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GreyMatter December 10, 2015

The Essentials of Hiring An Exceptional Startup Team

In today’s heated market, recruiting for top talent is more competitive than ever. Employees have more career options – which means that established technology companies and startups are often aggressively pursuing the same top candidates. For early stage companies to be successful, founders need to develop a thoughtful recruiting process, and need to do it early on. Doing so will ultimately shape the DNA of the company. Greylock talent partner Dan Portillo, who has led recruiting efforts for the US Digital Service, Rypple, and Mozilla, has seen over and over again how an effective hiring process can impact the evolution of an organization.

Portillo believes that one of the most leveraged hires a founder can make is a strong recruiter. When companies are young, founders tend to hire “zero degree” people, meaning people who they have already worked with, went to school with, or are in your network. But as the company expands, they need to look for people who “punch above their weight” and can attract high quality talent for companies that have little or no established product or brand. Further, instead of relying on reputation or compensation, startups need to sell the long term vision and quality of the team.

Portillo also thinks founders should throw away their job descriptions. When Portillo talks to hiring managers about the roles they want to fill, it’s rare they say a candidate “should have done 7 years of XYZ.” Startups need to move beyond a job description template and source potential hires with a more dynamic approach. By researching potential candidates, executives can gain a deeper sense of who an individual really is, what they care about, and see if that is aligned with the mission of their company. Portillo recalls his experience with Mark Finkle, who he successfully hired for Mozilla. Portillo found Finkle’s blog on writing extensions and passion for the Open Web, and knew that Mozilla would be more than just a job for him.

For companies at scale, job positions – and teams – aren’t static. Rather, they change over time to fit the evolving needs of the company. Founders need to focus on potential candidates who fit the company culture and have a passion in the company’s purpose and mission.