Talent Acquisition

4 Startup Recruiter Mistakes You Don’t Want to Repeat

You are a startup recruiter, the recruitment and selection guide is set and you are ready to tackle the applicants. Suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, you find yourself to have committed a few startup recruiter mistakes.

Being a startup recruiter such as myself, it brings along its own set of challenges such as resource constraints and lack of HRM training or expertise.

Below I share some of my own startup recruiter mistakes that I committed in the selection process.

Startup recruiter mistake #1: Process unqualified applicants

CV screening is still the most popular assessment in the early stage selection process. To be fair, it’s subjective and not a great indicator of competency. The purpose is to screen out undesirables and those who don’t meet the minimum criteria listed as requirements in the job description. It’s useful when you know what to look for in a bad CV.

I made this mistake when screening a candidate. He seemed to fit our talent profile and the job description. The dates made sense in his CV, so I invited him to the next stage in the recruitment process which was a video interview.

To add fuel to the flame, I also had the “I need someone right now syndrome” as the position was a top priority to fill.

At the end of the interview in the open Q&A, I was then made aware by the candidate that he had not finished his degree. He was only one or two courses shy and asked if working hours can be flexible.

I replied that we will do our best, but it shouldn’t be a problem. I should have said it was. Which brings me to startup recruiter mistake number two.

Startup recruiter mistake #2: Trying to please everyone

Regardless of how nice and personable you are, you simply can’t just hand out a job to the first or every applicant that applies for the job. That would be poor business sense!

It’s important to remember to keep the needs of the startup the priority while matching candidates to the job. My time is scarce and valuable and it took me a while to really understand this.

Giving personalised and valid feedback to each rejected candidate is a great way to boost the employer brand and reputation. However, I also needed to learn how to say no, and when to exit with good manners.

I admit that my first few rejection calls were slightly excessive in both minutes and dialogue, but this was only because I wanted to ‘give back’ and thank them for their invested effort in wanting to become part of the company.

Today, I set aside a few minutes per candidate when giving them feedback and limit phone calls to under three minutes.

Startup recruiter mistake #3: Enthusiastic oversell

As a recruiter, you are the face of the company. A brand ambassador. Your every word counts. You may not think about it, but when an applicant is desperate for a job, they will take anything and everything you say. Very. Literally.

In hindsight, I made the mistake of over selling the company and job position to an applicant that was highly educated, talented and probably wouldn’t have even considered an offer within our proposed salary range. I felt the need to present the company as an early stage Groupon or other hot trending global startup to keep her interested.

I have observed that millennials are the most demanding of a realistic job preview and it’s a better policy during the interview, to simply break down the job tasks into percent of time candidates would spend on task activities per week.

Startup recruiter mistake #4: Prejudice

We all have personal preferences and an unconscious bias towards candidates who are similar to us and this is where the best recruitment, selection, talent acquisition professionals excel. They can to some extent, be able to remain objective and impartial when assessing a candidate to a specific job position.

Being aware of prejudice is one thing, and knowing how to avoid discrimination is another.

A few years back, when it came to issues of education, I would have been considered to be an elitist. I used to browse the university rankings and knew each country’s top universities and the best subject specific programs.

When I began as a startup recruiter, that mentality still existed. The idea that students from premier universities were better than the rest.

I doubted myself whether to invite an applicant to a phone interview after seeing their university degree.

My view on a university of applied sciences was limited to ‘those who couldn’t get into a ‘real’ university’.

Having done over a hundred startup interview’s so far, I can report that I have observed no significant differences in performance between vocational and traditional university candidates.

In fact, those who come from vocational degree or other alternative paths come across as more driven and passionate than candidates from premier universities, who more or less have expected to be rewarded, not based on their assessment scores, but on their branded degree.


In a startup environment, the vibe is more informal than a corporate office setting, so it may give you a false sense of comfort and ease. Stay sharp!

However, as a startup recruiter, remember that when you start the selection process, it is not the time to cut loose, become best friends and network extensively with each candidate, you are there to do a job which is to facilitate your company growth by attracting, matching and employing the right talent to your startup.

We all make mistakes, the important bit is that we learn from our mistakes and avoid making them next time.

By Thomas Koponen

Thomas is the HR and Business Development Manager at Saleduck in Amsterdam. He is also on the board of M2Talent and Osaka Oy.