouble is how to afford them!


About Author

Passionate about the vibrant tech startups scene in Africa, Tom can usually be found sniffing out the continent's most exciting new companies and entrepreneurs, funding rounds and any other developments within the growing ecosystem.

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