Hiring at Startups vs. Big Companies

Hiring at a startup was drastically different than at Facebook
Aditya Agarwal
▪︎ 5 minutes read time

When you’re hiring at any kind of established, large company, it’s easy to take for granted how many different parts of the funnel are all moving in concert to get you that hire. You may not even realize how many people are playing their role to keep that machine kicking.

When you get to a startup, none of that infrastructure exists. And that means that a small number of people are going to have to play all those roles themselves. No matter how much FAANG* recruiting you’ve done, you have to be more creative and work from first principles. You quickly realize how precise, targeted, and efficient you need to be to not take up too much relative time from everyone just for hiring.

Starting with sourcing, it doesn’t matter your personal brand or how much you believe you’re going to change the world with your particular startup. At a small startup versus a well-known large company, there’s an information asymmetry about what the world knows about you. With only five or six, maybe ten people, no matter what, your relative network is only so big. What I was used to for attracting people at the top of the funnel at Facebook became much harder at a new startup.

When we started Cove*, Ruchi and I started canvassing our entire network, and we realized when you take away non-solicitation agreements and people who aren’t a good fit, suddenly the size of the pool becomes a lot smaller. This was humbling because we’d done it for so long in our careers, and then we had to start from first principles and doing it from scratch. We had to get creative. We had to figure out the channels that resonated with our small set of candidates, and at our particular stage.

When we moved on to interviewing we also realized two things when we brought in someone for a full slate of interviews:

  1. Our time commitment was significant: We didn’t have many interviewers so everyone had to interview every candidate.
  2. The stakes were high: The monetary and opportunity costs of turning down a good candidate (false negative) are much higher. In addition, the cost of a poor hire (false positive) was also significant.

At a small company, you have to be vigilant to get the right read on a candidate because the costs are so high.

One common pitfall startups make is this attitude like, “Oh, we are small. Each additional hire will bring bandwidth and cultural evolution.” They become way too comfortable with the false negative—it’s too easy to say no. Yes, each hire is critical, but don’t forget how critical the false negative is because of how small the top of the funnel is. Instead, you must go in looking to get a good read and not be comfortable with the chance of a false negative.

One of the nice things at a small startup is that interview feedback and debrief is easier, you can get by with less process because you can circle up with everyone quickly and make a decision. You can be lightweight yet thorough, so you don’t have to schedule lots of meetings and have a big feedback loop.

Lastly, closing candidates can also be really hard. Most of the time, it’s a pretty drastic change to get someone from a larger company to come on board early. It can be a slog. For us, it was also humbling that every new hire brought up things we hadn’t considered or dealt with yet. Something particular about benefits, or some other curveball you have to deal with.

For me, moving to a startup really drove home the point that you know you’re not going to get things for free based on a well-oiled machine, so you have to be more diligent and structured about it.

Unlock expert knowledge.
Learn in depth. Get instant, lifetime access to the entire book. Plus online resources and future updates.
If you found this post worthwhile, please share!