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How to Avoid Making Assumptions in Startup Recruitment?

Making assumptions in startup recruitment is going to hit you where it hurts the most. Whether it’s the time to hire, your client and the candidate’s satisfaction or the cost per hire, assuming is one of the most frequent mistakes done by recruiters – including me.

Starting in industrial recruitment in the UK back in 2011, I was lucky to have a great mentor, Martin. He taught me an important lesson: not to assume – shortly, not making an ASS out of U and ME. Hopefully, you’ve all heard it. However, if you haven’t – voila, this article is for you. 

Spend More Time Rather Than Making Assumptions 

Information and data are what drives success in recruitment. The more knowledgeable you are about a candidate or a client, the better service you will deliver. Therefore, I would rather spend some time getting to know my client and candidate, find out more information about their needs, rather than assume it. It’s true, assuming it saves you 5 minutes in that moment. However, in the long term, it can mess up your whole recruitment process. And not mention your credibility and professionalism. 

There are many different situations in which you can make assumptions and it can happen more often than you think. However, I will share some learnings from my experience with making assumptions in startup recruitment on two levels: the candidates and the clients in start-up recruitment:  

Assuming With Clients in Startup Recruitment

When it comes to startup recruitment, you are working with companies that are still growing, both in terms of resources and in internal processes. Therefore, making assumptions in this situation is critical. Every win has a big impact. But, at the same time, every loss has an even bigger impact both financially, emotionally or mentally on people. So, here are 4 of the most encountered assumptions when it comes to clients:

Assumption 1 –  The Client Actually Knows The Whole Recruitment Process

When it comes to startup clients, you can easily fall into making the assumption that they know what the recruitment process looks like. Hence, you ignore to explain to them, in-depth, how everything will work out. This can lead to a series of delays in your project and misalignment. Moreover, you won’t be able to meet the client’s expectations. 

Having a kick-off meeting with the client at the beginning of your project can bring clarity of what success looks like, helping both sides to start on the same page and have alignment. Provide your client with all the key info by having a presentation ready with the process description, preferred communication channels, timelines and deadlines. Teri Gibson, our Head of Client Operations has a great article about setting up the agenda for the kick-off meeting with your client.     

Assumption 2 – The Client Knows How To Interview The Candidate

Although you have talked to your client about the roles and they seem to have a good grasp of knowing what they are looking for, that doesn’t mean that they also know how to interview a candidate. This might happen more often than you think, especially in startup recruitment, where the client might be focused more on the technical skills of the candidate rather than the fit with the company.

But, of course, that’s where we come in, as recruiters. Make sure you talk to your client before and after each interview. Our talent lacker, Masha, has a great article that gives you insights into the importance of good interviewing and tips on how to improve it. Also, ask your candidate for feedback after having an interview with the client. Then go over it with your client. These types of actions can lead to a great experience for your candidate and hiring the right talent for your client.  

Assumption 3 – The Person You’re Communicating With Is The Decision-Maker

When it comes to startups, usually it happens that the CEO, COO or CTO want to have a say in evaluating the candidates and reaching a conclusion for hiring, besides the person in charge of the role. This can lead to a lot of frustration for you, your client and the candidate. From your side, you become frustrated as you were enthusiastic about the candidate. From the client’s side, they become frustrated with you not finding the right match for their needs. Lastly, the candidate is frustrated because the whole journey is taking longer than expected due to waiting for a response from the company.

In order to avoid making this assumption, I suggest you gather all the information needed about the decision-makers before the beginning of the project. Our associate recruiter, Laura, has a great article with 3 tips on reaching a final conclusion when choosing a candidate, with the people involved in the hiring process. 

Assumption 4 – You Know The Client’s Hiring Needs

Assuming that you know what your client’s hiring needs are because you probably worked with some company on similar roles in the past, can lead to a lot of time lost and of course with that, hires and revenue. 

Let’s take an example: you had a meeting with your client about the roles needed. They need hires on the senior, medior and entry-level. You do not think of asking the client what years of experience are required for all those three levels, because you assume it is the same as for another client. You go on sourcing and creating the pipeline. However, you find out what you sourced is not good for the client, because their need of experience is different than what you assumed. 

