I can count on one hand the number of people I met in my uni courses across Commerce and Computer Science who were looking to break into people & talent roles.
It’s not usually the first business function students think of when choosing a career.
But what if getting recruiting experience is a cheat code to building up an understanding of different roles, interview processes and problem spaces?
Here’s why they think recruiting for startups is a secret career vantage point...
What’s the first thing you think of when someone tells you they work in recruitment?
Oftentimes, something along the lines of: “You work in recruitment? Why would you want to spend your day cold calling, reviewing resumes and talking to strangers?”
But in launching our own startup recruiting agency, something unexpected is that we’ve been able to get an inside view of all the different functions and operations that combine to create fast-growing startups.
“Post achieving product-market fit, ensuring you are following hiring best practice is critical to the success of your startup. The most expensive and powerful decision you make outside of what to build is who you hire. So how you hire becomes critical.”
Choosing the right or wrong person can make or break an early-stage company, and by helping startups with recruiting, you get a rare window into how they find and select great people.
Having been in this space for the last year and recruiting for high-growth startups such as VEED.IO, Simply Wall Street, Cake Equity and Shippit, here are the strongest reasons we’ve seen for why early-career professionals should consider a stint in people & talent:
#1: Grow a huge network early in your career 🤝
Julia: Recruiting is guaranteed to get you massive face time with a large variety of people.
For every role you hire, you will talk to dozens of people solving awesome problems at awesome companies, some of whom you connect with beyond just a recruiter/candidate relationship.
This is super helpful for meeting people in your dream job, your dream field, or getting exposure to problem spaces you want to learn about.
The ANZ startup landscape, while rapidly growing, is still pretty small, so you’re bound to bump into some of these familiar faces later in your career.
If I have learned anything from startup recruiting, it is that:
a) People favour familiar faces over unfamiliar faces & b) Helping other people build their careers will make them want to help yours
It takes a village to raise a child, and recruiting is a fantastic way to find your ‘village’ to learn from and find opportunities with.
#2: Understand how founders think about early-stage company decisions 🧠
Kevin: Founders are heavily involved in talent acquisition, especially in the early days of building out the team.
While a startup still has less than ~30 people, founders will typically meet with every candidate before they are hired. Even one rogue hire can risk derailing the entire startup.
Being a recruiter for an early-to-growth stage startup often means you’ll be in constant comms with founders and senior leaders and see the thinking behind critical management decisions up close.
Not many other roles allow you to get direct exposure to the decision-making process of execs within a startup so early in your career.
Importantly, you build an intimate understanding that startups hire someone to address a business problem, not because they’ve just raised or have a gap on their org chart.
In leading talent acquisition, as Earlywork community member Yash Shukla (People & Culture @ Lyka) says, you get
“A strong foundational knowledge in WHY a certain role exists, WHAT is its purpose and HOW the candidate / business want to go about achieving their outcomes.”
#3: Carve out a strength in people-oriented work 🧡
Julia: In many startup roles, from product management to design, people and communication skills set apart the good from the great.
But not all work is designed to exercise that people-muscle on a day-to-day basis.
As a recruiter, you are talking to new people 24/7. You need agility to communicate jobs to different stakeholders, address unique questions & concerns, and align on expectations.
You also learn the different communication styles of people across roles, shaping your approach to what will suit your candidate.
Your ‘product’ is the job opportunity. Understanding how candidates and roles can fit together in blissful harmony requires counselling people through the hiring process and constantly checking in with them, much like iterating a prototype with a customer.
You could say such a role sharpens soft skills, but even the phrase ‘soft skills’ leaves the wrong impression.
Empathy, the ability to talk to strangers and active listening are extremely powerful tools that can drastically change the way a team works.
These are not plushy, throw-pillow extras that add a little sparkle on the side of big, strong, concrete skills like coding, but integral skills that support team success alongside technical skills.
#4: Build adjacent skills needed in early-stage startups
Kevin: You might think that as a recruiter, your skillset is boxed into a niche. But many of the core capabilities are surprisingly transferrable to other roles.
Here are three different roles where you can leverage recruiting experience:
You’ll learn how to sell a company and opportunity to a candidate and close them on the deal.
There’s an art to the conversations you have with candidates: when you start the initial call with a candidate, they’re usually testing the waters, but a great recruiter ensures that by the end of the call, the candidate if fully closed and ready to commit to the rest of the process.
