Recruiting is a core part of a founder's role at any stage of growth. However, at the seed stage, the time a founder dedicates to recruiting tends to be higher. Founders need to be hands-on in the process and drive candidate engagement. Seed founders should anticipate spending 50-70% of their time identifying and engaging potential candidates.
Early on and before a demonstrated product market fit, candidates are making a bet on you as the founder and your founding team. It's critical that you create an engaging and structured process that both inspires and instills confidence in the company's trajectory.
Your first hires set the tone for your company culture and influence all future hires. Candidates, customers, and investors will evaluate your core team when considering working with you.
To ensure you are building the right team, start by clearly defining what "good" looks like.
Seed Hiring Tips
If You Can’t Describe It, You Can’t Find It
Identify specific and measurable skills and behaviors to evaluate. Don't count on your "gut" to determine hire-ability.
Calibrate With Experts
If it's your first time hiring for a function, talk to experts to understand how the best operators think and act. Investors, fellow founders, and executive search partners are great targets for connections.
Value Skills over Prestige
An Ivy league school or big tech company experience is not a proxy for success at your company. The skills needed to be successful in an early stage startup are often very different of a big company, i.e., Google.
Soft Skills Matter
Behavioral competencies, like communication and persistence, are just as important as technical aptitude. Identify which soft skills are important to your team.
One toxic hire can kill an early stage company. If a candidate does not demonstrate your values, do not hire them.
Building a Hiring Profile
Hiring is a time-intensive endeavor for companies of any stage. Ensuring your process is well-defined from the start will cut down on team interview cycles, candidate sourcing/outreach costs, and declined offers or mis-hires.
- Unstructured interviews are terrible at predicting success in a role. Research shows that they are only ~14% accurate in predicting employee performance.
- An inconsistent process allows unconscious bias to drive hiring decisions and will negatively impact diversity & inclusion.
- Interviewing takes significant team time. For early stage companies, expect to spend 40-70+ interview hours per hire.
To reduce wasted cycles and give your team the best chance at making a great hire, companies should aim to outline their entire hiring process, from role requirements through the offer process, before reaching out to a single candidate.
Hiring Process Overview
- Define Your Why: Why are we hiring for this role, and what does this person need to accomplish to be successful?
- Identify Critical Skill Sets: What are the key skills needed to succeed in this role?
- Build Your Job Description and Employee Brand: How are attracting the right talent to join our company?
- Create your Inbound and Outbound Strategy: How are we finding candidates who may succeed in the role?
- Develop Interview Questions & Ratings: How are we identifying and measuring those critical skills? How are we making this process repeatable and consistent for every candidate?
- Discuss Feedback as a Group: What rating scale are we using to normalize feedback? How quickly do we come together as a group to make a decision?
Defining the Role
One of the most important stages in a successful hiring process is clearly defining the role and competencies needed to succeed in the position.
Define what hard and soft skills a hire will need to get the job done and support the existing team. Focus less on what traits will allow for “fitting in” with the team and more on the traits that will “add to” the team.
Requirements Should Include:
- Job Title
- Hiring Location
- Reporting Manager & Team
- Level/ Years of Experience
- Pay Band
- Core Responsibilities in the Role
- How Will Success in the Role Be Measured
- Hard/ Technical Skills (3-6)
- Soft Skills (2-4)
- Relevant Past Projects/ Experience
- Target Companies
- Why this Role is Exciting
Identify Core Competencies
Core competencies are skills, knowledge, characteristics, or attributes needed for the candidate to excel at a role. We recommend selecting 2-4 per role.
Job Descriptions & Employment Brand
A well-written job description has a clear voice and inspiring description of the company and role. Long or overly complicated job descriptions can actually be a turnoff to potential candidates; it's best to keep it simple and engaging.
Job descriptions are less about listing requirements and more about creating a compelling narrative about why someone would want to work with you.
Descriptions Should Include
- Company & Team Overview: Who you are, and why the problem you are solving as a company is interesting.
- Impact: What impact will the new hire make on the company, and what roles and responsibilities will they own.
- Critical Skills: Skills and qualifications that will make someone successful in this role.
- Company Benefits: Why is working here awesome? Highlight benefits, perks, culture, etc.
- Generic and uninteresting role descriptions.
- Long lists of criteria. If it’s not an absolute must, don’t include it on the list of qualifications. Candidates who may be qualified but take the posting literally may self-select out.
Employment brand is the image or perception of your company within the industry. This can relate to any aspect of the business but tends to center around core values, culture, leadership, brand, and product. To resonate with candidates, it must be authentic. The goal should be to make every potential candidate interested in working for the company regardless of their qualifications. Here are some best practices:
- Consider every interaction with a candidate as a sales opportunity; make them want to work with you from day 1.
- Recruiting is everyone’s job. Showcase the quality of your team, but be sure to train interviewers on how to evaluate AND sell. Each interaction between a team member and a candidate or peer within the industry is a potential opportunity to sell your company dream.
- Leverage all available platforms. Make yourself visible on all platforms candidates, customers, and investors use for research. While many companies display their employment brand through their company website, your brand should reach far beyond your company's site. This includes building out your LinkedIn, managing Glassdoor, developing a voice on Twitter, and having a variety of online articles that you can direct potential candidates to.
