The WFH FAQ: SignalFire’s Remote Hiring Guide For Startups

Strategies for attracting, onboarding, compensating, and motivating your remote team


Why remote work requires a new strategy

To adapt to the post-COVID “new normal” employers can no longer see work-from-home as an exception. The need to make decisions around how to pay people in different locations, how to legally employ people across many places where local employment laws differ, and how to help avoid the loneliness, disconnection, and Zoom fatigue that comes from working alone at home. 

We took a look at the strategies of the best companies operating remote or hybrid, including those who became distributed long before the pandemic. In this remote hiring guide, you’ll learn how to answer questions like:

  • What type of remote culture is right for our company?
  • How do we compliantly hire talent where we don’t have an international entity? 
  • What is the right pay and benefits approach for our team’s setup?
  • How do we navigate time zones and location complexity?
  • How do we build an engaged and high-performing team when we aren’t in the same physical room?

Remote Recruiting And Compliance

What’s right for you: remote, hybrid, or IRL?

To build an intentional strategy around where employees will work and communicate it clearly to your team, leadership needs to crystallize their objectives:

1. Why are you considering any kind of remote work variation? 

  • Is it primarily due to necessity (e.g. global pandemic) and not desirable? 
  • Is it to attract and retain top talent in a competitive market? 
  • Is it to recruit an international team that can connect with customers across multiple global markets?
  • Is it because hiring in other countries might lead to cost savings? 

Identifying the top 1-2 fundamental reasons for distributing your team will help balance goals and tradeoffs.

2. What biases or concerns do you have about having a remote team? 

  • Do some leaders worry that people underperform from afar? 
  • Do finance and people teams worry about the extra tax and compliance work? 
  • Do you believe that physical in-person time is best for relationship building? 

3. Are you planning for an office-centered strategy, a hybrid strategy – partial or full, or an all-remote strategy? 

  • Office-centered means that you may have a hub and spoke model where there are multiple offices in key locations and employees can live apart from each other but do work in an office.
  • Hybrid means that there is an office or multiple offices, but there are also options for employees to work from home in some capacity. Full hybrid means that some people may be fully remote and never commute to an office, but others may choose some mix.
  • Partial means that all employees must still be expected to work from the office in some capacity, but it could be as little as a few days a month. 
  • All remote means that there are no dedicated offices. There might be a coworking desk stipend or membership, but the primary design is around no office hub and everyone works from home or a hotdesk. 

4.  Is everyone eligible for remote work or is this only afforded to some? 

  • Does the same working arrangement menu of options apply to any team member or is it restricted to specific tenures, seniority/levels, teams, or locations? This can be a dicey decision, and it’s important to document the choices made and the reasoning for those choices for a perception of fairness and inclusivity. That said, there can be very good reasons for some employees not being eligible for remote work (e.g., a job that requires office duties such as IT) and it’s okay to create limitations so long as they can be communicated properly.

5.  Are all locations eligible?

  • When you offer remote work, are you offering work from home within a radius of an office location? 
  • Remote work within specific states, countries, or locations where you have a business entity? 
  • Any location within a specific set of time zones? 
  • Or anywhere in the world? 
  • Are you investing in specific locations for key business or talent market strategies or are you simply hoping to find the best talent wherever they are?

Remember, keeping everyone in a similar working time zone creates better conditions for scheduling meetings and communicating synchronously, but having more time zone coverage can be especially helpful for customer support and engineering coverage in case of downtime. 

Startup recruiting step #1: Defining employer brand

Will you be a remote-allowed, remote-first, or remote-friendly organization?

  • Remote-allowed means that remote work is something that may be approved or permitted, but it is seen as a perk in and of itself and the organization will not go out of its way beyond that permission to enable or empower employees who work remotely.
  • Remote-first is the other end of the spectrum, and it means that the company is fully committed to remote work and centers on the remote working experience -vs- the office experience. This might show up as benefits and perks equalized for commuters to an office and remote teams (e.g. food delivery service to match in office lunch) or all-hands meetings with everyone dialed in separately so as to equalize the experience for the remote worker and people in office (e.g. one human, one zoom square). 
  • Remote-friendly falls in between. Considerations are given to remote employees (e.g. rotating team events between virtual and in-person) and remote employees are provided some perks (e.g. a travel reimbursement for a quarterly trip to the office), but the in-office experience is still at the center. 

By aligning on these topline philosophical questions, and documenting your team’s approach, you can start answering second-order questions such as:

  • Do we want to create entities in all of our locations, partner with a PEO or EOR, or some mix of strategies?
  • Do we want to pay a single rate for all talent regardless of location or adjust to local markets or tier by cost of living?
  • Do we want our remote team members to commute to the office at some cadence, and what does our travel policy look like?
  • Do we expect remote people to work their localized time zone or adjust their working hours to overlap with HQ?
  • Can someone move whenever they want to an approved location, or will we require approval?