This skill can be easily transferred to other sales and business development roles, whether you’re trying to close a client or bring on an investor.
b) Growth Marketing
Recruiting isn’t just about conversations.
You’re constantly running experiments at each stage of the recruitment funnel, whether it be with sourcing channels and techniques, or tweaking what you say in chats to see if it leads to a greater conversion rate.
You’ll learn to be data-driven and focus on the metrics to understand what’s working and what’s not, rather than assuming what candidates will respond to.
If you look hard enough, many of the best recruiters are growth marketers in disguise.
c) Product Management
This one might seem surprising, but hear me out.
As a recruiter, you’re hiring to solve a problem and not hiring for the sake of it.
Much like with product management, recruiters need to understand deeply the customer need & pain points.
In this case, you can think of your startup, or the founder(s), as the customer.
Here’s a more concrete comparison to show you the style of thinking that startup recruiting trains:
PM: Why do we need to solve this problem? Recruiter: Why do we need to hire a Head of Growth?
PM: What existing alternatives have you used to try to solve the problem? Recruiter: What do the existing Growth Marketers do to address the problem?
PM: Why is solving this problem important and urgent? Recruiter: Why does bringing on a Head of Growth generate significant ROI for your company?
#5: Build foundational knowledge of all core roles across startups 📚
Kevin: Recruiters don’t work in silos; they have to work closely with all functions within a startup.
This makes recruiting one of the best ways to build up knowledge about the different roles across a business.
You quickly become a jack of all trades and will come to understand the different incentives and motives of all of your colleagues, from learning what makes a growth marketer tick to how to talk to engineers.
Having this sort of knowledge is a huge advantage, as you build a map of how different teams interact with each other to drive a startup towards its vision.
Furthermore, since recruiters within a startup hire across all role types, you’ll be able to identify what signals of excellence look like for each role.
When you’re early in your career, having an understanding of what best in class product management looks like, or the secrets behind what makes the best UX designer gives you a significant advantage if you ever want to swap career paths or start your own business.
Unlike most peers, you’ll get clear answers to the following questions:
- What startups provide great foundational skills?
- What startups are experts in specialty areas like growth marketing, brand, product or UX?
- Who are some golden-ticket mentors across different functional areas?
#6: Intimately learn the hiring process of fast-growing companies 💼
Julia: There is nothing to prepare you for the interview process like stepping around to the other side of the table.
Learning the hiring processes of fast-growing companies exposes you to patterns in what skills companies prioritise and how they assess them.
You witness who has the power in these decisions, and what actions can make or break a candidate in the eyes of hiring managers and founders.
Essentially, you form a mental cheat sheet of the do’s and don’ts of the recruitment process, how to put your best foot forward, and how to differentiate yourself from others.
Without years of experience to judge early-career workers on, there can be a greater emphasis on how you interview.
An enthusiastic attitude and willingness to learn will be weighted more heavily, so comfort and familiarity with the recruitment process may just give you the edge over another candidate when your experience is not yet enough to speak on your behalf.
All of this will inform your ability and confidence when you step back into the position of a candidate.
How can I become a recruiter for startups?
There are two ways you can crack into recruiting for startups:
- Working for a startup recruitment agency e.g. Lab 17, HireLyte
- Working in-house at a particular startup
Each has a distinct advantage to consider:
- Agencies give you a wide range of exposure to startups across different problem spaces and stages
- In-house gives you more intimate knowledge of the systems and processes in a problem space and company you’re excited by
Recruiters come from a variety of qualifications and backgrounds, all with their own advantages.
If you have an engineering degree, you’d be a kick-ass technical recruiter.
If you have a background in psychology, your management of the hiring process will be backed by behavioural savvy.
Recruitment is like a potluck: whatever your educational or career background, you bring your own unique plate to the table.
What’s the trick to breaking in?
Simple: network with recruiters and people ops folks.
Us recruiters are chatting and messaging people all day every day, so LinkedIn DMs are your friend.
For particularly hot startups, here's an idea to stand out from the crowd: refer them a candidate!
Have a look through their openings, scrape LinkedIn for a match, and flick them over.
This will show them you’re proactive and interested, and get you some brownie points if you get them one more quality candidate in the pipeline.