- Use the same marketing copy across all roles & platforms.
- Share recent press coverage.
- Highlight key investors, advisors, and/or customers.
An effective employment brand should seek to resonate with both current and future employees, giving a view into what it looks like to work on your team.
Build Your Company Career Page
Your company's careers page serves as place to sell your brand to potential hires. Focus on highlighting employee programs and initiatives that are core to your company culture. Examples might include: ongoing learning credits, employee resource groups, wellness programs, community outreach opportunities, etc. Leverage pictures, videos, and employee quotes whenever possible.
Develop a Recruiting Kit
Consider turning parts of your online career page into a shareable PDF that can be customized by role. This can include information about the specific hiring team (who they are and an interesting fact about each), basic information about the hiring process, a high-level overview of benefits/perks, information about company values & culture, and anything unique about the company. This document can be used throughout the process to tell the recruit more about the company and prepare them for next steps in the hiring process.
Empower Interviewers to Talk About the Company
For potential candidates, the company culture is most clearly seen through the interview process. Give each interviewer example talking points about the company values, the company origin story, founder backgrounds, and unique aspects about the business. Insist that all interviewers leave time for questions and are highly-engaged throughout the interview process.
Invite Candidates to a Company or Team Event
As many interviews move to a fully or mostly-remote process, candidates can miss out on important team and office interactions. Inviting high-potential candidates to All-Hands meetings, non-confidential working sessions, or a team-building exercise can provide a great view into the team dynamics and company culture without relying on in-person lunches or office tours.
Provide Insight Into the Onboarding Process
For passive candidates (those who are only casually looking into new roles), the idea of ramping up into a new company and learning new ways to do things can be daunting. Minimize any uncertainty by giving an overview of your onboarding process. Mentioning buddy systems, learning programs, and what their first month might look like can help give candidates an idea about how supported they will be once they join.
For additional information about employee onboarding, check out our Onboarding Guide here.
Candidate outreach is a numbers game and requires a scalable process to do well. Seed companies typically lack the brand awareness to drive inbound applications, which means they have to spend additional time reaching out to passive candidates.
Avoid the common founder mistake of manually managing your candidate pipeline and implement tooling to minimize operational overhead.
Tips for Sourced Candidates
Carefully Craft Your Messaging
Most tech workers relieve dozens of recruiting emails a day; many are generic and uninteresting. Your response rates will increase if you create compelling and personalized messaging.
Use an Email Automation Tool
Most responses come to your 3rd or 4th email. It’s impossible to manage email sequences manually; luckily, there are easy-to-use automation tools.
Tips for Inbound Candidates
Have a Consistent Presence Across Platforms
Your biggest challenge at seed stage is being perceived as a viable company. Using consistent and high-quality messaging across platforms will increase your odds of someone applying.
Be Visible Through Writing and Speaking Engagements
Many communities have their own closely followed blogs, podcasts, and communities. Creating compelling content can increase awareness and drive inbound applications.
Sourcing & Outreach
In a Lightspeed study, we found that hires tend to come from what we refer to as “Happy Thirds”: 1/3 sourced (outbound outreach), 1/3 inbound (job boards & applicants), 1/3 referrals (candidates referred by existing employees). In order to maximize your potential for finding the right candidates, we recommend spreading out your engagement channels through job boards, referral programs, team sourcing efforts, a built out employment page on your website, and potentially outsourced recruiting agencies.
Reaching out to passive candidates is time-consuming, but is well worth the effort. Sourced candidates are hired at twice the rate of inbound candidates. Sourcing platforms provide recruiters and hiring managers with tools to filter, identify, and reach out to potential candidates.
While LinkedIn is the most common tool, LinkedIn In-mails tend to produce low response rates. For scaled hiring, we recommend pairing LinkedIn Recruiter with a sourcing tool like GEM to identify personal emails and manage outreach campaigns.
All companies should implement an automated outreach tool to maximize their efforts.
Sourcing Tools by Stage
Candidate Management Tools by Stage
Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) or Candidate Management systems help users manage candidates throughout the interview process.
Job Boards & Applicants
Although job boards are not the most consistent mechanism to find qualified leads, they are a good way to get your company name out into the candidate sphere. We recommend leveraging several job boards (try the free ones first) and posting jobs on Lightspeed's Portfolio Job Board.
- University Career Pages
Recruiting agencies deliver widely variable results, but may be necessary if other hiring channels fall short. It’s critical to only work with trusted agencies referred by someone who has used them recently.
Recruiting for early team members at seed companies is hard and few agencies are willing to take on those searches. Due to the difficulty, the most effective fee model is “container”, a small portion of the fee upfront, which is outlined below.
Only Use Vetted Agencies
Once funding is announced, many search firms will reach out to offer support. Very few are likely to have demonstrated success at seed stage hiring. Ask Lightspeed or a trusted source for referrals.
Account for the Hiring Fees in Your Ops Plan
Typical placement fees for individual contributors are 25-30% of the first year salary. Budget 10-20% of hires coming from agencies to avoid unexpected cash burn.
