Once a tech organisation has proven the potential of their product and secured the first significant round of funding, they typically need to scale upwards. This invariably means increasing headcount significantly in a short period of time from 20 people to 60 or 100 to 150 or more, within months.
Most will find that their existing hiring methods can’t cope with demand. Personal recommendations simply do not generate enough high-quality candidates quickly enough. They will also find that advertising positions fails to attract the calibre of tech people they need – only 2 to 5% of these active job seekers will be a successful hire and without an employer brand built yet it will be difficult to attract the calibre of talent required to build the next big thing.
But as these businesses try and change the way they hire to help them scale successfully, a number of challenges must first be overcome.
1. A lack of internal structure
Start-ups typically lack well-established internal structures like HR – but when headcount triples, there needs to be a framework for handling personnel. Once they hit the point of scaling, many businesses suddenly realise they haven’t fully planned what they need. Do they need an HR Director? A Head of people? How are they going to attract and retain the people who will help to deliver growth?
These questions need to be answered before recruitment begins, or the organisation could fail if it cannot build product quickly enough.
2. An inconsistent understanding of “who we are”
As they scale upwards, some tech organisations experience an identity crisis.
‘Who are we? What are we trying to do? And who do we need to hire to reach those goals?’
Without a definite brand mission, it’s very hard to attract (or keep) talent. Your leadership team needs to define the story now, because it’s almost impossible to retrofit one that works after the organisation has matured beyond a certain point. Research estimates that 9 out 10 businesses entering a period of scaling get this aspect wrong – and they suffer as a result, shedding employees who feel misled or don’t “fit”.
3. The wrong people conduct interviews
In a sector full of the next potential Tech Unicorn you may need to reach out to 2000 high quality passive candidates just to make 20 hires – which takes a heavy toll on internal resources. Which begs the question – what effect will this have on product development? Can you afford to take that hit? Can you afford to lower the bar in terms of technical capability and cultural fit?
Many businesses also make the mistake of leaving the Founder to conduct final interviews. Trying to fit multiple interviews into their busy schedule can add weeks to the hiring process – by which time you may lose the brightest prospects to better prepared competitors.
Instead, your Founder needs to be able to bottle up their vision and hand responsibility for hiring over to a specialist or a relevant level within their organisation. Obviously the Founder should be free to advise, but the rest of the process should be hands-off.
4. The wrong benchmarks are being used at interview
Before beginning interviews, hiring teams need a very clear understanding of who they are looking for, and what they expect candidates to be able to do. Every new hire needs to be technically proficient and a good fit for the company’s culture.
Often the “bars” used to ascertain capabilities are left undefined, which means that each interviewer is assessing against their own understanding of that standard. This creates an unbalanced recruitment process – and many organisations never realise the problem until they audit existing staff and realise that the bar has been set too high (or too low).
Worse still, candidates who don’t fit, don’t stay. Which puts a brake on growth.
The secret? Plan ahead
It is no exaggeration to say that scaling tech organisations face immense competition for the strongest candidates. They must be able to catch the attention of the brightest tech talent, or risk losing out to better prepared competitors.
With preparation and expert assistance, none of these challenges is insurmountable. But an early mistake could have a significant negative effect on your growth plans.