You run a tech startup and you’re about to start hiring engineers to grow your team, right? But how comfortable do you feel wearing that hat for the first time? Having a tech background probably helps the process a bit. At least in terms of evaluating candidates’ skills, but is that enough? Well, the truth is that experience in the field you’re recruiting cannot balance out the fact that you’re a non-HR person in that role. So, what should you do? 

Hiring engineers for your startup: How to get started

That’s exactly what we’re going to discuss below. Let’s start with the basics.

New hire: a make-or-break factor for companies?

Hiring is important for any business. And that’s because it’s the employees that make or break a company in the end. Employees — no matter their role— are the building blocks of a (hopefully) fine-tuned structure; the company, the business or the organization, name it whichever way you prefer.

Let’s take a look at hiring in non-startup companies. 

Hiring in established companies

If the hiring process is successful, chances are people with the right skills will be placed at the right job positions; and everything should go as planned.  Of course, there may be some adjustments that will take place sooner or later. That is, people will come and go; but if these changes are not radical and frequent, things will probably go by plan. And so, the team that builds the company will move forward, to gradually achieve all or most of the business goals; right? 

But what about startups?

Hiring in startups

For startups things are a bit different. Mistakes and delays mean extra costs and waste. Both of them can kill a startup in the end. Even if that death is slow. More specifically, missing the mark when hiring for your startup; either because of a failed hire or because you cannot find the right personnel to proceed with your business plan, means waste and/or stalemates.  As expected, hire-and-fire tactic is not an option for startups. Quite the opposite is desirable. You want people to stay for longer and help you build and grow your company. And that’s what makes retention much more crucial for startups compared to other companies. 

So that’s how things work for startups. And what about hiring particularly engineers in startups? Well, if there’s one thing that I would like to call your attention to, it’s the difficulty in finding and hiring engineers. Read on to find out more about the reasons.

Startups hiring engineers: challenges involved

Any type of startup will probably need one or more tech people to make things roll. Tech employees are crucial because they help in so many different tasks; from website building to maintaining company hardware infrastructure and many other tech-related processes. Undeniably their skills are so valuable in the digital era. But if you run a tech startup, then engineers specifically are like the kernel of your team. Product development cannot proceed without engineers and other tech-related roles. Consequently, a startup’s viability and success depend on that particular workforce category.

So, that’s how things work from your perspective. But what’s the state of play in the market? 

In the employment marketplace, things are equally challenging. Building tech skills requires effort and devotion. There’s overabundance of frameworks, platforms and technologies that keep changing over time. And engineers must keep up with these developments to be efficient in their work.  

All in all, the challenges of building tech skills and this version of the ‘law of demand and supply’, which applies to this particular category of employees, make it much more difficult to find and keep the right ones. 

So, what should you do? Fortunately, there are things you can do to help yourself when hiring engineers for your startup. Read on to find more about it.  

Things to keep in mind when hiring engineers for your startup

Suppose you’re a small startup that does not have a HR specialist — let alone an HR department. We’ve prepared a cheat sheet useful when hiring engineers. Later on, when you’ll grow the team further, you or HR colleagues will probably follow a more sophisticated approach, based on their experience; but, what follows is a good start for your stage: 

Have a clear strategy  

Sounds like a trivial piece of advice, right? You might also think that focusing on strategy when you’re overwhelmed in multitasking (wearing multiple hats) is probably a luxury; but, the truth is, if you know right from the beginning your hiring needs right from the beginning, you’ll save your startup some of the trouble. In particular, when it comes to hiring engineers, you should at least have a rough estimate of how many you’ll need. Also, what the exact tech skills they’ll bring in to help your product development; and how budget will help in that direction.

Of course, you’re not going to hire engineers, if you’re initially focused on POC creation. But setting the ground for your hiring plan and how it will affect your payroll spend in the not-so-distant future, will be helpful. However, strategy may also refer to your network and resources available to help bring this workforce about. On to the next section to find more about it. 

Reassess your resources: where should you look for? 

Since you don’t have an HR expert to help you apply efficient strategies you’ll need to be as inventive as possible. That’s, in order to find skilled engineers. And by inventive, of course, we mean making the most out of your social network; both in platforms and in real life. A proof of the results of this tactic are startups — many of them — that managed to find their engineers by leveraging existing employee connections. And, as a matter of fact, not only did these startups use that method in the early days, when founders did their own hiring; but also kept tapping into it for much longer periods. Even later, when they were at their growth stage, with an HR department in place, engineers joining the development team kept coming from recommendations. Here is a representative example we have in mind.

An alternative resource you should also consider when hiring engineers is the wider network of connections you should be building. That is the community of engineers in your area. If you’re an engineer yourself, try to attend relevant events when possible; this will help you — among other things — build a wider network in the engineers’ community; Let people know more about your startup. Some of them will probably want to join sooner or later.

Screening and filtering done right    

Let’s say you have some people in mind that would probably be of help for your product development; is that enough to bring them in? Well, just because finding and hiring engineers is difficult, it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be quite selective; and make your decision carefully. As mentioned earlier, you want to find the right people that will come and stay; so, you need to choose wisely. Here are a few things that would be helpful in evaluating both tech and soft skills. Note that we tried to view things both from tech and non-tech founders’ perspectives.   

Tech skills

If you’re a tech founder this part will probably be easy for you. And that is because you know better what’s missing to make the team stronger in terms of technical skills. One thing that you need to keep in mind is that you should be ready to give opportunities. To put it another way you should leave space for newcomers to be proactive. This will be more helpful later on, when you’ll be forced to focus more on the business part of your company; rather than the development itself. And though this might seem like an issue to-come in the future, the interaction you’ll have during interviews will help you and candidates understand whether there’s such a possibility. 

If you’re a non-tech founder, you should be very careful. Get advice from tech experts you trust to help you on that part; or even consider outsourcing hiring, till you have your first skilled engineer in your team. 

Soft skills 

Tech skills are not enough. Try to get the whole picture whether this person is indeed a fit for your team, by asking yourself a simple question; will this candidate round my team out? Teamwork, flexibility, willingness to master new skills and resilience are only some of the qualities you should look for. Keep in mind that your employees or colleagues should have part of the entrepreneurial spirit.

While all the above is probably helpful that is not enough. It’s not only about finding the right ones it’s also about trying to make them want to join your startup. 

Sell your startup idea

If you’re a fledgling startup you should work harder to get engineers come work with you on something that is probably uncertain. Though, some of the candidates will probably be inspired by the challenges involved; but the ‘sky is not the limit’ hook is not for all tastes. You need to sell your startup idea and potential it encloses. That will first attract and then keep people. So, what should you do? How should you talk about your business idea?  Pretty much the same way as you would do if you pitched your idea to investors or your product to your future customers. Tell the truth about where you are and where you’re going; but let your narrative fire up their eagerness.

Engineers wanted: do it your way

Finding and hiring engineers for your startup may be difficult for you as a non-HR person.

The pieces of advice above and the things you’ll learn further on will probably be helpful. Even if you cannot outsource that process for now – a tight budget that is – that struggle is also meaningful; and is worth it. You’re the one to choose and, thus, be fully responsible for the first people to get on board; and become co-passengers on your entrepreneurial journey from now on. Choose wisely 😉

Konstantina Ferentinou Konstantina Ferentinou

The Starttech Ventures Content Marketing Writer. Studied Computer Engineering and Informatics at the University of Patras. She has working experience in technical writing, sales and support related roles. She now focuses on content creation. Channeling her creativity into writing, she hones her ability to communicate the right message through various content types.