In Standard, Startups

Starting and building a company has a lot of risks. Some controllable and some unfortunately out of your control. You can’t do everything in your business so the only way you can maintain and scale is by getting the right people on your team at the right time. People who can reliably get their jobs done and continually over deliver.

If you attract the right people anything is possible. If the business is a little bumpy, The right team can pivot a the company idea until it works, build scalable processes, and attract investors.

Your company can only be as good as the team you build.

It’s easy to make hiring mistakes but there are four must-do things that can help focus your time and energy on building the best team possible:

Note: For a large list of hiring and onboarding tips, tricks and strategies see our Hiring and Onboarding Cheatsheet. You will even see the top five tricky but very revealing interview questions.

1. Be ready with a Downstream Pitch and clear job description.

You probably have a company pitch prepared for your potential investors (upstream pitch) but you also need one for your prospective new team members (downstream pitch). This will be a little different than your investor pitch. Remember these new employees will be taking a considerable risk when they join your company. Maybe more relative personal risk than your investors.

The first thing you need is a short (eight words maximum not counting words like and, to, the, etc…) company description.  Clearly state what you do. Be sure it is inspiring and invites questions and delight.

When people hear your company description, they should feel compelled to ask questions and want to be a part of what you are doing. They should be excited to tell others about your company.

Here are a few company description examples:

We bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world.  (A shoe and apparel company)

We make work more efficient, productive, and fun.

We end repetitive tasks to unleash employee creativity.

We connect the world. Safe, fast, and free.

We help everyone find their place in the world. (a real estate company)

Unlocking Nature. Enriching Life.  (A food company)

This will be the one thing prospective team members remember and repeats when people ask what your company does.

This is an example of a bad pitch line:

We are a marketing attribution platform designed to help marketers understand the true value of their marketing touches and their impact on the revenue and buyer’s journey.

The pitch line above is interesting but way too many words. This kind of extra information should be in your pitch deck, but as an introduction one liner it is way too long and unrepeatable.

You should also have a six-slide pitch deck that clearly shows the company’s reason for existing, what makes it different from others and more detail on what you do and your vision for the future. For more on this see Simon Sinek’s TED talk.

The smart way to build this downstream pitch is to test it on people and see how they react. If you don’t sense excitement then try a few other things to modify it so they get excited. Once you get to something that truly seems to inspire and delight people it is ready for mass consumption.

2. Pre-interview candidates by eMail before you schedule live interviews. Hire slow… Fire fast!

Hopefully a lot of candidate will apply for your job openings. No matter how their indication of interest comes into your company, plan to do a series of pre-interview questions to qualify potential candidate skills, motivation, interest in the position, and excitement about your company.

A good way to do this would be by eMailing the candidate a series of pre-interview questions for them to answer.

This is a great way to save time that could be wasted with a live interview of someone who may not be serious about your company, the position, or industry. The eMail you send back to the candidate should recap your downstream pitch then send them one of the questions below.

Do not set a deadline to answer the pre-interview questions. How fast the person answers is an interest/motivation indicator. After they answer one question, eMail some encouragement and the next question. When they do all three pre-interview questions, it’s time to schedule a live interview with you and your team. But only if they have done a good job on the pre-interview questions.

In my experience expect to see considerable drop off in interested candidates as you go through the three-question series.  These pre-interview questions should only require a one-page maximum response. The people that drop off were probably not really interest in your company or the position.

Here are sample pre-interview questions:

  • Please write a one-page overview of [your industry, company, or typical customer] and why you are interested in our company.
  • Please write a one or two-page story about something you are very proud of related to your career over the last few years.
  • Technical question – Send them a technical or position specific question that relates to the skills you require for the job.

All applicants should get these pre-interview questions. Even if the candidate’s background and experience is not an exact fit for your position, you should still send them the pre-interview question series. You just might find a diamond in the rough. Sometimes resumes and background do not accurately reflect what a person can really do for your company.  They might possibly be a fit for a future position.

