“Recruiting has to be your top priority.”

If you’re a startup founder, you hear this a lot. Like, a lot a lot.

And it’s true. Recruiting does have to be your top priority. But so do 100 other things that can easily consume every waking second of your day. As with everything else in a founder’s life, successful startup recruiting comes down to time management. Unfortunately, as a general rule of thumb, human beings suck at time management. It’s hard, and we often don’t know where to begin. It would be much easier if someone could help us determine the most effective way to spend our time to ensure we maximize hiring results.

Fortunately, when it comes to recruiting for your startup, someone has.

Each year, SilkRoad releases a report ranking the top sources of hire. It’s a great tool that helps recruiters understand where their counterparts are finding success. In 2016, the results broke down as follows:

  • Employee Referral Programs - 22% of hires
  • Job Boards and Job Search Engines - 31% of hires
  • Online Career Pages - 11% of hires
  • Internal Promotions - 11% of hires
  • Other Channels - 25% of hires

We’re going to use the latest iteration of this report to provide a fact-based plan for founders who need to make the most of their limited recruiting bandwidth without sacrificing results. We’ll show you what to focus on, and how much of your time to dedicate to each task. The tactics we’ll cover here accounted for more 75% of hires in 2016, so pay attention. Once you learn how to maximize your time, recruiting will be one less thing keeping you up at night.



This piece of advice may seem obvious, but we’re starting here because we see people ignore this step. All. The. Time.

We sympathize with the position in which many founders find themselves. If you’re reading this article, you can probably relate, too. Work needs to be done, deadlines need to be met and investors need to see progress. With so much pressure on their shoulders, founders often find themselves backed into a corner, forced to make a hire right now rather than holding out for the right candidate for their startup.

That’s a mistake.

Sure, if you hold out for that one-in-a-million unicorn candidate you’ll probably never find them, but hiring the first person to come along without a solid understanding of what you need out of the candidate is a risky move.

The simplest way to ensure this doesn’t happen is by taking some time up front to clearly define the role and the ideal candidate. Thankfully, defining a position before making a hire isn’t all that difficult. It just takes a little time. Lock yourself in a quiet room, set aside any distractions and answer these questions:

  • What will the new hire be responsible for? Get specific here. Make sure you understand exactly what this hire will be responsible for achieving and can effectively communicate this information to candidates.
  • What will their core duties consist of? How will the candidate accomplish their primary responsibilities? What will their day-to-day duties consist of? Again, be specific.
  • What skills and experience are absolutely mandatory? It’s ok to expect the ideal candidate to bring specific skills and experience to the table, but make sure you’ve defined the must-haves before recruiting.  
  • Where are you willing to compromise? Like we said, those unicorn candidates are few and far between, so make sure you understand where you’re willing to bend. Does the right attitude outweigh a skills gap or lack of experience? You’ll have to be the judge.

Expending 20% of your recruiting bandwidth on a task that won’t directly result in a hire may seem excessive, but it will pay off down the line. Once you’ve answered these questions, you’ll be ready to start the hiring process.




Per SilkRoad’s research, employee referral programs accounted for 22% of hires in 2016, so we’re allocating the largest block of your time to this function. 30% of your bandwidth may seem like a big investment in a single channel, but the benefits of an employee referral program are well worth your time and effort.

What are those benefits, you ask? Let’s take a look at some numbers.

Jobvite conducted research into the results of an effective employee referral program, and the findings highlight the importance of this recruiting channel.

  1. Referrals are efficient - Referred candidates represent a huge percentage of all hires, which is even more impressive when you consider only 7% of referred candidates end up applying.
  2. Referrals are fast - Referred candidates are on the job faster — just 29 days, on average — than applicants sourced through other channels.
  3. Referred employees stick around - 46% of referred candidates remain with the company for more than one year, 45% stay more than two years and 47% more than three years.

These numbers are impressive, but a great employee referral program doesn’t just happen. It’s up to you to lay the groundwork that will ensure your program pays dividends in the form of qualified hires for your startup. Your employee referral program will yield better returns if you start with a clear plan. What are you trying to accomplish? How are you going to incentivize referrals? How are you going to promote the program? If you’re ready to get started, check out some of these tips and resources for building an effective employee referral program.

But what if you’re recruiting for a small startup with a limited (or nonexistent) pool of employees to draw from? Referrals come in many forms and you aren’t limited to the team you’ve already built. Consider some of the following resources:  

  • Your personal network - Every single person you know is a potential hire, or knows someone who may be, so don’t be afraid to ask your own network for referrals or introductions. It’s the easiest place to start, and will instantly expose your startup to a larger pool of potential candidates.  
  • Investors - If you’re working with investors, you already have access to a group of people with a vested interest in your success. Some VCs will get their hands dirty by taking an active role in recruiting talent to their portfolio companies, and virtually all of them will be more than happy to refer candidates from their own networks, so leverage this relationship for all it’s worth.
  • Outside referrals - Companies that cast a wider net generate 28% more hires from referrals over employee-only programs, so don’t hesitate to get everyone involved. Former employees, vendors and even customers can help you make your next all-star hire, so keep an open mind.




