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Why is startup hiring hard?

Why Is Startup Hiring So Damn Hard?

It was 10pm, and I was searching LinkedIn.

“Isn’t it past your bedtime?” my husband said. Usually, I fall asleep on the couch at 9:45 – I’m very much a morning person.

“I’ll go in a bit. I just want to see if I can find a few more sales candidates.”

At midnight, I gave up. I’d reached out to a few people, but I didn’t know if they’d get back to me. And that 5:25AM alarm feels very early sometimes.

I was exhausted the next day, when I was trying to write blog posts & generate leads. Probably didn’t do my best work. And that next night, I was at it again – only it was AngelList rather than LinkedIn.

Does this feel like your life when you’re trying to hire? Or maybe it feels like the life of folks on your team. Hiring in a startup just feels damn hard.

Why does it feel so hard?

It’s a candidates’ market

It seems like every company in technology is trying to hire for developers, sales, and marketing right now. Each sales candidate I’ve been talking to has multiple offers to consider, which makes it tough to find the right fit on a seed-stage startup budget.

I’m just feeling the pain with finding candidates for  sales roles, but if you’re trying to hire for tech, it gets well nigh impossible. Even amazing recruiters are having some trouble these days. A recruiter (who wishes to remain anonymous) said it best:

I am having a very tough time right now as are most of my recruiter friends. It’s not that I am not genuinely trying and reaching out to tons of people. It’s just that there are only so many folks in this space, most of those folks are at companies where they are tied to stock or RSU’s, happy, just changed roles, etc. which really limits the number of candidates who are open to new roles. Then once we get them interested, my client has to have a compelling enough offer to close them and that comes down to their offer against other offers which as you know is almost like buying a house in a hot housing market. I can help, and I do, but if a candidates like a company and a team more at one place vrs. Another, I can’t change that, I can only speak to the benefits of my client company.

I can and do discuss ways to generate more candidate flow through postings or job board access, but that does not even come with a guarantee. I [know other] recruiters working at companies and they are using staffing firms to augment their internal recruiting teams and their teams are big. This is not about making excuses. I won’t just send candidates to my clients for the sake of candidate flow.  The candidates I send are ones I feel would be of genuine interest to my clients, hence doing the job I was hired to do: screen candidates and present ones of genuine interest to them because they don’t have time to screen candidates. For every one candidate I submit to a client you can bet I spoke to or screened out over 50 candidates…and that might be low.  This market is the toughest market I have EVER recruited in.

It’s quite an involved process

Hiring has a ton of moving parts. Our CEO talked about it here, and we go into more of the whys and wherefores on our website. So you have to go through all the scoping & sourcing & screening & selecting. You have to figure out how to track that – since most startups can’t afford a fancy-schmancy applicant tracking system – and keep everyone on the same page. You have to manage to actually be polite to candidates whether you want to hire them or not, and you have to handle all of this on top of your “real” job.

Frankly, I’m tired. And I’ve definitely dropped the ball a few times (trying to track in two different places + email was just dumb, I admit). Even if you’ve hired hundreds of people, you’ll find that you learn new things every time, which creates its own challenges (and mistakes).

Decision fatigue

We all make thousands of decisions each day in our “real” jobs. And I don’t know about you, but I’m fairly accustomed to making those decisions. It doesn’t really phase me to switch around a blog calendar or kill off an A/B test. I’m totally cool with figuring out which direction to go with a marketing campaign or management decision.

Unlike our “job” decision muscles, though, we haven’t worked our “candidate” decision muscles nearly as much.  So while I’ll rarely second-guess switching up a lead nurturing campaign, I find myself wondering whether candidates A and B were more alike than I thought. Should I have rejected them both? Accepted them both? Agh. At some point, you can’t make decisions quickly anymore – it’s exhausting.


I’ve made this fairly clear above, but the #1 reason startup hiring is damn hard is that the reason you need to hire is that there’s a crap-ton to do and not enough people to do it! Why else would you be hiring, anyhow? Fun? Pfft.

I adore startups. I obviously adore this startup. I live & breathe RecruitLoop. But, as one of my teammates pointed out, “You’re doing full-time recruitment on top of your full-time job. I’d be shocked if you didn’t feel tired.”

I’m sure I’ve missed a few reasons why startup hiring is damn hard, but these are the reasons it’s hard for me personally right now.

One thing that has helped a ton, though, is that some of our recruiters are helping me out. Not to blatantly hint or anything, but their hourly rates aren’t the worst trade-off for a couple of extra hours of sleep a night.  Just sayin’… 😉

Image courtesy of Melissa O’Donohue.

Head of Growth at RecruitLoop. Previously at Amazon & HubSpot. Passionate about growing humans and companies, working out, and wine. Also blogs on leadership at Follow her @jennsteele.