Only Work with 1-2 Agencies on Any Individual Role
Too many agencies results in overlapping candidate outreach, operational overhead to manage
Container is the Best Model for Seed
Seed searches are time consuming and difficult. Contingency, pay for placement, does not incentive personalized candidate outreach. Paying part of the fee upfront is the best way to align incentives.
Agencies & Outsourced Hiring
Building a candidate pipeline takes considerable time, but supplementing with agency recruiters can decrease these cycles and broaden your candidate pool. The downside is agency recruiters are expensive, vary widely in quality, and can be operationally challenging to manage. There are several models of agency recruiter, each with a different use case. It’s important to ensure you match the right model with your needs.
Tips for Choosing the Right Model:
- More is not better. Choose the right resource and provide extensive feedback.
- Only work with recruiters that have been vetted by an investor, fellow founder, or trusted source.
- When using contingency search, never work with more than 2-3 firms on any particular role. This will help you to avoid overlapping candidate outreach, which can damage your recruitment brand.
Outsourced Recruiting Models
Below is a chart that outlines the various types of outsourced recruiting models and their best use cases.
Mining your network for referrals is the most effective way to hire early team members. Most founders only think of their 1st-degree connections; employees, former co-workers, classmates, and friends. Methodically mining your 2nd and 3rd-degree connections for referrals will significantly increase your candidate pool.
Tips for Referrals
Think Past Your 1st-degree Connections
Don’t hesitate to ask anyone and everyone for referrals. A few underutilized channels are asking advisors and investors for referrals, requesting that candidates suggest people in their network, and requesting fellow founders to send candidates they didn't have the headcount to hire.
Make it Easy For People to Refer
Take the work out of referring. Provide template language your network can use, provide a list of their LinkedIn connections you want to meet, and clearly define the skills/roles you are seeking.
Employee Referral Programs
Employee referrals are the lifeblood of any growing company. Referrals save enormous amounts of sourcing effort, have a faster time-to-close, lower cost per hire, and generally stay with the company longer. Building an employee referral program early on is a great way to take the pressure off other hiring channels.
Tips For Effective Referral Programs
Candidate referrals should be the starting point for all hiring efforts. Encourage your teams to reach out to their networks before kicking off any agency or sourcing work.
Help employees think about their networks in a structured way. Coming up with the top 10 people you have ever worked with is a challenging exercise. Asking about great people from past projects, community events, and speaking engagements can yield far more interesting results.
A strong referral program is a direct representation of a healthy company culture; people refer when they are happy at work. Make the referral process exciting and transparent, and don't underestimate the power of public recognition. Congratulating new hires and their referrers during company all-hands meetings is a great place to start.
If you are in the early stages of building a referral program, a simple way to gain momentum is through a referral party — a 1-hour sourcing session where team members contribute as many quality leads as possible. The goal is to generate candidate leads for 1–2 priority roles and remind everyone about the importance of referring.
Tips for Effective Referral Parties
- Keep it Short: Keep the referral party to 1 hour; everyone tends to lose interest during anything longer.
- Stick to Priority Roles Only: Stick to 1–2 priority jobs and remind the team to stay on task.
- Don't Run A Company-Wide Event: Keep the group manageable, no more than 30 people. This will allow time for questions and real-time feedback throughout.
- Prep Ahead of Time: Take the time to find example profiles and create LinkedIn search strings for the team. This can easily be done by building a simple search in regular LinkedIn (not Recruiter) and copying the URL of the search results. Example: 1st Connections & Example: 2nd Connections
- Make it a Competition: There should be a prize for the person who contributes the most leads — Amazon Gift Cards are a crowd favorite.
Interviewing is both an art and a science. Interview skills develop through planning and repetition, which is often at odds with time-strapped teams. Spending effort upfront to properly define a role and document an interview process will save time in the long run.
There Are No Shortcuts
The earlier you are in demonstrating product market fit, the more time you will spend selling candidates early in the process. Unfortunately, this must be founder-led and will take a significant amount of your time.
Senior Candidates Will Expect a More Bespoke Experience
There is no one size fits all process. Your “dream” candidate may need multiple conversations before they are willing to commit to a formal interview process.
Understand Each Candidate’s Motivations
Personalizing the process and candidate pitch will improve your ability to hire top talent. Ensure you spend time identifying their unique goals and motivations.
Sell at Each Stage
It’s easy to forget that candidates are evaluating you as well. Develop a compelling sales pitch and incorporate it at each stage of the process.
Write Down the Plan
Document everything about the role, requirements, interview process, and suggested questions. Creating a hiring plan is the best way to ensure alignment.
Train Future Interviewers
It’s common to assume employees know how to evaluate and sell candidates effectively. Most people need training and guidance to be effective interviewers. Start by having new interviewers shadow experienced folks.
Developing an Interview Process
Before you talk to your first candidate, a clear interview process should be defined and communicated to all members of the interview team. This will reduce the amount of time each team member has to spend preparing for each candidate conversation and ensure that the right skills are being assessed in each conversation.
Outlining your Interview Process
Define your interview stages and assign owners for each interview topic. As a startup, speed and personalization are your biggest advantages over larger companies.
Stage 1: Initial Interview
This may come in the form of a phone, video, or onsite meeting.
