The 6 top mistakes startups make when hiring tech talent

By Anthony Sochan, Think & Grow

The global war for tech talent still rages, and it can lead companies to panic and grab candidates who aren’t a good fit. Startups in particular tend to make several key mistakes when hiring. In a small team, it can be all the more disastrous if you’ve hired the wrong person.

Here are six of the most common mistakes that we see founders make when hiring tech talent in Australia.

1. Poor Process

While running a startup can be lightning-paced with a need to grab tech talent urgently, you still need great hiring processes in place. Most people make the mistake in thinking process makes you ‘slow’ but in Silicon Valley it is very normal to turn around a new hire within 72hours. They are able to do this because their process is designed with speed in mind.

A great process will:

  • Allow you to move fast by creating structure
  • Allow you to benchmark candidates so you build your understanding of the skills, personalities, salary expectations and experiences people have in market
  • Ensure you are interviewing for skills and experience as well as cultural fit
  • Enable the candidate to ask questions and grow their knowledge of the role and business
  • Showcase a candidates strengths, weaknesses, motivations, and behaviours
  • Ensure you can reach a decision at the end of the process
2. Hiring for cultural fit over skills

Ensuring candidates are a strong cultural fit for your business is critical, but the biggest inhibitor to growth that we see is a lack of skill within an organisation. Great recruitment process is key to avoiding this death trap.

A few years ago, a well-known startup hired a VP of Engineering as he was the best cultural fit. The engineering team grew substantially and everybody loved working with this individual, but the team was not well run, which meant engineering wasn’t represented at executive meetings, in turn creating huge scaling issues. That startup now can’t make platform changes or roll out new features without a huge headache.

All in all, hiring for cultural fit over skill can be a very costly mistake.

3. Unstructured Interviews

It is very common for startups to “chat” with candidates, as most people have never been trained in conducting a well structured interview. A great interviewer will be able to determine what that person is great at, their achievements, their most common behavioural traits, motivations, salary expectations, and ultimately, their suitability for the position they are interviewing for all.

In addition, it will allow time for the interviewer to answer questions, and talk about the role and the company. Being able to exchange all this information within 60 minutes without a structure to the conversation is extremely difficult. A useful tip is to ask questions that are behavioural based such as “Tell me about how you learn new things?”. You then follow up with a minimum of another two layer of questions that drill into their answer at a deeper level.

This is a powerful way to understand how someone will behave in a given situation.

4. Failing to think global

Not enough Australian startups are looking globally for their tech talent. The problem is that Australians have grown up with a different definition of “great” compared with other places. In Silicon Valley, for example, success looks very different. By bringing in talented people who view the world in a different way, you get access to different thinking and ideas, which helps transform your business and drive growth. This is all the more important when you’re aspiring to build a global business.

It is challenging hiring from overseas. Government changes to visas have made it harder, and relocation packages can be expensive. However, there are talented people overseas interested in coming to Australia and they may be attracted by perks that are easy to offer here such as more annual leave (in the US, employees typically get two weeks as opposed to four weeks in Australia) or a better work-life balance.

5. Misunderstanding diversity

When thinking about diversity, people tend to consider it as only being about gender and race, but this is only part of the equation. It’s also about education, where someone grew up, their type of schooling and subjects. It’s about culture, world experience, different abilities and disabilities.

Startups also tend to have a huge bias on age – it’s seen as a “young person’s game” – but it’s a mistake to assume that hiring youth means lots of energy.

6. Poorly defined culture

Most startups are really bad at articulating their culture. The most common mistake we see is they focus on “how cool their office is” or “the employee perks” or buzzwords like “innovation”. Atlassian was one of the few companies that, from an early day, did this right: they defined their culture through the behaviours they were seeking from employees. This is encapsulated in their company values – this allows employees behaviour to be guided.

Ultimately, as a startup, you can’t afford to carry “dead wood”. In a small company, every person’s role is vital. You need a talented, motivated team, and hiring the right tech talent is critical if you want to succeed.

Anthony Sochan, co-founder of Think & Grow, helps Australian and international business with growth and transformation. His passion is growing early stage technology ventures, and since 2007 he has completed over 200 projects ranging from the organisational design of software engineering functions through to the placement of CTOs for some of the world’s most influential businesses.


This article was first published by Startup Daily