Next, we’ll help you design strategies and a process for answering the questions above.

How to legally hire abroad: Entity creation, EOR/POR, or contractors?

News stories of companies like Airbnb and Spotfiy letting teams “work from anywhere” fail to detail the iceberg nature of this decision. Turns out compliance isn’t an exciting PR story. Below the surface, large legal, finance, and HR teams have to ensure that the company can legally employ or contract with these team members anywhere. Here’s how to navigate the core decisions.

Working relationship + payroll

In a co-located team, a standard HR platform with payroll integration like Gusto or ADP can typically be used to manage basic working relationships with employees and contractors. However, some of these systems aren’t equipped for international or distributed teams due to complexity around taxation and compliance. Employers can’t simply hire and pay people anywhere in the world without accounting for things like local labor laws, leave laws, payroll taxes, and more. 

There are essentially 3 buckets of options when it comes to employment classification globally, and they each come with pros/cons: 

Entity creationBest for growing a large team in a specific country –  All companies already have at least one entity in the location where they incorporated. Within the US, teams must register in each new state in order to employ new team members (or they can use a PEO, see below). Internationally, entity creation is also an option but a much more challenging effort. The upside is the flexibility to hire employees and contractors in all countries where there are registered entities. We recommend this path if your company intends to really invest in hiring in a specific location (typically 10+ hires indefinitely). The downside is the team must internally manage adherence to local employment laws, tax laws, and become experts in these nuances. If there are only one or two people in a specific country, especially employees who are likely to be retained no more than a couple years, it’s not a great investment for the company to set up and manage entities at the international level. 

Partnering with a global employer of record (EOR) or professional employer organization (PEO) solution Best for hiring a few people in several countries This category of vendor has truly exploded over the last few years with lots of companies promising to help startups hire anywhere. (Examples are: Oyster, Papaya, Pilot, Velocity Global, Remote, and others.) Be sure to check that the provider isn’t only offering payroll for contractors, but also allows full-time employees to be hired. These vendors work by setting up entities in all the countries where you want to operate and employing your team through their platform. The upside is that startups can hire internationally faster than waiting to establish an entity of their own, while remaining compliant and reducing risk because these companies are experts in all the countries and manage the administrative complexity. The downside is that they can be very expensive, sometimes costing 20-30% of the salary costs alone. In addition, they provide the knowledge base for managing employees post-hire, but the onus is on the company to follow the local labor laws (e.g. termination of an employee for performance in some countries requires a full year payout if on a fixed contract). That’s why once a company has 10+ people in one country or tax jurisdiction, it is more cost-effective to create an entity. 

Classifying hires as contractors – Best for consultants or testing remote work – It’s important to understand the nuance of contractor classification in each country to ensure that the type of work a person is being hired for is aligned with the definition of a contractor, otherwise the company runs the risk of misclassification which can be very costly. Navigating employment classifications is a tightrope walk that can be very limiting, especially in some countries where the classification laws are strict (note: LATAM, Germany, France, Canada are amongst the most restrictive, but the list goes on). Sometimes choosing this will feel antithetical to “remote first” because employers can’t provide contractors medical benefits or promote them into certain job levels without taking on massive risk. The upside of this option is that it serves as a great “waiting room” while determining if the company is best served by an entity vs PEO strategy. It’s the cheapest upfront ($0 beyond any accounts payable software needed) but the risk of a lawsuit could mean fines and back pay and end up as much more expensive than the other options. 

Navigating the best option can be complex, especially the more countries a company chooses to operate within. Of course, some companies choose to mix and match all 3 strategies as they grow, which allows for the best of all worlds, though it does add more complexity to workflows navigating different employee and contractor segments. 


Modern Platforms Legacy Service Providers Entity Expansion  Safeguard Global Vistra (international)
OysterHR Velocity Global Mosey (US domestic)
Pilot  Globalization Partners Velocity Global
Papaya Global    

A word of caution: engage legal as a partner in these efforts

Everything shared above is general advice on how to think about remote work setup options and does not constitute legal advice. The goal is to think through what options might suit a specific hiring strategy and then engage with a legal partner who can more formally advise on the best way to design, communicate, and execute the best approach. 

Most companies will be surprised to find their primary legal counsel can’t advise outside of a few states or domestically. There are law firms that specialize in international employment law. A top law firm that supports everything from setting up entities to granting equity/stock across countries is Baker McKenzie, and Susan Eandi heads this practice. We recommend starting with a localized employment attorney in each location where there is an entity and/or a bulk of team members, and pull in Baker McKenzie for specifically scoped projects or more difficult international questions outside the scope of local counsel. 