- Goal: Determine if the candidate is worth investing the team's time for a full skills assessment onsite.
- Common Mistake: Trying to make a hiring decision with limited data points.
Stage 2: Primary Interviews
This stage may encompass onsite interviews and assignments/presentations.
- Goal: Make a hiring decision after accessing skills and value fit.
- Common Mistake: Using an unstructured process, inconsistent interview teams, and leveraging unclear decision-making criteria.
Stage 3: Pre-Close
This stage allows you to discover any lingering concerns and make one more sell for the role and company.
- Goal: Address any final concerns and reaffirm why the candidate should work with you.
- Common Mistake: Skipping this stage and making an offer before the candidate is ready.
Stage 4: Offer
This stage is when you deliver the official offer letter and details.
- Goal: Communicate the offer details with a compelling story about potential value.
- Common Mistake: Only sharing the offer details without explaining potential equity value.
Preparing Your Interviewers
- Develop Your "Pitch": Every interviewer should be able to speak to the company "pitch" — why, when, who, and how.
- Assign Focus Areas: Each interviewer should be responsible for assessing a specific skill set & competency. Outline questions and examples of great, average, and poor answers.
- Provide a Conversation Outline: Interviewing can be stressful for the candidate and interviewer. Provide all interviewers with a high-level interview outline to help keep the conversation flowing.
- Schedule Feedback Sessions: Schedule feedback sessions as close follow-ups to the interview. This ensures no context is lost and that you have timely follow-ups with candidates. Every day counts when extending an offer.
There are generally 4 categories these motivators fall into: Market/Mission, Team, Product, and Upside. All candidates have one or two key motivators when it comes to considering taking a new job.
Your company pitch should be able to address all 4, and interviewers should consistently try to identify which motivator is the prime decision criteria for the candidate. Once you know what motivates them, adjust your pitch to directly address those criteria.
Build an interview plan that outlines the schedule, core competencies, which interviewer is assigned to which focus area, and questions they should cover.
The interview should feel like a flowing conversation and build on itself. Make sure to start with small talk, tell the candidate about your role and experience at the company, and leave time for questions.
- Small Talk: “How’s your day going so far?”
- Topic Opener: “Tell me about your current role. In a few sentences, give me a brief outline of your main responsibilities.”
- SARLA: Situation, Action, Result, Learning, Application - “Let’s talk about a major accomplishment in your current role.”
- Self-Assessment: "How were you able to.../ If I talked to...?"
- Competency Questions: "Give me an example of..."
Feedback & Ratings
Post-interview, feedback and candidate rating is a critical and often overlooked step in the interview process. A strong feedback process will ensure a definitive assessment has been made and that there are no identifiable gaps in the candidate's skill set.
Rating scales should be simple and easy to understand - typical rating systems are on a 1-4 scale.
1. Strong No
You feel strongly against hiring this person and have substantial interview evidence as to why they are not the right fit.
You are neutral about hiring this person. They performed neither well nor poorly. You aren’t excited about working with them and can’t identify a strong value-add for the team.
You'd like to work with this person and feel they are going to contribute real value.
4. Strong Yes
If this person isn’t on our team in a month, I’m going to sit down with recruiters, the hiring manager, etc., and find out why. I want to work with them and will do whatever it takes to close them.
- Ask interviewers to submit feedback within 24 hours of the interview. Ideally, immediately after. An easy way to force factor this is by scheduling a 15-minute block on each interviewer's calendar immediately after all candidate conversations.
- Interviewers should be encouraged to provide concise and definitive assessments, and hiring managers should champion candidates they feel strongly about.
- Feedback sessions should not create bottlenecks in the process. Ideally, feedback sessions should happen within 24 hours of the full onsite to facilitate a good candidate experience and create the best chances for an offer acceptance. Too much time between conversations is the secret assassin of your offer acceptance rate.
Startups that successfully hit their hiring goals are more efficient across their entire pipeline. Analyze pass-through rates regularly and address any stages that dip below benchmarks.
Interview Pass Through Rates
Interview Hours Per Hire
As your team grows, interviewing capacity becomes a critical bottleneck. Track interview conversion rates and average time per interview to calculate hours per hire.
Time to Hire
Speed is your friend. Once candidates begin interviewing, they often talk to multiple companies. A slow process gives competitors ample opportunity to get their offer accepted. The best companies aim to keep their process between 15-30 days.
Candidates are primarily making their decision based on confidence and connection with the founding team. The offer process should be highly personalized to build rapport with the founders.
Offer Process Tips
Prepare for Unrealistic Expectations
Many candidates have 1% equity as a magic number in their heads. The best way to re-set expectations is to have an existing compensation philosophy (See: Compensation post) and re-frame ownership to potential monetary value (see below).
Founders Must Deliver the Offer
Don’t outsource offers to recruiters or hiring managers. As the founder, you are best suited to answer questions and provide context on the rationale behind the offer.
Only Make Offers in Person
Non-verbal cues are critical to interpreting a candidate's reaction to the offer. Deliver an offer either through Zoom or in person for the best candidate experience.
Utilize Your Advisors and Investors to Help Close
Leverage investors and advisors as the final step in the selling process. Both are able to provide an additional perspective on the company, market, and overall economic opportunity.
