We help a lot of startups find one of their most critical hires: their first recruiter. Every growing team, by the time they reach 25+ people, realizes that finding the right talent in tech companies is surprisingly hard work. It’s very time-consuming and pretty expensive - and they need to hire someone to manage their hiring full-time.

Half of Gray Scalable’s value in these searches is finding the best person to be the first recruiter at a startup. But the other half is helping to set the stage for this hire, defining the boundaries and necessities of the job, and helping to set them up to succeed once they start. It’s tricky and a lot of “first-time recruiters” don’t even last a year in the job.

Four challenges to being the first recruiter:

1. Expectations are way off, and it will take you a year to correct some of them.

Some hiring managers will think you can hire people in three weeks. Others think you’ll only need to offer 50-80% of the salary the market pays for certain types of hires. It’s going to be an uphill battle to get your managers to align their expectations with the challenging truths of the tech talent market. To avoid this, ask a lot of questions on the front end, and set expectations fairly when you start--also, as you get up to speed and measure progress, learn how to use and report historical data to predict results and establish the right resourcing needs over time.

2. You don’t have a coordinator.

In startup recruiting, the first Recruiter is only half Recruiter; you’re also half Coordinator. You’re also your own Sourcer--you have all three jobs and can’t do any of them as well as you’d like. You may not get another resource right away, but once you're fluent with your internal recruiting math and once you build your credibility, it’s pretty easy to demonstrate the ROI of these hires.  

Download the eBook: Guide to Remote Interviewing

3. “Who?” 

Some companies get great candidates applying on their website, but the company that’s only 25 people hasn’t yet thought about their employment brand--much less taken steps to create it and make it known to the world, which takes time. 

Building an employment brand might be another of your jobs. What to do: This is well worth spending time on, even though your time is scarce. Seek out cross-functional partners (maybe in marketing) - a strong employment brand helps the company in many ways.

4. Even though you save a lot of money, you seem like you spend a lot of money.       

“LinkedIn Recruiter costs what!?”                                                                                                    

“I thought we wouldn’t have to pay those agencies anymore when we hired you.”                      

“Let’s just track things with a Google Doc for now….”                                                                  

You need to learn how (and when) to ask for the necessary resources and create a budget, choosing priorities wisely so you can have quick quality results plus a solid plan for longer-term hiring volume. Work with your hiring managers or executive team to establish the right success metrics for your job and build a plan to meet those targets.


Despite these first-year challenges, it’s an exciting and rewarding job building a company’s talent function. It feels great to look around and see the impact you’ve had at every company meeting; few employees can witness such a tangible impact from their work. And if you follow these steps, year two should be much better!  


written by Charlie Gray, President of Gray Scalable