A quick search on Google for “the future of startups” yields an overwhelming amount of articles ranging from “6 Start-ups Defining the Future of Finance” to “Are These New Startups The Future Of Media?” From the optimistic reception online alone, it’s safe to assume that startups could very well be the way of the future. Yet startups entering a growth stage can find themselves facing a monumental problem: how do they expand and hire more aggressively without losing the startup culture that got them where they are in the first place?

According to Silicon Valley Bank’s Startup Outlook 2013 report, 87 percent of the 750 startup executives surveyed responded that they were hiring. At the same time, however, 87 percent also said that it was “somewhat or extremely challenging to find workers with the skills they need to grow their business,” while 66 percent said that the “biggest challenge to retaining the talent they need is a combination of finding and competing for the people with the right skills.”

Death of culture is every startup’s worst nightmare, but the need to grow and expand is persistent and urgent for every startup hoping to actually make it past the embryonic stage. While it may have been feasible in the early days for every manager or VP to interview, vet and evaluate potential hires, it is simply impossible and impractical to continue this practice once your company passes the 10 or even 20-employee mark, as everyone will sacrifice valuable time away from their work.

This is an issue that SpareFoot and our co-founders Chario take very seriously–we never want to lose our unique and quirky culture, but it can be easy to do so if even one person gets lazy with their hiring procedure. Rachel Morse, who runs recruiting at SpareFoot, gave me some insight into how she protects SpareFoot culture, and how other startups can use a recruiter to hire better without sacrificing culture.

“Startups are very vulnerable, because growth inherently causes change. Most startups keep their culture until about 50 employees. After you hit 50, the culture and initial vibe inside the company can become very hard to maintain.”

Rachel came to us from another startup in Austin, and we love her already. Before recruiting for the tech startup world, she worked for a brain science institute in Seattle, where she realized that she was more inclined to talk to and learn about people. That’s when she decided to move to Austin for sunnier pastures and immerse herself in the startup scene.

“Recruiting is all about learning the language of the person you’re trying to recruit,” she said. “When recruiting international scientists, I learned about brains. Here in Austin, I immediately learned about development and the tech world. It’s all about being able to come into a new world, learning as much as you can about it, and applying that to awesome people and recruiting them.”

“At SpareFoot, we don’t have internal titles, so bringing in like-minded people who are entrepreneurial in spirit is very important. We have a really great company, and we want to make sure that we only hire the best.”

Rachel’s typical day includes doing about four to five interviews or informational phone calls, meeting with hiring managers, and looking for top talent.

“It’s my job to be knowledgeable and calibrate what hiring managers want.”

If you’re wary or unsure about handing off the big responsibility of hiring for your startup to someone else, make sure you and the other members of your team work closely with your recruiter to fine-tune exactly what you’re looking for. Confidence and trust is absolutely key.

“If you’ve already made your company a magnet for candidates with perks like a chef, open bar and a sweet downtown office, it makes a recruiter’s job super easy,” said Rachel. “You should be able to find talent who can capitalize on the fact that you’ve already set your company up as a fantastic place to work.”

The essential criteria for potential candidates:
The ideal startup employee is not afraid of doing more than just “their job.” They’ll stay late to help someone else just because they want to learn. Anyone who is concerned with getting out the door at 5 p.m. will not be a good fit.

“I read every cover letter and applicant that comes into our system,” said Rachel. “We get the most awesome cover letters, so I don’t even consider people who don’t take the time to tailor their resume to us.”

For specific jobs, Rachel said that she looks for certain characteristics that are absolutely mandatory.

“For sales, I want them to be able to sell themselves to me, close the deal, and then follow up with me afterwards. For a developer, we’re looking for someone who can get along with a really hilarious group, and won’t need their hand held to get up to pace. We’re looking for someone that we want to hang out with all the time here.”

Suggestions to recruiters and those looking to hire:
Networking is just as important for you as it is for a jobseeker! Try to meet as many people as possible, and get to know the tech meetup groups in your area.

For hiring developers, Rachel urged recruiters to be especially mindful of not wasting their time and to instead make an honest effort.

“Developers get approached by recruiters at any networking event more than they would want, and typically it’s an insult for recruiters to go up to them and expect to talk on the developer’s level. They get approached constantly, because the need in Austin is so high and there are so few people to take the place–for example, there are a lot of junior developers, but not a lot of senior developers. The drop off gets really steep.”

“Part of being a recruiter is being completely accessible to everyone. For example, we’re in the process of implementing a new applicant tracking website, so pretty soon my email will be on the website. If you feel like you would like to work with us, but don’t see a specific job listing, you can get in touch with me. This way, we have an open dialogue that makes sure that everyone can have access to SpareFoot.”

Interested in joining our awesome team and flying the freaky SpareFoot flag high? We’re hiring! And here’s an insider tip from Rachel: the interesting hobby you put down on your resume goes a long way!

Image courtesy of agbeat.com