Posted on 

May 30, 2022

How to optimize recruitment in startups

Mikkel Boris
Director of PR & Communication

Recruitment is challenging these days. There are too few candidates for too many positions. 

If you don’t already feel it in your day to day work, consider these statistics: 86% of the candidates best qualified for your position are already employed or not seeking a job—and the best candidates are only available for ten days on average. 

Still not convinced? Then take note of this: according to social talent, job openings are at their highest rate in 17 years and labor data from August last year showed there were more than 10 million job openings, while only 4.3 million left their jobs. 

With fiercer competition, you need to dedicate more time and energy to find new talent, make your company attractive, work on your employer branding, expand your search, improve your screening. Contractbook can easily help you mobilize that time and energy. We can automate all the small mundane tasks related to employment contracts that take up too much attention you could have spent elsewhere, on recruiting new talents for example. 

With more time on your hand, you now might need a bit more advice on how to approach it. Our CEO, Niels Martin Brøchner, is very vocal in his views about recruiting and finding the right talent for a startup. He approaches recruitment a bit like a dating process, taking the candidates for walks, brunch or even a beer. He needs to know that the candidate will fit into our unique culture and that they have the right Startup IQ. To thrive in a fast-moving startup or scale-up, you must be proactive and adaptable, thrive in chaos, and have a fair amount of mental resilience

But we, and even he, is not an all-knowing oracle. To get even more perspective on how to find talents in startups amid a very difficult labor shortage, we invited VP, Global Operations in Worksome, Morten Bruun, CEO in Talentiir, Christian Payne, and CEO in Contractbook Niels Martin Brøchner for a 60-minute webinar.

To warm up to the event, we invited Morten Bruun, one of the leading members of the successful recruitment platform Worksome, a former industry manager in Google and one of those Forbes 30 under 30, for a talk about recruitment in startups. 

So tell me, Morten, what is Worksome and what problem are you trying to solve? 

Worksome is a SaaS platform for companies with a large contingent workforce, e.g. contractors, freelancers, etc. Typically, we find that the idea of a flexible workforce sounds attractive to most companies and to most people as well, but in reality, it comes with a lot of work. And not the kind of work you want. We see companies who spend hours on compliance, taxes, making sure people get paid the right amount every single day. There is just a lot of admin stuff. That is basically the stuff that Worksome takes away to enable our clients and the people working for our clients to focus on what they do best and what they love doing.

And how did you get into this line of work? What makes it so interesting for you? 

Well, for one I think it's quite rare to find a business that fundamentally is trying to change one of the core aspects of life; how we work. This whole idea that how we work has mainly been derived from something we set up during the industrial revolution: everyone gets in at roughly the same time in the morning, we start up the machinery, and we close it all down in the evening, and then we go home. Even today, that’s how many people work - maybe the factory is now an office, the machinery is a laptop, but we haven't really changed work much since. This idea of taking what everyone has been doing for the past hundreds of years and then radically transforming it is very attractive to me. 

You work with startups and with bigger enterprises. How is it different working in a startup from working in, let's say, in a public or a corporate environment? 

In my past career, I've worked a lot with large enterprises both at Google and McKinsey.

And I think the main difference between startup and enterprise is the speed in which you execute. Google is probably the most fast-moving company of that size and McKinsey is brought into drive fast results, so it's not to say anything about Google and McKinsey. But by the end of the day, you still work with huge organizations with lots of bureaucracy. My greatest joy working in a startup is that you can get to a decision really fast. What you work on today is probably going live tomorrow. It’s just really gratifying to see your work come to life in such a short amount of time. 

I also think there is a humbleness that comes with being in a startup where you recognize that you don't necessarily know the right answer. And the best way to find that answer is just to try things out. That was a big shift for me. Going from a corporate world where you would want to plan things out way in advance, and you don't want to put something out there that you're not pretty sure is gonna work.

So what kind of skills do you need to thrive in a startup or scale-up? What should recruiters be looking for? 

It's a good question. I think one of the main skills is just your ability to take the initiative and throw yourself a problem. Reflecting on my own experience, if you see something in a large company that you think should be done differently, it's most likely someone's full-time job to optimize that one thing. That is not the case in a startup. In a startup, everyone’s really busy working on just getting from zero to one—solving a subset of all the problems that you dream of solving—So whenever you find something that's not optimal, it's really your mandate to go in and change it. So I think your ability to take the initiative and just your intuition and your practical problem-solving skillset is fundamental to succeeding in a startup.

