A Recruiter’s Guide: How to Work with Startups

We’ve previously given you the low-down on recruiting into Music and Ecommerce. Here, we look at recruiting into a startup.

Given the fact I work for a startup, I can give you a pretty good insight into the ins and outs of how life works.

Hunted is first and foremost a tech platform. But we also have a Talent Team to help our clients and users, meaning we straddle the line of typical recruitment and tech startup.

This means when we hire, our recruitment needs are quite unique.

And that’s what you’ll find with most startups.

If a startup business wasn’t unique they almost certainly wouldn’t exist. In 2016, there were a record amount of new businesses in the UK.

650,000 of them.

And recruiting for one will throw up new challenges. It will also need new practices and new thinking in order to be successful in placing candidates.

On-Site or In-House

The startup world often tends to opt for in-house or on-site recruiters rather than pay agency fees.

That’s not universal of course, but it’s a much more likely scenario. 

Working on-site with clients means you get given more time and more respect. For businesses that run RPO models or work purely on retained mandates you’ll know a budget is signed off. Meaning as a recruiter you can really make your mark strategically and actually design a process which will attract and ultimately hire the best candidates.

This in turn makes everyone’s experience a lot more enjoyable.

There’s a more involved client and the recruiter’s experience is better because placements don’t drop out as much. 

Which creates the best of both worlds.

And it doesn’t stop there. You may be on site, but you’re also likely to have a client email address. You may even sit on the same desk as the tech team.

Want to know what a team’s culture’s like? If you sit next to them you’ll know. You’ll be a part of it.

Need a client to read a CV and give feedback? How about being able to walk over and ask them? 

Being a trusted recruitment partner on-site allows this. When you’re external there’s a geographical barrier. Which is why the best recruiters, have the best relationships.


Job Led

It’s no surprise that working with startups is a job led approach. Projects come straight from the client and represent real and urgent needs.

More often than not, a startup’s trying to solve a real world problem.

Maybe it’s a drone company that delivers aid to war-torn areas? Maybe it’s a data security company working on cutting edge tech cyber defence? Perhaps, it’s a job search app especially for recruiters offering great content and new tech never seen before in the industry cough cough.

Whatever the company, the parallel drawn is a need to hire great people.

Sometimes this is in tech, sometimes it’s not.

Which means being a specialist recruiter is less important than being a great recruiter. 

Versatility is critical. You have to adapt. And having 10 years working in a particular niche won’t cut the mustard if you can’t pick a good candidate outside of that niche. 


While there isn’t one particular type of personality working at a startup, there are common traits.

Normally you’ll find people who are open to change and trying something new.

As ‘early adopters’, you won’t find a client married to a legacy system or archaic way of working because “that’s the way they’ve always done it.”

For recruiters, the most successful working with startups tend to be those who want to help build businesses. They’re emotionally intelligent, competitive people.

No two brands are the same and being able to alter the process is key. Every one works differently and has different strategies.

Small Desk

Business Development

So how do you work with a client that doesn’t have a website? If you can’t even find the company on Google, how do you know they’re a potential client, let alone are looking to hire 20 new recruits?

The key is referrals.

And why a lot of startup recruiters work on contracts. You get work on recommendations and by doing a great job. But there are also recruitment businesses now offering an easier way in. 

Hunted’s one of these businesses. So is Talentful who’ve been working with startups in the tech industry for quite some time.

Let me give you a real life example of how Hunted work.

In our office there’s over 80 other startups. We talk. We share a Slack channel. 

A lot of these companies have freelance or permanent recruitment teams on site. Therefore if Hunted needs anything (from a Developer to a lunch recommendation) people go out of their way to help us.

It’s a community and everyone wants to see each other succeed

The startup world works like this more than any other. Do a good job once and you’ll be in demand.

Why Startups?

Typically startup clients are incredibly interesting, small businesses that pique peoples’ interest.

Everyone working there will be ‘bought in’. They have to be to make them a success.

It’s unlikely you’d be working at a startup for the money, at least in the short-term.

There’s also a lack of red tape. Everyone from the Founder to the rest of the team want to get things done, and quickly. They work with autonomy and they love delivering. 

Stop Sign

Future Threats

There’s a big transition currently in how businesses look at hiring. This is especially true at startups, given the nature of them. They’re small, agile and entrusting of tech to help shorten lengthy processes. Many are now tending to hire internal teams quicker than ever before.

As many have realised however, it’s difficult to hire recruiters.

Agency recruiters tend to be candidate driven in approach, meaning the ‘client management’ piece isn’t worked on too much. Being able to do both effectively is highly sought after.


You have to show people what a client’s about. Personality plays a big part and understanding what people actually want.

One client Talentful works with plays board games in a team at final stage interview for example. Why? Because, it’s different, fun, engaging and candidates are much more likely to accept.

Working with a client at an early stage of their growth will yield fantastic results. Whether that’s seed-stage or further down the line. As an experienced Recruiter you can help shape the landscape.

You can greet a candidate on their first day.

You can strategically mould the methods of attraction and affect internal processes, all with the business leader. You can make a real tangible difference.


Low Budgets Vs High Expectations

It’s not true in all cases, but startups tend to be frugal. 

Delivering against a low budget with high expectations can be challenging. Success involves providing data. Once a client knows you’re not incentivised by a candidate earning £10k more, they know your opinion isn’t biased.

Whether that means showing example CVs or running through hiring possibilities, working on site allows this.


Setting expectations is the most important element of working with startups.

Asking how the client wants the process to go and shaping it individually. Some may want a shortlist of 4 people delivered to their desk, others may want access to each CV sourced. 

It’s always a ‘bespoke’ process.

If you want to work with startups, recruitment becomes a completely different job and there’s distinctive pressure.

For one, you’re less likely to be able to pick and choose what you work on.

You have to fill every role.

There are however, huge benefits that are likely to benefit your career. You see an entire business process through.

You can see (and affect) a company from the inside.

You can have a massive influence.

And there’s real reward in that.

Many people view this way of working as an easier gig, but it may well be the opposite. However if you can become a trusted partner for startup recruitment there’s a world of possibility awaiting you.