A good offer process starts from the first interaction with a candidate—understanding their motivators, clearly communicating next steps and what to expect, being mindful of their timelines, etc.
Once the interviews are complete, a typical offer process includes 3 key steps: pre-close, verbal offer, and official offer.
The pre-close is a phone conversation with the candidate before a formal offer is extended. This is an opportunity to answer any outstanding questions, reinforce the candidate motivators by reminding them why your role/company is a perfect fit, and gather information about compensation expectations.
Key Questions to Ask:
- Money aside, why do you want this role?
- Is there anything you wish we had covered in our previous conversations?
- Is there anyone else involved in your decision-making process that would be helpful to speak with (spouses, etc.)?
The verbal offer should be presented live, NOT over email. During the conversation, outline the offer details, talk about equity exit scenarios, communicate relevant benefits and perks, and negotiate verbally until the candidate is comfortable with the offer.
This stage in the process can sometimes take multiple conversations. The key is to never send a hard copy of the offer until the candidate has verbally agreed to the offer.
Once the offer has been verbally extended and agreed upon, it’s time to follow up with the hard copy of the offer. Time is not your friend in this instance. Candidates should be given a hard deadline for a signature (5 days is typical). If the candidate is unwilling to sign in that timeline, they are likely waiting for other offers and are more likely to back out of the process before their start date.
Once the offer is accepted, begin the pre-onboarding—emails from the team welcoming them, HR paperwork, etc. You should expect top candidates to receive counter offers; stay in close contact until their first day.
For more information about onboarding, check out our Onboarding Process guide here.
Even for seasoned startup veterans, understanding the value of equity can be challenging. The best companies don’t just give offer details; they craft a story about potential value. When communicating equity, craft your story to reframe from current value to FUTURE value.
We suggest telling a story with different exit outcomes to help candidates understand the potential value.
Pick companies in the same industry. You need to tell a credible story of how each scenario can be achieved and how the candidate will contribute to that outcome.
The “Bull” Scenario
This can be aspirational, but should still have a reasonable pathway to success. Example- “We launch our 2nd product and capture 5% of a $100 billion dollar market”
The “Base” Scenario
This is a healthy exit, likely at a significant valuation, and may include a “unicorn” benchmark. Example- “We continue to scale sales and hit $100 million in revenue”
The “Bear” Scenario
This should be an exit of around $500 million. If the candidate doesn’t believe that base assumption, they likely aren’t bought into the long-term vision. Example- “Our growth stalls, and we don’t increase our customer base or surpass $20 million in revenue.”
Be sure to emphasize these are theoretical outcomes, and candidates should do their research and due diligence.
Calculating Exit Scenarios
Below are the three most common approaches to valuing equity:
- Best used when % ownership is high and/or you can disclose valuation and fully diluted shares.
- Equity Value = (option grant # / fully diluted shares) * valuation at exit
Share Price at Exit
- Best used when % ownership is low or you cannot disclose valuation or fully diluted shares.
- Equity Value = option grant # * share price at exit
Multipliers (ex. 3x, 5x, 10x)
- Best used when no exits have occurred in your industry, or you are unable to disclose fully diluted shares or valuation.
- Equity Value = option grant’s current value * multiplier
We’ve put together a share price at exit calculator to help you communicate value to candidates.
Ways to use the calculator:
- Include with offer letters for candidates to model exit scenarios.
- Calculate different exit scenarios to discuss during the live offer delivery.
Included below is a sample offer letter template for candidates. Please consult legal counsel before using any template. This example is for informational purposes only.
Many founders skip reference checks to save time, particularly if a candidate is referred. However, a well-structured reference check can provide important insight into an employee's work style and save the pain of a mis-hire.
Reference Check Tips
Always Do References
You can learn a lot about a candidate from the types of references they provide and the insights you get from past colleagues. Top performers can easily provide multiple high-quality references, whereas under performers typically avoid providing direct managers and executives.
Ask Open-Ended Questions
Avoid leading questions and signaling the information you are seeking. The section below has suggested questions.
Be Wary of Back-Channel References
Back channels are often overweighted because they seem less biased. It’s important to understand the context of the references to avoid over-indexing on biased feedback. Ask yourself, how closely did they really work together? Were they competing for a role? Did they have interpersonal challenges not relevant to the role? How recent is their recollection?
Reference checks are often either ignored or done incorrectly. However, they can provide crucial information and should be an important part of the interview process. While they take time to do correctly, they can prevent a costly mis-hire and help you more effectively manage new employees. Below is an overview of our recommended interview process and sample questions you can customize to your needs.
When to Perform a Reference Check
The ideal time to perform a reference check is after primary interviews and before a formal offer is made. This ensures that the candidate is fully interested in the role and will provide their best contacts.
The best references provide 360 insight into the candidate's work history and impact.
1-2 Past Direct Managers
If the candidate is not able to provide previous direct managers, this usually indicates poor performance or past conflict.
Request peers who have worked closely with the candidate on meaningful projects. ”Peers” are often the candidate’s friends. Get context on the relationship and weigh feedback accordingly.
For external-facing roles (sales, marketing, product, etc.), request references from customers and/or external stakeholders.