Collectively, job boards and job search engines (also known as aggregators) account for more than 30% of all hires, but we’re recommending you dedicate more bandwidth to your employee referral program. What gives? After all, employee referral programs account for fewer hires. Well, my friend, it all comes down to semantics.

Despite the similar names, job boards and aggregators are actually two different channels, which means that 31% figure is cumulative. Let’s cover the basics of each platform for some more insight. Those of you with a recruiting background can probably skip this section, but it never hurts to bone up on the fundamentals:

Job Aggregators

Job aggregators behave much the same as traditional search engines. Automated programs called bots scour the internet for open positions and use proprietary algorithms to list their results under one roof. Because they’re automated, aggregators are able to collect hundreds of thousands of job listings in one location, making them attractive to some job seekers.

Job Boards

Job boards, on the other hand, are human driven. Recruiters partner with job boards to promote their open positions, typically to a highly targeted audience likely to deliver more qualified candidates. While this process is more labor intensive, it allows recruiters to fine-tune their recruiting process. Niche job boards can get job posts in front of the right candidates, leading to a faster time-to-hire and driving efficiency.

Whether you choose to go with a job board, aggregator, or both, there are some basic tips that will help you improve hiring results:

  • Leverage industry-specific options - The biggest job boards and aggregators boast the most users, but they feature job postings for thousands of different industries. As a result, you may find very few candidates who actually fit your criteria. Thankfully there are hundreds of niche job boards out there (literally) that cater to just about every industry you can imagine. For the best results, find one that aligns with your sector.
  • Account for your location - Keep location in mind when posting to job boards and aggregators. National resources will attract the most job seekers, but applicants could be located just about anywhere. If you aren’t willing to pay relocation fees or wait for out-of-market candidates to relocate themselves, you’ll want to find a resource that’s targeted to your region.
  • Write a killer job description - Sometimes it helps to think of job boards and aggregators in terms of window shopping. Customers — or job seekers, in this case — have plenty of options, so you’ll need something that captures their attention to get them in the door. That “something” is your job description. Once again, you’ll be happy you defined the role before recruiting, as that information will make this process much easier. For the most important tips, download our guide to writing a kickass job description and start practicing.



Other than your product, your startup’s website may be its most valuable asset. It’s how you sell to potential customers, market your offerings, and, if properly executed, it can also be a top recruiting channel. SilkRoad found that careers pages account for 11% of hires, which isn’t surprising given that 47% of job seekers rely on this channel to find job opportunities.

A well-crafted careers page can be the gift that keeps on giving. It’s a relatively passive form of recruitment that can produce high-quality candidates with just a basic level of maintenance required. That being said, you have to ensure your page is up to snuff, so start with these basic tips:

  • Make user experience your top priority - A confusing user experience will turn off potential hires, so make sure your careers page is intuitive and easy to use. Make your jobs easy to find and reduce any unnecessary clutter that doesn’t benefit the user.   
  • Showcase your culture - Your careers page should be more than a list of open positions. It’s your opportunity to showcase your unique company culture — the top priority of 66% of job seekers. But make sure to avoid common careers page cliches, as candidates will see right through them.
  • Don’t be afraid to stand out - There are a lot of careers pages out there, and it can be easy to get lost in the shuffle. It takes a unique approach to grab the attention of interested job seekers, so roll up your sleeves and get creative. If you need some inspiration, check out our 2016 Employer Brand Look Book. It features 20 examples of what we consider to be the best careers pages in tech. You’re sure to come away with a few new ideas.



If this article wasn’t tailored to startup recruiting, this would likely be at the top of our list. Internal promotions account for only 11% of “hires,” but this is arguably the best source of qualified and motivated candidates. Your existing employees are already on board and have bought into your startup. They know the company, they know the product, and they’ll be able to hit the ground running on day one.

When it comes to startups, however, there usually aren’t that many employees to promote. The average startup — especially a young startup — likely has a small team of people who are already wearing multiple hats. You probably won’t have too many people to choose from, and if you promote one you’ll almost certainly have to backfill their former position, which means you’ll be hiring regardless.

That being said, learning how to identify and nurture your existing talent is one of the most important things a founder can do to set their startup on a firm foundation for continued success. Check out some of these resources, and start thinking about how to get even more out of your existing team.




The fundamentals we covered here accounted for more than 75% of all hires in 2016 and serve as the perfect playbook for any startup founder looking to grow their team in 2017. Startup recruiting isn’t easy, and the allure of a shortcut is always enticing, but if you nail these fundamental tactics you’ll never have to cut corners. Put these best practices to work and you’ll be on your way to building a team that will position your startup for success today and for years to come.

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