Start-up Recruiting: The Best of Jobs, The Worst of Jobs

Gray Scalable has been conducting an annual recruiter survey for the past three years to provide startups with insights on building a powerful recruiting strategy. As a part of this survey we wanted to learn what recruiters felt were the biggest challenges and greatest rewards about the job. We’ve asked two optional, open-ended questions every year:

1. What is your biggest challenge as a recruiter?

2. What is the best thing about being a recruiter at a startup?

We grouped the responses into similar categories - below are our findings!



At startups, it’s common to see recruiters wearing multiple hats. A startup recruiter’s scope of responsibilities is rarely exclusive to recruiting-related job functions. At smaller startups (fewer than 100 employees), a single recruiter will often be responsible for all hiring needs and building the HR function. In our survey, 27% of responses reported this being one of their biggest challenges. Some recruiters summed it up in one word: burnout.

Startups are fast-paced almost by definition - which is often what makes joining them so attractive. But with that fast pace often comes unrealistic expectations of time to hire. As one responder put it, “keeping the bar high while moving at light speed”.  Speeding-up the hiring process in a way that reduces the ability to appropriately assess candidate qualifications can negatively affect the entire company culture. Since recruiters know this all too well, it becomes a constant challenge to meet the daily demands while maintaining high standards.



Another major challenge cited by recruiters - with 24% of responses falling into this category - was competition for top talent, particularly in tech roles. The market for specialists in technical fields is highly competitive and startups are vying for talent versus larger companies that have larger budgets and can afford to pay higher percentiles of pay.

Recruiters are searching for the best candidate, and compromising on qualifications or cultural fit is never a viable option. It’s a battle ground, it requires recruiters to spend longer hours searching for candidates, they’ll have to master a great sales pitch and brace themselves for the disheartening sound of rejection.

Brand Awareness

The third category - with 14% of responses - cited brand awareness as a challenge. When candidates don’t recognize the company, recruiters are the ones who must spend extra time going into the history of the company and getting the candidate excited about the product or service. This challenge presents itself at every stage of the recruitment process - beyond sourcing - and can impact things like offer acceptance rates. Recruiters have to pay attention to this problem, stretching their role outside of recruiting and into marketing, impacting their already-limited bandwidth.




While recruiting for a startup has its challenges, it isn’t without its rewards. The most notable, with nearly 35% of responses,mentioned the impact they felt they had, by building the organization, and being an integral and direct part of the business growth. A few examples of responses are here:

“Watching the team grow, knowing you've been a huge part in the success”

“It's a fun and exciting journey and so awesome to be a part of "building" something.”

“I build things here, I have ownership, I contribute to the company growth…”

“…knowing that my ideas have led to operational excellence for HR and beyond is a great feeling.”

At a startup, top leaders are often accessible and eager to include employee ideas in decision-making. As a recruiter in a small organization, each hire recruiters make has an impact on the culture landscape, and ultimately impacts the success of the business. Startup recruiters get the satisfaction of visibly seeing the cultural landscape they’ve formed - and at the end of a long day, can be very proud of their accomplishments.


While the fast pace of a startup can be a challenge, nearly a third of of recruiters (28%) stated the best thing about working for a startup is the dynamic and fast-paced environment. Unlike a large corporation where ideas and improvements regularly get lost in a bureaucracy of red-tape, startups can pivot and shift strategies at lightning speed. This can be a huge motivational factor for people who embrace change and thrive off autonomy.

People and Culture

Being motivated by the people you work with and being a part of a highly collaborative and passionate group of people can have immense influence on how you feel about your job. Over 20% of our responses cited people and culture as being the best thing about working as a recruiter for a startup.  A few quotes below:

“…working with passionate and motivated folks who like to get things done!”

“Awesome company culture & positive work environment…”

“Being around so many talented people.”

Perhaps it’s the long hours spent working on small, collaborative and dedicated teams, or maybe it’s the balance of fun perks and casual work environments. Whatever the case, startups have unique cultures that foster friendships among colleagues.



The survey responses reinforced some of the common assumptions when comparing work life at a startup versus at large corporations. Being a recruiter at a startup is challenging: you face problems that you wouldn’t otherwise face at a large company, and are always pressed for more time. But many people who work at startups and experience those challenges will also see the the upside, and will be the first to tell you that the rewards far outweigh the challenges.


To see the full survey results click here.