1-2 Board Members
Board-facing executives should be able to provide a previous board member who can share an investor's perspective. Note that this is only typical for VP and C-level candidates.
✅ Schedule 30 minutes, ideally in a video call (you will get many useful non-verbal signals).
✅ Have prepared questions and topics to discuss — write them down.
✅ To start, provide brief context on yourself, the company, and the role.
✅ Ask open-ended questions, and don't telegraph what you want to know.
✅ Ask follow-up questions (assume they want to be nice and get beyond the prepared answers).
✅ Take extensive notes.
⛔ Allowing the reference to drive the conversation.
⛔ Asking questions with a yes or no answer.
⛔ Telling the reference about the skills you are assessing or areas of concern from the interview.
⛔ Assuming they are giving impartial answers (references often try to be helpful to the candidate).
⛔ Skipping any references (get multiple perspectives by talking to all provided references).
Background checks are an important step in the hiring process and should be done after interviews, references, and an offer has been made. The offer should be contingent on a passed background check.
Included below is a sample background check policy. Please consult legal counsel before implementing any new policies. This example is for purposes only.
Employee onboarding is an essential process for company growth. Research shows that onboarding is not only key for new employee effectiveness and productivity, it’s critical for employee satisfaction and retention:
- Effective onboarding improves new hire retention by 82% and productivity by over 70%.*
- Only 12% of employees strongly agree their organization has effective onboarding.*
- Lost productivity due to new hire learning curves can cost 1% to 2.5% of total business revenue.*
The best companies take a proactive approach to designing and automating their onboarding experience. In this guide, we’ll share best practices for building and managing a new hire onboarding program.
Retention Starts on Day 1
Top talent has an abundance of job opportunities, especially with the rise of remote work options. More than ever, it’s important that companies engage and retain employees from day one.
Employee onboarding is an essential process for new hire effectiveness and company growth. The leading cause of poor onboarding is a sole focus on the first week and a lack of automation of manual tasks.
Stages of Onboarding
The best programs extend onboarding through the employee's first 90 days and addresses three key areas - company, culture, and role.
- All new hires joining a company should participate in onboarding, regardless of their role, level, or location. The experience may differ somewhat between levels or functions, ex. Executives or engineers.
- Fully distributed or remote-first organizations should automate 70%+ of their program to allow for asynchronous onboarding. This requires extensive planning.
- Remote onboarding should include live experiences to build social connections.
The time between an offer acceptance and an employee's first day is critical. Pre-onboarding increases the excitement and engagement of a new hire while taking care of the administrative aspects of starting a new role. Expect candidates to receive counteroffers from their current company; don’t lose a future employee by failing to stay engaged.
- Send a personalized welcome email from the People Team, the Manager, and/or their new team. Share their first-day schedule so they feel prepared and excited. Designate a point of contact for any questions before their first day.
- Pre-record short videos to share information and develop alignment with your mission, vision, and values.
- Incorporate key members of the leadership teams.
- Send new hires their IT equipment a week in advance so they don’t skip a beat on their first day.
- Have your new hire complete administrative paperwork.
- Share information about payroll setup and your healthcare benefits.
- Send a gift: swag, in-home office perks, etc.
First 30 Days
The first 30 days of an employee’s company journey are important in developing a broad sense of the company culture, values, systems, norms, and processes. HR and managers should regularly check-in with employees and provide channels for support (buddy systems, group chats, wiki access, etc.). By week 4, the new employee should feel productive and have a solid grasp of their role and responsibilities and how these fit in with the broader company.
Considerations When Developing a Company-Wide Onboarding Plan:
- What information do employees need to be effective in their roles?
- What should be communicated synchronously vs asynchronously?
- Who are the most important people for new employees to meet?
- How can we authentically foster connection in a remote environment?
Company-Wide Onboarding Checklist:
- All required documents are signed/acknowledged.
- Administrative tasks are completed—computer setup, security training, software downloaded, calendar & email setup.
- Achieved learning milestones around company culture, market knowledge, and role.
- A clear understanding of the company ways of working and communication norms—goal-setting process, toolset, company hours, communication patterns and expected response times, etc.
- Create new hire cohorts: Build relationships and minimize operational overhead: ex- every two weeks or across key time zones.
- Make onboarding interactive: Don’t waste cohort sessions on one-way presentations that are less engaging and collaborative. Use pre-recorded presentations for asynchronous viewing and explore presentation concepts in cohorts.
- Carve out time for creativity: Allow new employees to share their unique perspectives and learnings. You may be surprised at their insights and ideas.
- Assign your new hire to a buddy: A “buddy” can help welcome the new hire to the team, introduce other employees, explain company tools and processes, and do regular check-ins - Example Buddy Program.
While a well-structured onboarding process will lay the foundation for an employee’s ramp, ultimately, managers are responsible for a new employee's success. Within the first 30 days, managers should focus on transferring critical knowledge and context, instilling team operating principles, and developing clear goals and expectations.
Manager's In-Role Checklist:
- Set up a regular 1:1. Make sure Managers discuss 1:1 norms and expectations.
- Create a 90-day onboarding plan - Example Executive Onboarding Template.
- Managers can create a User Manual so remote employees can more quickly understand their manager’s style and expectations.
