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It has always been tough finding the right people to help your business grow. With massive shortages of people available, recruiting is even harder now.

Things have moved on in the recruitment industry. Claire WIllets of Not only Pink and Blue reminded me of the terrible, date-site type questions people used to ask. Her favorite was “If you were a chocolate bar, what would you be” Recruiters favored answers such as ‘a Snickers bar – hard on the outside, soft on the inside, but smooth like caramel and sometimes a bit nuts.”

The consultant’s recruiting advice

Annabelle Beckwith’s company is Yara Journeys, and she is a consultant and coach to entrepreneurs and SME’s.  She believes that a whole thinking process is often left out of recruiting, leading to unsuccessful hires. Instead, they focus on the recruiting itself rather than the strategic thinking and identification of who an ideal candidate would be beforehand and the induction and onboarding afterward.  The questions in the interview are also often wrong.

Annabelle sees recruiting as part of the overall growth strategy rather than an instant fire fighting “need someone now” process.  She also suggests lateral thinking, judging if full-time is necessary, or could a part-time or consultant be better, for example. 

Annabelle suggests thinking short, mid, and long term when hiring and focusing on CBA (capability, belief systems, and aptitude).  You need someone who can do the job you are hiring them to do, which means being clear about expectations.  Belief systems are about finding people aligned to your business values, which goes deeper than someone who will fit in.  You want people who will strengthen your culture.  Aptitude is more long-term; a question of if they will grow with the business and develop along with it.

Even once you have found the right person, onboarding can make a crucial difference in becoming a good fit.  Some amount can be done in advance, emailing company information and a personalized welcome from the founder or CEO.  The first week needs to be planned, and the communication of expectations is crucial.   It should form part of goal setting and performance management process.

I asked Annabelle what questions she thinks work (and don’t), leaving aside the illegal.  Preparation is critical, and she recommends a set of core questions for all candidates, which helps achieve a level playing field and leaves the interviewer free to focus on strategy and CBA.  Annabelle recommends avoiding questions that provoke answers you want to hear rather than accuracy.  The “where do you see yourself in five years” type is one example; another is to ask if the applicant is comfortable with targets.  If they want the job, they are not going to say no!

Annabelle recommends the STAR framework, which involves asking the candidate to give an example of a time when they did something or achieved something that is aligned with the role you’re hiring for and then drilling down to discover

 – the specifics about the SITUATION

 – the actual TASK that the candidate was undertaking

 – the ACTIONS that they took that made a difference

 – the RESULTS that this achieved

If you’re thorough, you’ll get a sense if someone is making anything up!

The Specialist in Graduates for Start-ups

Matthew Sarre is the co-founder of jumpstart, the UK’s only start-up graduate program, matching graduates to start-ups.  They see start-ups struggling to find good talent, in part because they don’t have either a brand or a network to attract the right talent. Instead, they rely on references to their backers and successful start-ups those backers have supported, aiming to piggyback off others’ success.  As a result, recruiting cycles are taking much longer, and start-ups may opt for mediocre talent.

Matthew finds that, surprisingly, technical talent such as software engineers and companies have to rely on agencies, outsource abroad, or pay expensive recruiting fees.  However, the traditional view that working for start-ups was “wacky” is fading, with more exceptional people preferring not-big corporate careers.  Matthew observes that the UK is about five years behind the States on this, where it is already conventional.

I asked Matthew what he sees as different about working for a start-up.  He says that firstly, there is less automation at that stage, which means lots of detail and graft, intermixed with the blue-sky thinking strategy work.  People have to be prepared to roll up their sleeves and get stuck in.  Everyone talks about the need to adapt and be flexible in fast-paced work environments in start-ups, but Matthew is unsure if this is real or advertised.   On the plus side, start-ups can offer the variety and pace are considered positives, and start-ups provide potential personal and company growth, and often more flexibility in working conditions, and usually, equity.

The Entrepreneur’s View of Recruiting

Rob Williams, director of UK-based clothing manufacturer Hawthorn International, and I was delighted to get his inside view on how the skills shortages and shortages of great people generally have hit UK businesses.

Rob says there are plenty of candidates with the skills and experience, but they struggle to find people willing to adapt and work across various roles as needed in a small business.     Some candidates, Rob says, are very vocal on only sticking to single tasks and refusing to gain skills in other areas. 

An entrepreneurial business relies on skills that cannot necessarily be taught.  Applicants may have compelling CVs but still, be out of depth in a start-up where roles cannot always be clearly defined or the same every day.  It all results in recruiting being a very time-consuming task, sifting through hundreds of candidates, some who are fantastic and some who are entirely unsuited to the role.

Identifying who will thrive in an entrepreneurial business is also a challenge.  Rob says they have found they have to operate on instinct when talking to people and getting an idea of whether they would be willing to learn and fit into a business while at the same time bringing their recognized skills. This style is very different from recruiting for corporate roles, which are very CV/portfolio-based.   Hiring skilled consultants can help expand the skill sets of current staff members, though only if those people are willing to develop their skills and grow along with the business.


There is no doubt that recruiting great talent is still a battle, especially for start-ups.  I am left with no doubt that start-ups need a different approach to work, and that attitude counts for more than anything.  What is encouraging is that with start-ups becoming more acceptable in career terms, recruiting good talent should be gradually a little easier.

Recruiting with the team involved

You might also enjoy reading both the story and wisdom of Lee McQueen, who specializes in virtual recruitment