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Recruiting on a Startup Budget

recruiting on a startup budget

“I’m a startup. I don’t have a huge recruiting budget but I need to compete for top talent with established brands and companies who can shower candidates in cash. What can I do?”

We hear about this situation often, and the answer is, plenty! Following are 9 tips – that we’ve employed ourselves at Lever – to help SMBs and startups source and recruit.

1. Capture your candidate’s imagination by overhauling job descriptions

At smaller companies, you typically have more freedom to experiment, so companies should play around with their job postings to figure out what appeals to their audience. Top candidates typically want to go somewhere where they can have impact.

At Lever, we’ve replaced boring job descriptions with “Impact Descriptions” that help the candidate understand what they will actually be doing on the job within 3 months, 6 months and 12 months. We get a lot of positive feedback from candidates about how tangible our impact descriptions are, and how they help them visualize themselves in the role. 

Cost = FREE.

2. Get your people out on the speaker circuit

There’s a whole underworld of Meetups in most cities, and these present great opportunities to gain some exposure for your company and what you’re doing.

We encourage members of the Lever team, especially our leadership, to appear on panels at Meetups and local association events. We also host events at our office to bring in the local community. For instance, we hosted an event on diversity recruiting last fall, an office open house a few weeks ago, and my business school alumni group visited recently.

Cost = FREE (thanks to Eventbrite!). Possibly drinks and snacks.

3. Commit to personalizing your outreach when you pitch a professional who isn’t looking

Do your homework on potential candidates before you reach out. Reflect on why they, specifically, would be interested in your company. Make the message as personalized and relevant as you possibly can. If you have a compelling pitch, there’s no reason they won’t respond – even if it’s just to refer someone else they know who might be interested.

Cost = FREE, just your time to do research online.

4. Treat your candidates like they are actually people

Smaller companies can get a leg-up on larger, flashier organizations simply by being more responsive to candidates, by listening more, by giving them feedback during the recruitment process. Take advantage of the fact that candidates can get lost in the shuffle at larger organizations.

Cost = FREE

5. Get your executives involved in doing outreach

Sorry recruiters, but engineering candidates are way likelier to respond to a thoughtful message from a VP of Engineering than from a recruiter. Bigger companies won’t always be able to take that approach for junior- to mid-level talent.

Cost = FREE

6. Leverage the heck out of the free stuff

Example: you can actually do a LOT on LinkedIn without paying a dime. At Lever, we realized that our employees had many more first-degree connections than we had followers on our company page, so we ran internal workshops to help people spruce up their profiles, and we also ran a program to help the team think about how to tell their own unique stories about what it’s like to work at Lever.

As a result, 80 percent of our team overhauled their LinkedIn profiles, which is the first place that candidates (not to mention customers, prospects, partners and more) go to learn more about the people they may be working with. Here’s a bit more about the work we did on LinkedIn.

Cost = FREE

7. Get your team blogging

Our employees use a combination of the ‘Inside Lever’ blog (our employee blog, which is good to have so candidates have a place to go to research you) but also LinkedIn’s free publishing platform and Medium to share their real experiences as employees of Lever. This has been huge for us in attracting diverse candidates to our company, and has played a hand in us reaching 50 percent female employees this month! See the same post from above on how blogging has paid off for Lever.

Cost = FREE

8. Get really creative about who you know 

Employee referrals remain a top source for high-quality hires, so work harder in leveraging your extended network (VCs, friends, family, partners, online communities, customers even) to spread the word about openings at your organization and to submit referrals. We host occasional sourcing jams to get our employees hyper-focused on high-priority hiring, and we have them do the outreach to increase the chances of a response. We also make recruiting a focus at every company all-hands so it’s top of mind for the entire team. They typically know EXACTLY which positions we’re most focused on filling.

Cost = FREE

9. Spend money on software to manage recruiting

It’s amazing how many small companies are still trying to get by on spreadsheets. That approach can only get you so far – once you have a dozen or more candidates, it becomes really hard to communicate with different members of your team and keep everyone in sync unless you’ve got recruiting software in place to manage applications, feedback, scheduling, offers and so on.

Small companies often balk at paying for recruiting software. If talent is important to your organization’s success, that can be a short-sighted approach. Buying an applicant tracking system doesn’t cost much when you put in context – for the cost of your weekly or monthly AdWords budget, you might be able to get year-round access to a system that gives you a real advantage on being responsive to candidates and running a smooth interview process that leaves them impressed. Lever has a special starter plan for small companies, and there are several other options on the market.

Request a demo to learn about Lever’s starter plan. For more on recruiting for startups, read our tip sheet with advice straight from the mouths of successful founders.