The 7-Step Startup Guide to Recruiting and Retaining Talent

Startups, you can’t learn it all on the fly. As you build your team, it’s essential to know which best practices other teams swear by. For starters, you need to learn how to effectively recruit and retain your best employees.

In our webinar with BambooHR last week, we zeroed in those two essential startup skills. Our trifecta of talent leaders – Lever’s Director of Recruiting Amanda Bell, BambooHR’s Director of HR Cassie Whitlock, and Spark Lifecare’s Talent Acquisition Expert Jess Martin – walked us through key strategies for creating and engaging the team you want. Below, we shared 7 steps from their guide, but you can find the full recording here!


1) Proactively seek out new talent.

Amanda has seen several teams fall victim to posting jobs and hoping the best candidates apply. In reality, the best tactic is to go after specific candidates yourself.

First step? Talk to your team’s best performers to formulate the ideal candidate template. What has made current employees successful, and why? With this insight, you know which candidates to seek out before you begin your research. Then, when it’s time to actually begin looking for those candidates, Amanda suggests you look in the following places: AngelList, Reddit, Twitter, LinkedIn, GitHub, and Amazon book reviews. (Believe it or not, Amazon book reviews are a great place to find candidates – people who leave reviews on textbooks tend to be uniquely passionate about their field.)

At the end of the day, sourcing is a grind. “But if you get stuck in a rut, don’t forget to learn from your peers,” suggests Amanda. Ask for a pointer from each of your team members at your next meeting, for example, or attend a meetup to learn new insights from your fellow talent leaders. 

2) Be transparent with both your team…

Once you delve into the interview process, you have to continuously involve and leverage your team. Jess spearheads the recruiting efforts at Spark Lifecare, but she recognizes interviewers often have better insight into the roles she hires for. Therefore, she uses Lever to constantly communicate with relevant stakeholders about candidates; soliciting their feedback helps her evaluate candidates more holistically.

Amanda emphasizes that you may want to loop in everyone at your company – not just interviewers and stakeholders. At Lever, the recruiting team consistently provides hiring goal updates at company-wide meetings. They’ll cover which roles are high-priority and how close the team is to filling them; that way, the rest of the team is motivated to leverage their own networks and submit referrals. And often, recruiters even spotlight a new hire – giving the entire company details such as the hire’s background, key takeaways from the process. 

3) And your candidates.

Clear communication with candidates throughout the interview process is absolutely essential. The moment Jess can update her candidates, she does. “ Be transparent with them whether it’s a good match or not,” she notes. “If it’s not, you can even give them tips on how to find a better fit.” Her goal is simply to always keep her candidates in the loop.

Amanda approaches each process with the same mentality. She’s learned that if you don’t give candidates consistent insight into their progress, it’s easy to lose them. Also, direct them to other resources! Often, Amanda will either encourage candidates to do their own online research or loop in other team members who can give them additional clarity about their role. 

4) Gather data to drive your recruiting strategies.

“If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it,” says Amanda. As a startup, you may not think you have the time or even sufficient data to begin tracking your performance yet. But if you don’t establish your baseline offer acceptance rate, for example, how do you know what a great offer acceptance rate even looks like?

Amanda has a few tips on ‘what to measure’ to help you get started. In her experience, tracking conversion rates are a surefire way to identify effective and ineffective parts of your process. If your team isn’t converting enough candidates from phone screen to on-site interview, for example, you know that there may be room for improvement in your phone screen process. She also suggests that you track your number of interview events per week. Ask yourself: Are more interviews actually leading to more hires?

If you’re looking for more tips on what you should track, Amanda walked through even more questions to ask in our webinar


5) Find unique ways to greet new hires on their first day.

One easy way to do this? Encourage them to share their interests with the broader team right when they begin. “At Bamboo, each new hire answers questions about their hometown, favorite vacation spot, and more before they start,” she explains. “Then, everyone at the company receives an email with their answers.” Time and time again, Cassie has seen her fellow employees approach new hires on their first day to chat about their responses, and the new hires instantly light up. This simple exercise is a meaningful way to help team members discover the similarities they share.

6) Enlist your team members to help you tell your company story.

“First off, always share the why behind the what,” advises Cassie. Onboarding is the perfect time to dive deep into your company’s mission. In Cassie’s experience, you can really bring that mission to life through introducing them to several team members – from founders to coworkers in other corners of the org. “And encourage your team to tell stories; that’s always much more memorable than conceptual explanations,” remarks Cassie. At BambooHR, planning a team lunch during each new hires’ first week is a must, as it’s a great way to help them bond with coworkers outside of the workplace.

At Spark Lifecare, Jess’s primary goal in onboarding is to make new hires feel welcome, comfortable in their new role, and excited to be a part of the company. “Time is always of the essence because our clients need care as soon as possible,” says Jess. “But we know we can’t rush the onboarding process. We have to continue sharing our story with them to set them up for success.”

7) Clearly map out your organizational structure.

Both Cassie and Jess strongly emphasized the need to outline the actual structure of your org for candidates; those details will set them up for success in their role . “Break down each team member’s position to the basics, and make sure to explain those processes that have become second nature to experienced team members,” says Cassie. Walk in your new hire’s shoes, and you’ll better understand that some of your existing processes are intuitive, but others are not.

Even when your hires become “veterans” at your company (often after three months at startups), continue sharing new information with them. Ensure that they have regular 1:1s – whether with their manager or experienced team member – so that they see constant opportunities for growth.

If you thought the above insights from Amanda, Cassie and Jess were helpful, just wait until you listen to the full guide in our webinar. We promise you’ll walk away with a few new ideas for your own recruiting and onboarding processes.

Looking for insight into how an even larger team recruits and retains their employees? Uncover three game-changing strategies that Netflix uses.