The only way to avoid this outcome is to get aligned with your client, and don’t leave any question unanswered.

Every client has their own hiring needs, and assuming you know it just because you worked in a similar project, can bring you a lot of frustration.  

Making Assumptions With Candidates 

Assuming in startup recruitment with candidates is trickier. Making the assumption that you know what the candidate wants can lead you to not closing the hire. And this can turn out to be expensive. You go through so many rounds of the recruitment process, just to find out that, in the end, the offer doesn’t match what the candidate actually wants. So, here are some of the most encountered assumptions when it comes to candidates to help avoid this: 

Assumption 1 – The Candidate Is a Good Fit For The Startup Culture

For a startup, it’s important to have a resilient, tolerant and persistent team that can handle the constant change. However, when talking to a candidate during a phone screen, they might give you the impression they would fit perfectly at your client’s startup. You can put them through to the next stage, and find out that they actually do not match.

In this situation, having only a phone screen might not be enough for you to avoid the assumption. You can notice this mostly during the face-to-face interview. In these interviews, you can see their reaction to different questions and evaluate a bit better their fit. 

Also, if the candidate only has corporate experience, it could be a risk from the beginning. However, sometimes this risk is worth taking. Here’s an article on how to know if a candidate can handle working at a startup, where you can find a list of questions to ask your candidate. 

Assumption 2 – The Candidate Uses The Right Tech Stack For The Role

This assumption is for all the tech recruiters out there. Let’s take an example: your client is searching for backend roles with knowledge in Python. You just found candidates who mention that they have experience with Python. They also confirm this during the phone screen. So, everything looks great so far, right? 

However, you send them the technical assignment and realise the candidates don’t have the right tech stack knowledge for the role. After other conversations with the candidates, you actually find out that they only have half a year of solid experience and more focus on frontend. 

This example underlines the importance of the technical assignment. Unless your client is flexible in allowing the candidates to learn and develop their skills on the job, I suggest you do the technical assignment right after the phone screen. This way, you filter out the candidates and make the right hire for your client’s needs. 

Assumption 3 – The Candidate Is The Only Decision-Maker And Will Definitely Accept Your Offer

Let’s say you have an offer out to your candidate and expect that the offer will be easily accepted. However, the candidate replies to your offer saying that they can’t accept it, because after considerations with the spouse they are not willing to risk starting in a new company. Wait.. what? Did the candidate have a spouse? 

The candidate is not the only decision-maker. Rarely it happens that they are not influenced by someone else, especially when it comes to a role that involves geographical relocation or a senior role that involves a lot of travelling. 

Make sure during your communication with your candidate you cover all your bases. Try to dig deep into understanding what drives the candidate to decide on accepting the role and who is involved in it. A simple question like “What does your partner believe about accepting this offer?” can save you a lot of trouble. 

Assumption 4 – You Know What The Candidate Wants

This one is similar to the assumption of the client. Assuming about what the candidate wants, for example, the salary they are aiming for, can lead you to not closing the hire. Going through several rounds of interviews, just to find out that at the end, the offer doesn’t match what the candidate actually wants, can get very expensive.

Get to know your candidate through the phone screening process and the interviews. Make sure you ask the right questions and don’t leave any stone unturned. For example, put the candidate in the position of an offer right here, right now. What does that look like for them? What would it take to move from their current position? Most of all – be open to the candidate if you cannot offer them what they want. People appreciate honesty, honestly! 

Assumptions are usually learned behaviours, being your mind’s way of freeing itself in order to make other decisions. They happen when your mind encounters similar situations, grouping them in patterns to be more efficient. However, they determine you to stop listening and communicating, which in recruitment is essential. 

The only way to avoid making assumptions in startup recruitment is to check yourself. Catch yourself in the moment and give yourself time to think about where you are and if you are starting to assume. I do this by setting time in my diary either at the start or the end of the day to reflect.