One of the biggest difficulties growing businesses face is building the right team. For start-ups and SMEs who don’t have an established corporate brand just yet, hiring can be even more of a challenge. From sourcing candidates to conducting interviews and making offers, the process can be long and riddled with difficulties. So how do we go about it? Here are our 5 tips on how to hire for small teams.

Check your expectations

We’re all after that elusive unicorn. He or she changes depending on the industry, but for a tech start-up like us, it’s probably the ex-Google developer or ex-investment banker who speaks 5 languages, is just as comfortable booking travel for the boss as she is building the website and negotiating complex contracts with large institutional partners, codes in her spare time, makes excellent coffee and doesn’t care about salary.

If you ever find that person, hats off to you. That said, beware: when you spend too much time chasing unicorns you risk missing out on hidden gems. Broaden your recruitment criteria: rather than focusing purely on where someone's worked in the past, put more weight on their skills, culture fit and potential for growth.

In the same vein, make sure your job descriptions are specific and realistic; where possible, avoid creating Frankenstein roles that merge a variety of different areas. Sure, you might find someone who’ll do your admin work, manage your finances and lead your marketing efforts, but the chances of them doing all of those things well are pretty low. Not to mention that a scattered role doesn’t offer much room for growth and finding a candidate who’ll want to stick things through can be a real challenge.


Hire what you need, not what you want

As our COO Lucy wrote in a recent op-ed in Startup Smart, your hiring needs are going to change as you evolve. For example, when you’re only just getting your business up and running, you’re likely to need all-rounders who can get stuff done rather than people with hyper-specialised skills. In those early days, most of the specialised expertise rests with you. Once things start to pick up though, bringing in experienced staff with expert knowledge is key to driving the business forward.

While you want to hire people who’ll stay with you for a long time, don’t future-proof your hires too much. Be wary of bringing someone on board for what they’ll be able to contribute in 6 to 12 months, as opposed to what they can bring to the table today. There is a big difference between a candidate who has potential and will grow with the business, versus one who has expertise that might be useful in the future.

Don’t sugarcoat challenges

Working in small teams is challenging. Personality plays a much bigger role than it does in larger teams and people generally have to wear many hats and show a great deal of flexibility. Some people thrive in these environments, others not so much. Clearly communicating what it’s like is a great way for a prospective employee to assess whether they’ll be a good fit.

Similarly, when you’re part of a small team and particularly in a young startup, it can be very hard to attract candidates. Startups aren’t as popular everywhere as they are in Silicon Valley or London and a number of promising candidates will be genuinely concerned about joining a company that doesn’t have a proven track record. Be honest about where the company stands, what its challenges are and what you’re hoping this candidate will contribute. He or she will appreciate the honesty and feel a lot more secure knowing where things stand.


Ask the right questions

It’s very hard to ask the right questions in interviews, particularly in small teams where the hiring manager may not have that much experience interviewing. Fortunately there are hundreds of thousands of resources out there with best practices for interviews and standard questions. These vary depending on the role you’re hiring for so be sure to do your research.

For young graduates, we find it’s a lot more important to assess their general attitude (for example, how proactive they are and whether they’re comfortable asking questions and taking ownership of tasks). We’re also looking to assess whether they’ll thrive in startup environment and if they know what they’re getting into. For experienced candidates, the interview process is much more focused on skills and aptitude for a particular job. We’ll therefore send through a skills-based task to get a concrete sense of the candidate’s abilities.

Don’t skimp on employer branding

Certain social media channels may be of no use to you in acquiring customers but they can be very important for employer branding. If you’re trying to attract candidates, having an active online presence with pictures of your office, updates about the team and recent product news is a great way to say “hey, we’re here and we’re a great place to work at.”

Similarly, depending on your industry it can be worth attending recruitment fairs (and perhaps even sponsoring them) so candidates know who you are.

For growing companies with on-going hiring needs, it’s worth investing in a proper careers page that really showcases what it’s like to work there. You’ll also want to have a clear set of benefits for your employees that you can highlight to prospective applicants. From flexible work hours to take-away Fridays, free monthly lunches and employee discounts there’s an infinity of perks you can offer existing and future colleagues that will convince candidates to make the jump.


These were a few of our tips when it comes to hiring for small teams. Have we missed anything? What are some of the lessons you’ve learned as a hiring manager in a small or growing company?