There is a lot of information and tactics actual live interviews in the Hiring and Onboarding Cheatsheet so I won’t get into that here. But after you actually decide to add someone to your team then you need to onboard them…

3.  Effective onboarding and a one-page company policy “Cheat Sheet”.

Onboarding has three steps and starts after the candidate has accepted your job offer.

You have done the interviewing and selected your top candidate for the position contingent on your check of their background and references. After the candidate has accepted the job contingent on a background and reference check you can proceed with these two essential tasks. Do not hire anyone, no matter how much they impressed you, without doing these checks!

I am always surprised by how many companies hire without doing background and reference checks.  Do these checks quickly (within hours or days) just in case you need to rescind the offer and move to the next candidate because of learning something negative.

  • Background/reference check – Do a background check on the candidate using one of the many online services that can show you any past criminal offences and a summary of the candidate’s financial health. When you call the candidate’s references beside verifying employment dates, ask questions like the ones shown on the Hiring and Onboarding Cheatsheet section titled: “Example reference check questions”.
    Goal: Determine if the candidate has any past criminal offenses, habits, or character flaws that would be inconsistent with your expectations or company culture.
  • One Day Office Visit– Give the candidate the option to accept the offer contingent on a full day visit in your office. Let them test things out and rescind their acceptance if they determine they don’t want to take the job.
    Goal: Give the candidate a better feeling that the company has an open and interesting culture they would like.
  • Full Onboarding – A consistent glide path into the position, organization, and culture designed to help new people smoothly transition into the new job.
    Goal: Make joining your team as enjoyable/stress free as possible.

Starting a new job can be jarring for people. Especially if this is their first job after completing higher education or they are coming from a very different type of company. An easy way to keep the stress down is to create a one-page “Company Policy Cheatsheet”.

This “Cheatsheet” should show everything the new employee needs to know about company policies related to their job. Things like vacation time, sick time, hours of operation, pay periods and pay days, retirement program, emergency contacts, benefits, etc…

You don’t want the new employee wandering around after two weeks wondering when to expect getting paid. (<- This really happened)  It is essential that people have a clear understanding of company vacation and sick time benefits. What does unlimited vacation really mean?  What holidays are recognized by the company?

When these details are all in one place. Confusion and questions will be minimized along with stress.

4. Diversity is essential and can make magical things happen.

Your company can only be as strong as your team. If your team is composed of all the same type of people from the same backgrounds, education, political views, life experiences, etc…  the team will be weaker than a more diverse team.

A diverse team will better serve a diverse client/customer/user base and their needs. A non-diverse team will have blind spots and miss things.

A diverse team should spur more creativity and innovation. A report by Deloitte found that when employees ‘think their organization is committed to and supportive of diversity, and they feel included’, their ability to innovate increases by 83%.

A team comprised of people with different backgrounds, experiences and skills means the ideas generated by these teams won’t be homogenous – they’ll be innovative and creative. And this can have a significant impact on an organization’s bottom line; US public companies with a diverse executive board have a 95% higher return on equity than those with non-diverse boards, according to a McKinsey study.

Cognitively diverse teams solve problems faster than teams of cognitively similar people, according to research published in Harvard Business Review.

Diverse teams have also been found to make decisions 60% faster than non-diverse teams.

Companies with diverse teams have stronger brands both internally with team members and externally with partners and customers.

Sure, diverse teams may have more disagreements and more robust and lively debates but the results will better serve the company.

A diverse team will have fewer yes-people who can lead the company down the wrong path because they do not have a more diverse perspective.

Always strive to fill positions with the best candidates possible but be open to adding more diverse team members.  This will greatly increase your available talent pool.

Important… Having a diverse team is only half the task. The other half is actually valuing diverse opinions and points of view even when they might be very different from yours.


Hiring new team members has so many possible landmines. This can count for recruiting new mentors, board members and even consultants.  They may not be regular employees but you still need to go through the steps to source, interview, and engage them.

It takes a lot to get this right. That’s why we created a Hiring and Onboarding Cheatsheet with all the details.

Good luck with your adventures in hiring.

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