- Create a document that gives access to key documents, department goals, org chart, and any other relevant documents.
- Identify department-specific technical tools, access, and training.
- Create a list of people the new hire should meet within their team and across other cross-functional teams. Meeting a lot of people in a short amount of time can be overwhelming. Work to build connections between your new hire and others over time throughout their first month.
- Identify noteworthy meetings the new hire may need to attend and invite them.
- Create a communication plan for how this new hire will be introduced to the organization.
The hiring manager should create a structured agenda outlining early in-role conversations to help accelerate learning.
- What are the biggest challenges the organization is facing (or will face in the near future)?
- Why is the organization facing (or going to face) these challenges?
- What are the most promising unexploited opportunities for growth?
- What would need to happen for the organization to exploit the potential of these opportunities?
- If you were me, what would you focus attention on?
You can find more sample questions/topics in the book, The First 90 Days: Proven Strategies for Getting Up To Speed Faster And Smart
Days 30-90 should be focused on continuing to ramp up the new hire. They should be given increased responsibility to begin making meaningful contributions to the team, with consistent support from their manager.
Within the employees role, they should seek to identify and achieve learning milestones around company culture, market knowledge, and role.
Manager should plan a 60 and 90 day check-in with employees to assess their progress and understanding of the org.
Sample Check-In Questions:
The hiring manager should create a structured agenda outlining early in-role conversations to help accelerate learning:
- How are you feeling about your knowledge about the role so far? Are there any areas that I can provide additional clarity or resources?
- Do you feel you are getting enough team/ project/ cross-functional exposure? Are there any introductions I can make to increase this exposure?
- What can I do as a manager to continue to help you with your onboarding ramp?
- How is our check-in cadence? Anything you’d like to suggest for ways we can better work with one another?
- What are 1-2 goals you’d like to focus on over the next 30 days?
Oversees the entire onboarding program, and helps ensure the process runs smoothly and all key stakeholders know what’s going on. This team schedules and hosts the majority of company-wide onboarding sessions, but does not bear the sole responsibility of a new hire’s success. If you don’t have a People org, designate another owner.
Relying on company-wide onboarding is not enough - managers get the new hire ramped up to succeed in their role and designs the new hire’s in-role onboarding. They should be being available for check-ins, set clear goals, listen, coach, mentor, and give feedback to the new employee.
Shares information on the company mission, vision, strategy, goals, culture, and values. The manager can reinforce these messages, but it’s most effective if new hires see and hear from upper-level leadership. The Executive Team can physically join for onboarding sessions or pre-record videos.
Serves as a new hire’s point of contact to help them get up to speed on their new company and role. A buddy can be super helpful for questions a new hire is curious about but doesn’t necessarily want to ask their Manager or the People Team. If possible, the buddy should be from another team to provide the benefit of fostering cross-company communication.
In charge of equipment procurement, setting up company email, and other company-wide tools. IT plays a critical role in a new hire’s ability to succeed in their role and have a good onboarding experience. Having an IT resource assigned to check in with new hires throughout the first few weeks, should your new hire have questions or run into issues.
Tools & Systems
Automated processes are key to effectively scale and get new hires ramped as quickly as possible. If you’re only making 1-2 hires per month, a spreadsheet or your project management software may suffice. If you’re scaling your team, or you have various onboarding flows to accommodate for different roles or locations, use automated tools, such as Kallidus, to create a consistent, efficient, and transparent experience.
Benefits of Using an Automated System:
- A smooth hand-off from the recruiting team to the people team, and other support teams such as IT, finance, and security.
- Important stakeholders such as managers and buddies are kept in-the-loop during the onboarding process.
- Reduces time spent on manual data entry and ensures an organized onboarding experience for all involved.
- Here are some examples of how the people teams at Compass and Zapier have used an onboarding automation tool to streamline their manual processes and save their team hours in lost productivity while creating great experience for their new hires.
Documentation is key in a virtual environment, especially for growing companies that are adding many new hires per month.
Companies should invest time in developing a company culture handbook that not only shares important company policies but also documents the company history, culture, and ways of working. Great employee handbooks can help employees understand what’s expected of them, the company’s stance on important topics such as diversity, equity & inclusion, and the resources they have available when and if they need support.
We also encourage companies to take time to develop a centralized intranet (such as Confluence or Notion) where company resources can be found all in one place. Some examples of content to include are information on your company benefits & perks, past All-Hands video recordings, leadership welcome videos, and official company goals/OKRs. Having easy access to this information helps new hires and tenured employees alike.
Onboarding Documentation Tips:
- Make sure you remove information bottlenecks from your organization.
- Remote employees should have access to as much self-serve company information as possible so they can be effective in their roles.
- Department leaders should work to build robust internal documentation so your workforce can access the information they need efficiently and effectively.
You cannot “set it and forget it” when it comes to employee onboarding, especially in a virtual setting. You should consistently gather feedback from your new hires (both remote and in-person) and managers on the effectiveness of your new hire onboarding program and identify areas for improvement.
Sample Survey Questions
Onboarding effectiveness survey questions could include: (Rating 1:least to 5:most)
- I have a good idea of what is expected of me in this role.
