The Four Biggest Recruiting Mistakes You Can Make As A Startup CEO

I’d have a lot of money if I could have a nickel for every mistake I’ve ever made. But if I could have a nickel for every recruiting mistake I’ve ever made, well, I’d have a fortune!

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The pressure to hire leads you to make mistakes. And the hiring mistakes can be killers.

I’ve made a list of the four biggest mistakes that CEOs make recruiting their team. And you know what? I’ve made all of these mistakes except for one of them.

Mistake Number One: Hiring “B” players instead of “A” players because you are under so much pressure to hire someone.

The thought process goes like this:

Hiring the wrong person can really bite you as your company gets bigger.

You’re growing fast, and your company has all these open positions to fill. And, if we don’t fill all of these positions, we’re not going to grow fast.

Mistake Number Two: Hiring people that don’t fit your culture.

Let’s talk about Bob. Bob’s a brilliant engineer. In fact, his skills are off the charts. But there’s a downside to working with Bob.

The odds are that Bob will not work out.

I’ve hired people like Bob before. And again, every single time I’ve hired someone like Bob it hasn’t worked out.

The message is simple: Stay disciplined. Pass on the troubled superstar no matter how much you think you need the person.

There’s always somebody else that fits your culture that can help you.

Mistake Number Three: Using recruiters to do the recruiting for you.

This is especially important at the start of a business. You know better than anyone else what you need when you are starting a business.

Mistake Number Four: Not checking references.

Always check references when you hire people. There are two types of references checks you want to do:

  1. Back door references. These are references you find on a potential employee.
  1. A boss reference. Someone they’ve worked for.
  2. An employee reference. Someone that’s worked for them.

We passed on the candidate because of the poor references.

Backdoor references. These are references that you are not given. Instead you use your network to find out about a potential new hire.

Do one other thing before you talk to their references. Ask the potential hire, “What am I going to hear about you from your references?”

In fact, I’ve said to potential candidates, “I’d rather hear anything bad about you from you before I hear it from a reference.”

One more thing. You SHOULD interview the first 50 people you hire.

One of the things I did with any organization I ever ran was interviewing the first 50 employees we hired. I also had a new employee orientation meeting every month for the new employees we hired.

A. An early stage potential employee will want to meet you before they join your company.

It seems obvious. You’re the CEO, and candidates are going to want to pass judgement on you before joining your company.

B. You get to help close potential employees.

You’re answering the candidates questions, but you, as I said above, get to share your vision and convince the candidates why they should join your company.

C. You get to make sure the potential employees fit your culture.

Cultural fit, as I said in Mistake 2 above, is one of the most important indicators of a successful company. And hiring someone that doesn’t fit your culture, no matter how good they are, can really cause problems.

D. You get to know your potential employees names.

Until you hit Dunbar’s number of 150, you will likely be able to memorize the names of your employees. Interviewing the first 50 will give you a running start.

Summing it all up…Recruiting is one of the most important responsibilities, if not the most important responsibility, you have as a startup CEO.

You’re under intense pressure to hire the best, so you can’t afford making mistakes. Avoiding the mistakes of hiring B players, hiring people that don’t fit your culture, using recruiters to do the work you need to be doing, and not keeping the discipline of checking references will give you a much better chance of building a great team and a winning culture.

I work with startup CEOs to help them grow their businesses . I built several businesses from $0 to >$100M. Learn more at

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