Recruiting on a shoestring for start ups

You’ve launched your business, and it’s growing. That’s great, and congratulations to you! But as you get busier and continue to grow, you need to start hiring the right people. And, of course, you want the best people on your team, right? Those stellar, breathtaking candidates?

But between everything else, you don’t have much time to sift through CVs. Nor do you have the money to spend on hiring a recruitment consultant: besides, do you trust them anyway? I suppose you could hire someone to head up your HR, but hang on, you’d have to go through the same process to hire them, too…

OK, right, stop. This isn’t working.

Let’s make it simple. To free up your time and keep costs low, you need to think about the following four things:

  • The person you’re looking to hire
  • The actual role specification
  • How and where you advertise the role
  • How to find the right person

The person you’re looking to hire

Tricky one this, especially if you’re starting out. You know what you need from the role, and you know what’s needed in terms of a personality fit. In a small company, personality can often trump ability.

True, the right person has to be able to do the job because even though you’ll coach and support, you don’t necessarily want to hire someone who you’ll need to train from scratch: you don’t have the time, remember.

Try to hit a balance between ability and fit. You could hire someone with the most ability in the world but if they’re not the right fit, it ain’t gonna work.

The actual role specification

When you think about the job spec, avoid using boring, yawnsome vocabulary. Job descriptions can be so bland: don’t forget, you want to get people excited about working for you, too! For big corporations, job adverts often stink of red-tape, and controlled business jargon. If you find yourself writing words like ‘dynamic’ or phrases such as ‘results driven’, you need to get back to thinking in normal-speak, that a normal person will understand.

This is your company. Think about what you want, and who you want: what does that person look like, in terms of their ability and personality? Let that influence how you write the job spec.

Write the job spec with the passion and honesty by which you formed your company (unless you’ve founded your company out of some deep seated resentment or something). Talk about your ethos behind the company, your plans, and be honest about the role, and what the right person will be expected to do without being overly rigid.

Also be clear in the ad about what sort of experience is necessary, and what is preferable too. It won’t mean that you’ll only get applications that are perfect, as you will always get irrelevant applications, but it should help filter things out a little bit.

Where to advertise the role?

Here are a couple of tried and tested options where you can list a job cheaply, and get a really decent, relevant return.


A LinkedIn job ad costs about £200. You can put your job spec up there and get the applications sent directly through to you. Within the LinkedIn interface, they come through into a little section called ‘applications’ where you can mark people as ‘great fit’, ‘good fit’ and ‘not a fit’.

Let the job ad run for as long as you can bear it (we once got 120 applications in three days and I thought I wouldn’t make the time to sift through them all, so I paused it), and then allocate yourself a couple of hours out of the office to sift through them all, and mark them appropriately before deciding on who to interview.

Warning: despite being explicit in the ad, you will always get a fair amount of dross: people applying from the wrong country, people with the wrong experience, or not enough experience. But rest assured— out of the dross you should find people who are right up your street.

Basically, everything is free: free to post, free to browse for candidates, and free to contact candidates you’ve got your eye on. Only, as with anything too good to be true, there are a few cons.

You’ll find that people’s profiles aren’t always completely up to date, because of the nature of how the site works. It’s always worth doing a quick double check on LinkedIn if you’re interested in a particular candidate, to check if they’ve recently moved jobs.

And, like LinkedIn, you will get dross. More dross than normal in fact, seeing as the service is completely free, but you will get some relevant candidates. Here, you should remind yourself not to treat it too harshly: you’re not paying for it!

Other options it’s a free listings site, but it costs a small fee to list a job. Like Indeed, you’ll get dross, but it’s cheap.

List the job on your website if you have one: You can then promote the page via paid search (Get a Google voucher) or social media via a promoted post.

And if you have to use a recruiter…

Test their mettle by refusing to give them a proper job specification. Instead, give them your off the top of your head thoughts over the phone, or via email and nothing more. If you’ve sold the job and your company properly to them through sheer enthusiasm alone, then they should have no problem finding the right candidate for you.

How to find the right person

Narrow it down to somewhere between 5 and 10 people, and grade them in order of priority. Then:

  • Bring the first 5 in for interview, or do a telephone interview if it’s easier for you. It’s always better to meet face to face, though.
  • Judge them on their ability and fit. You can bring someone in with all the ability in the world, but if they don’t fit, then the ability bit becomes less relevant.
  • Can you imagine yourself working with them?
  • Do you think they’ll help your business to grow?

From the first 5, narrow it down to the 2-3 you want to see again. Invite them back in to do a task.

Think of something you would want to see them doing on a typical day working for you.

If they’re presenting something in PowerPoint, don’t judge them too harshly on aesthetics. Look beyond the aesthetic, and focus on the content.

Pick a winner, and make an offer.

If not, repeat with the next 5.

Got a plan in mind for hiring your next superstar? Find out more about employing staff, and what to do once you’re all set up and ready to make gains in our knowledge hub and blog.