1. Introduction: recruiting is sales

1. Introduction: recruiting is sales

Recruiting and sales are remarkably similar. Internalizing this is clarifying. While very few founders have experience building an early-stage team, most of us have done sales in some form or another, whether it’s landing your first few customers or “selling” to investors to raise money.

Recruiting is a funnel

Just like a sales pipeline, candidates will fall off at every step of the funnel. You will likely talk to hundreds of candidates at the top of the funnel to make your first few hires. It will be important to set goals for yourself and hold yourself accountable for building a pipeline of strong candidates.

To hammer this home, here’s what a typical hiring funnel looks like for early-stage startups:

A typical early-stage hiring funnel with passthrough rates
A typical early-stage hiring funnel with passthrough rates

Conversion rates by stage will vary depending on your startup and where you’re finding candidates, but the high-level takeaway is the same… you’ll likely engage with ~50-100 people at the top of the funnel just to make one hire. Hiring is hard and will require a lot more time and effort than you expected, so don’t give up if your first few conversations don’t pay off.

Qualification is key

You’ll need to spend time qualifying your candidates, just like you would a sales prospect. A big part of this will be evaluating candidates with your interview loop, but it’s also important to disqualify candidates early who may not be a good fit for your startup. For example, learning that a candidate is indexing high on cash comp early will help you disqualify someone who would never close, to begin with.

There are a lot of frameworks for qualification in sales, like BANT, which map well to recruiting:

  • Budget - is there alignment on cash comp expectations?
  • Authority - who are the important stakeholders in making a career decision? Partner? Parents? Mentors?
  • Need - what are they hoping to get out of their next opportunity and does that match what we have to offer?
  • Timing - when are they ready to make their next move?

You’ll spend a lot of time selling

And selling doesn’t start with the offer. It starts with your very first conversation and continues throughout the rest of the interview process. This is so important that we’ve created an entire guide on selling & closing.

You’ll want to ask the right “discovery” questions

And of course, selling doesn’t mean pitching. Just like in sales, a big part of selling in recruiting means asking the right “discovery” questions. It’s far more powerful to get your candidate talking than to talk at them.

You’ll need thick skin

Just like in sales, you’ll experience a lot of “no’s”. Be courteous, but don’t be timid. If you don’t put yourself out there and engage with talent, you won’t hire a team. It’s as simple as that.

Recruiting your founding team is similar to doing “founder sales”

In the same way that founder sales is going to be different from running a well-oiled sales machine at scale, recruiting your early-stage team will be very different from hiring at big companies.

❌ Similar to founder sales, hiring your early team will not mean:

  • Hiring a recruiter (not just yet!). In the same way, you wouldn’t hire a sales rep until you’ve validated you can sell the product.
  • Launching a career site & waiting for inbound applications. In the same way that you wouldn’t expect to “launch” a website for your product and hope customers come.
  • Spending a lot of time at career fairs or meetups. In the same way that attending industry events wouldn’t be the highest-ROI approach to landing your first 10 customers.

✅ Similar to founder sales, hiring your early team will mean:

Next Steps

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