9 Top tips when hiring into your startup

For over 20 years, Nicola Gardiner's experience in recruiting into startups and spin outs makes her the perfect person to share expertise in areas that can help founders create a successful recruitment strategy. Take a look at the top 9 things to think about when you're just starting out, from the best interview approach to salary negotiation, there's much to think about!


  1. Don't rush your first hires. No question, the first few hires outside of the founding team are going to feel monumental! Especially if this is your first startup. They are also the most important – not only will they help determine the successful trajectory of the product/service and the culture of the business, but also how easy the next wave of hiring will be. 
  2. Be strategic. If you’re weighing up whether now is the moment for a new CEO/COO/Head of Sales etc and if having that role/person will be pivotal in 6 months’ time, then the timing is good. If you need a sales person/operations etc person now, then maybe hire a more junior person to avoid rushing the senior more strategic hire.
  3. Keep note of changing priorities. If you’re a VC backed business, you might have populated an impressive looking spreadsheet of hires and job titles to send to your investors! Once you start hiring, check after each hire to see what is your next priority. Chances are you won’t need to follow the original plan.
  4. Do you need an 'Apple' or a 'Pear'? Many early stage founders I speak to find knowing exactly what skills and experience they need to hire, and when to hire difficult. That’s why talking to a ‘note taking’ recruiter often doesn’t work out. Make sure you are working with someone who can collaboratively discuss a range of potential profiles and salary expectations and give you a reality check on the market. They can help you work out if you actually need an ‘apple’ or a ‘pear’. 
  5. Diversity is key. Remember there’s a huge temptation and feeling of safety in hiring people ‘cut from the same cloth’. If you really want a high performing team then diversity is key – bring in outsiders, people who will challenge you, different genders and most importantly different personalities. The key commonalities need to be around values and appetite for creating something new. 
  6. Plan your interview approach. Interviewing can be challenging. Plan your approach ahead and avoid ‘winging it’! Some candidates are comfortable ‘selling’ themselves on Teams eg; those with a sales/marketing background; others eg; engineers need you to tweak your interview approach. 
  7. One size does not fit all. When it comes to different types and levels of roles, it really is ‘horses for courses!’ Unlikely that one approach or recruiter can be successful with every type of hire. Indeed really is great for office manager/marketing type roles. If you need a software developer/engineer then your advert on Indeed or LinkedIn is unlikely to succeed. You will need a specialist recruiter. Looking for a scientist? A LinkedIn advert will in most cases work. Any roles over £80k you will need to think about using a headhunter. 
  8. When you start hiring, commit to the process. If you let the process drag on or add in too many unnecessary stages, candidates will assume this is your approach to decision making and will not want to progress the process. 
  9. Set the tone. I genuinely believe that the first conversation you have with a successful candidate will dictate the tone of negotiations around salary. If the candidate feels your excitement around the product/service and of being valued and respected by the company, then salary expectations will be much more readily agreed. 

A headshot of Nicola Gardiner

Nicola Gardiner runs a headhunting business based in Oxford and focused on helping startups and spin outs find senior level talent across the tech/science sectors: Nicola Gardiner Executive Search. She began her career in 1994 with London based Robert Walters and Odgers before moving to Oxfordshire. Nicola works collaboratively with founders and Boards to help shape their leadership teams.