So I think that most companies would agree with me that the recruitment market is more challenging than ever. It's hard to find suitable candidates and recruit the talent you need. So with that in mind, it becomes even more critical to identify the right skills and mindset in potential recruits. How do you go about that? Do you have any advice? 

First of all, you're right that the market has changed. We are beyond the point where we should discuss whether salaries are inflated or how to deal with people working remotely. This is simply the new reality. Instead, we look at what really makes or breaks a good candidate.

If we've been successful with anything, it is setting up a really good team. We do that by having a quite strict recruiting process. So our current recruitment process for positions involves at least six different interviews. All candidates will also do a case of about an hour. Sometimes it's prepared beforehand, and we discuss it during the interview. 

Using cases is something that I've also done in my previous jobs. It's important to assign cases as close to what the person will be doing in real life, so if you don't have cases already today, you should definitely get one. 

It's to the benefit of both you when screening the candidate, but it also allows the candidate to show what the job is like and what are the types of situations that they will put into.

Could you give me an example of such a case?

Sure! So I'm in Operations. One of the cases is a scenario where you present to our leadership team an analysis of recent revenue trends with a deep dive into our ability to onboard and ramp up clients very quickly. In that case, we send the candidate a couple of anonymized data sets—raw data extracts from Salesforce, and then we expect the candidate to take that data and analyze it and try to answer some of the questions that we've laid out in the case. That case has worked really well for us. 

So those are based on some hard skills. How do you identify the softer skills you need? 

The second thing that we do is that we have a cultural screening as well. So work with a Danish company called Platypus. They basically do like a cultural assessment of everyone who works for the company, but all the new candidates are also being given a cultural assessment.

It's less to gauge how well you fit into the culture because one of the things we look for is cultural diversity. So there are traits we look for, but we also don't try to make it filtering criteria, so we end up just reproducing some type of echo chamber. 

So it's more of us to just gauge if this person fits into the current map and do they represent something that's diverse and brings a new perspective—So it's not easy to screen by culture because you really want a balance between finding someone who can fit very well into the organization and will thrive in that type of environment, but also someone who can bring in new perspectives and a new vibe. 

That is interesting. I actually wanted to ask you if you knew why startups often end up being boys clubs and what you can do to prevent it? 

That's a super good point. There is not any reason why that shouldn't change. There is nothing inherent in startups that means only guys should be able to thrive there. One of my reflections on starting the Worksome office in the US is that the early decisions you make setting up the company are crucial. I can see that with other friends starting startups if you start a startup as a guy, you might have a lot of guy friends that you might want to hire because hiring is not easy in the beginning. You don't have a brand; you don't have a name for yourself. You don't even have a real business, so you really have to find people who trust you, but if you just pick your 3-4 best guy friends, you end up having a hundred percent male-dominated company, and that makes it very difficult when you want to hire employee number five, six or seven and eight.

I've been sort of lucky coming to the states because I didn't know a single person. So it was relatively easy for me to go out and hire a good distribution of all kinds of diversity aspects. 

So I don't really think it's because there's better access to male talent, or there's only good male talent to be had. I think it very much comes down to some of the early decisions that you make as a founder.

What do you think are the most common mistakes that you see startups and scale-ups making in the recruitment process?

There's been a tendency to be a little too reliant on very conceptual questions and how candidates gauge that. They are useful as part of an interview process, but you can’t rely on this as your main screening mechanism. Then, as I mentioned, secondly, try to remove biases from your recruiting by being very deliberate about having a diverse candidate pipeline throughout the hiring process.

And then thirdly, hiring can be quite daunting because you're putting a bet that the skills you lay out in your job description are what you will need—not only in the next year—but in many years from now. This is particularly difficult in startups where you want to have cutting edge skills. But it can be hard to access whether these skills will be what you need one or two years from now. 

To solve this, adapt flexibility into how you view talent, either hiring people that are not there just for their hard skills, but also fits into the culture. Or break up the employment model and shift your focus to hire flexible talent, so that you're not so reliant on knowing what skills you will need two years out in the future and focus more on what the business needs right now. This allows you to go out and find someone who can fill that need right here right now. And you’ll have the flexibility to decide whether it's going to be a long-term thing, which I think can be quite powerful for most startups

Industry insights you won’t delete. Delivered to your inbox weekly.