Six Ways Startups Can Get Better at Hiring and Firing

Hiring and firing decisions are arguably the most important ones any startup makes. As we like to say at Junto, hiring someone is life or death: either the new hire breathes life into the company, enabling it to live a longer life. Or it sucks life out of it, moving it one step closer to death.

These decisions are so omnipresent that rarely does a month go by for any company in Junto that hiring and/or firing isn’t discussed in their meetings and sessions. So we’ve taken hundreds of conversations that have occurred at Junto on these topics, and distilled them into six tactics that have been learned, practiced, and shared by our Apprentice and Alumni companies.


We’ve found that companies that stay on the lookout for good talent are in a stronger position when jobs are available than those that wait until they have a specific need. Always recruiting doesn’t mean that you’re hiring when you don’t have the cash or even the need. It means putting out job descriptions for positions you believe will be the next hires at your company. It means telling your team that you want to meet their friends and family who are looking for new roles. And it means that when you come across a smart and talented person, you take him/her out to coffee to learn more, and stay in touch over time.


Yes, they’re a pain in the ass and yes, your business needs may change over time. But writing out job descriptions forces you to think through exactly what type of person you’re seeking and what you need them to do on a daily basis. We get asked to post the Junto companies’ job openings and share them with our network, but we’ll only do it when there’s a written posting. Not only is it vital for the startup, it’s also the only way we know who to refer for a given position, and is the only way for potential candidates to learn whether they’re a fit.


Many of today’s job candidates, especially Millennials, want to know the “why”. What’s the company’s vision and mission? What are its core values and beliefs? What are its goals and ambitions? This content can easily be integrated into a job description (at Junto, we believe it should come first) so candidates can make the link between the job and the company’s purpose. Including it can also filter out wrong candidates and help self-identify the right ones. We’ve also experienced that discussing these attributes in interviews is important and by integrating questions for the candidates, can help identify that all-important culture “fit”.


We’ve heard that the second time you think about firing someone should be when you act on it. Startups can rarely afford any underperforming people. So if you’ve already wondered whether someone is the right fit for a job, provided performance feedback and the right tools/support for improvement, but not seen any and are wondering again, that person is probably not the right fit. We’ve heard from our companies that an effective mindset to use is that of empathy: the employee is probably under quite a bit of stress about the job as well, and relieving him/her of the burden helps both sides.


Yes, it’s a well-known mantra that companies should “hire slow and fire fast.” But from our experience, they rarely do either. When it comes to firing fast, we’ve seen that companies that think through the firing process are best able to act on their firing decision. They practice what they will say in the meeting, prepare notes to keep themselves on task, often bring another co-founder or leader, say the hardest thing first (i.e.: “This is your last day.”), keep the conversation focused on the termination, and end it quickly.


The best startups care so much about their people that they invest time in creating and following an onboarding plan. They get their team involved to discuss what new hires need to do and learn before they get working. They discuss who they should meet in, and outside, the company. They cover benefits, administrative matters (payroll, paperwork, etc.), and strategic items (vision, mission, values). They set 30, 60, and 90-day goals. They decide on a training plan. And they have have regular feedback sessions and checkpoints during the hire’s first few months.

This list certainly isn’t exhaustive. But putting these tactics into practice will make any startup better at hiring and firing. And getting better at these two things will enable the company to live a longer, happier life.