- I have had the opportunity to virtually connect with people that are key to my role.
- I have had the opportunity to virtually connect with some colleagues outside of my team.
- I have had a quality 1:1 with my manager.
- I am confident I will be able to perform my role.
- I feel like I belong at [company].
- I feel equipped to be productive.
- I have access to the tools and equipment necessary to effectively work remotely.
- My remote workspace allows me to be productive.
- The information provided has been at the right level for me.
- My virtual job training has been effective.
- I feel like I’ve made the right decision to join [company].
- I understand how my role contributes to the organizational goals of [company].
- Is there anything else you would have liked included in your onboarding process?
- What’s one thing we could have done differently to improve your onboarding experience?
Recruiting process feedback survey questions could include:
- How long did your recruitment process take from application to offer?
- 0-2 weeks, 2-4 weeks, 1 month+, 2 months+, 3 months+, 4 months+
- I was provided accurate information about [company] during the recruitment process.
- The recruitment and selection process was professionally conducted.
- I received appropriate information regarding remote working during the recruitment and selection process.
- Is there something we could have done to improve the recruitment process?
Manager Welcome Email
Welcome letters should be sent from the hiring manager a couple weeks before the start date. Tailor them to fit the specific team and encourage all team members to respond thoughtfully when welcoming the new employee.
Welcome Email From Hiring Manager
Hello [New Hire First Name],
On behalf of everyone at [Company], welcome to the team!
You’ll get to spend more time with them throughout your first week, but in the meantime, I’d like to introduce you to some of your new colleagues. You’ll be working closely with them, and they’re really excited for you to join us. They’ve all been copied on this email and will reach out to you individually over the next few days to say hello.
- [Include Names & Titles of direct team members]
Your first day will be on [Date]. You will be joining a cohort of new team members who are all starting on the same day and attending our company-wide onboarding program. Throughout your first week you will learn about [company]’s history, mission, values, products and customers. Classes run from 10:30 AM EST - 2:30 PM EST throughout your first week. Anytime after 2:30 PM EST can be spent with your team and getting set up.
- Complete this [Computer Equipment Form] as soon as possible to ensure your laptop and other IT equipment arrives in advance of your first day. If you have any questions, contact [IT].
- Complete your background check via [this process].
- Accept and acknowledge our company handbook [here].
- Be on the lookout for company swag coming your way!
- We’d like to introduce you to our new teammates on your first day as they’re eager to get to know you and what you are about. Please send the below info my way prior to your start date:
- Your preferred name.
- Where you are based.
- Three photos - can be silly or serious and can include pets, family, etc.
- A few interesting or fun facts about yourself.
- Anything else we should know that makes you unique?
- On your first day, make sure your slack profile is updated and you’ve added a profile photo as you’ll soon get many messages from team members welcoming you to the team!
We’re excited to get to know you and are thrilled you are joining us! If you have any questions, do not hesitate to reach out! You can email me or call me at [phone number]. I’m here to ensure your onboarding experience is a success.
First Week Agenda
Here’s a sample first week agenda and sample slides to help you get started.
Company-Wide Onboarding Sample First Week Agenda
All new hires attend our week-long company-wide onboarding program. We typically run the cohorts on average every two weeks (subject to change based on our expected hiring count). We require a minimum of 4 participants and cap the cohorts at 25 participants. The program covers the experience of the new hire from pre-boarding through the time they move into in-role training with their appropriate teams.
Throughout your first week new hires will learn about [company]’s history, mission, values, products and customers. Classes run from 10:30 AM EST - 2:30 PM EST throughout your first week. Anytime after 2:30 PM EST can be spent with your team and getting set up. The first week agenda is below.
- Cohort welcome and get to know you exercise.
- Company history - milestones, photos, stories.
- Company culture & values - employee examples bringing values to life.
- Company strategy, mission & vision - overview of business model, goals, clients.
- Technology Orientation by IT - company toolkit, security training, IT resources.
- Product overview & training - overview of various products and roadmap.
- Introduction of cohort team project - how might you use your company product or mission to get new hires jumping into using the product or solving problems within their first week?
- People team - overview of people programs part 1 (compensation, benefits, perks, payroll, performance, engagement).
- Presentations from each department leader over the remainder of the week, such as:
- Sales - sales team shares who are our customers and how we structure deals.
- Marketing - how we market our product to the world.
- Customer Support - we care deeply about our customers so serving them is our top priority.
- Operations - company financials, legal team, partnerships.
- People team - overview of people programs part 2 (community programs, DEI, virtual meetups/events, interest groups, referral program, etc.).
- Cohort team project working session.
- Department leader presentations continued.
- Cohort team project working session.
- Customer Support shadow session - shadow customer support experts as they serve the needs of our customers.
- CEO/Founder Coffee Talk and Q&A.
- Department leader presentations continued.
- Cohort team project presentations.
Tools & Templates
Referral Party Template
Spreadsheet for running a team referral party to develop a candidate leads list.
Share Price at Exit Equity Calculator
Share price at exit calculator to help you communicate equity value to candidates.
Background Check Template
http://Basic background check template. Consult legal counsel BEFORE using this!
Executive Onboarding Template
Example executive onboarding timeline, steps, and outline.