There are many vendors, both tools and service providers who can support you after you make the above choices. SignalFire has partnership discounts with some of these vendors. SignalFire’s portfolio companies can check out the Founder Portal for details.

Subscribe to SignalFire’s newsletter for more guides to recruiting, fundraising, growth and more

Remote Compensation and Onboarding

Remote compensation and rewards strategy

Learn more about designing your core compensation strategy here. 

Compensation gets a lot more complicated with a remote team. You need to think about it not only at time-of-hire, but also throughout the individual’s employment and as compared to people in similar positions across the globe.  Consider the below questions to help inform an effective compensation strategy:

  1. Will you offer a single rate of pay regardless of location or a geo-based tier structure?
  2. What percentile strategy and market location will you build your compensation bands from?
  3. Will you aim for a total rewards value proposition (e.g. differentiating benefits across countries with a similar total value) or offer the same benefits across the board? (e.g. if employer-sponsored retirement benefits are the most generous in APAC at 10.5%, the US team members will receive the same for 401k matching)
  4. How will your choice regarding remote work strategy and operations influence your compensation and rewards strategy? (e.g. remote first organizations may strive for a similar value proposition whereas remote allowed may have tangible differences in the overall value proposition)
  5. Is your chosen strategy scalable considering future growth and investment costs to execute?
  6. Do you have the internal tools and resources to manage your chosen strategy design? (e.g. if you have a geo-location tiered strategy and need to assess when team members move cities or states, who will monitor, assess and adjust pay changes associated with moves?)

We recommend reviewing SignalFire’s cash compensation strategy guide, but also considering decisions on total rewards, including which holidays to give off depending on the location, how benefits and perks will work when a portion of the team might receive in-office perks, and more.

Remote interviewing process and tips

The benefit of hiring anywhere means that your potential candidate pool is much larger than the traditional confines of a commutable zone around an office space. But companies must be intentional about the candidate experience, since a company’s culture that’s typically a vibe felt when attending an onsite interview now needs to be communicated virtually. 

During a remote interview process, candidates are seeking cultural signals through the careers page, Zoom interactions with the interview panel, publicly available information about the employee experience / employer brand [see our guide here] and communications sent by the hiring team throughout the process. Employers should move quickly through the hiring process due to increased competition from other remote companies and need to find creative ways to signal role fit without meeting the candidate in real life. Below are tactical tips from setting up your remote hiring strategy:

The remote interview process:

Remote candidates use the interview process to assess how organized the company is. A disorganized and underprepared hiring team signals to candidates what their employment experience might be like. Successful remote organizations are documentation-heavy in order to create clarity and move fast when working asynchronously. 

Key considerations from the process above and how to optimize for remote hiring:

  • Employer Brand: Consider a more robust careers page that highlights how you manage a remote team operation and what candidates can expect if they interview with you and if they ultimately join. Also consider other sites like Glassdoor, BuiltIn, and more, where candidates around the world might discover you and/or review for their own research.
  • Position launch: Consider timezone overlap requirements for the team (being within 4 hours of the majority of your team is a best practice for collaborative synchronous meetings) as well as geographical location and note these on the job posting (e.g. US-remote, EST timezone to overlap with EMEA-based team). Also, consider legal compliance requirements when posting positions. Some states require compensation ranges and specific language regarding background checks.
  • Recruiter screen: Be upfront about your compensation strategy and the range for the position when confirming their location. Also, ensure they have valid working rights for where they plan to work from/if they require sponsorship now or in the future. You will also want to share where they may or may not be able to work from in the future as defined in your remote strategy.
  • Work sample: An asynchronous work sample, technical pair coding challenge, or working session with key stakeholders in the team are great ways to understand how the candidate will communicate, collaborate and demonstrate technical competencies expected for the position. It also gives both the candidate and team a glimpse into what it would be like working together 
  • Panels: When hiring remotely, the time between 1:1 conversations can make the process feel long and drawn out. Where possible, schedule all panel interviews on the same day. This helps the process move quickly and keeps the candidate experience positive/max of 5 distinct steps in the process. The shift from commuting to in-person interviews to Zoom interviews means other employers can swoop in if you’re too slow.

In addition to the process, remember to be considerate of scheduling times that are convenient for the candidate’s timezone, remind interviewers to check their technical connections ahead of the interviews, and don’t be late/no-show without proactive communications to the candidate before the scheduled time of the interview.

How To Make A Startup Careers Page


  • Use any recruiter outreach as an opportunity to share the mission, vision, and employer brand of your company — link blog posts, accolades for culture and employee experience, recordings of executive leadership speaking about the company vision or mission in written communications.
  • During the interview process, embed ways for the candidate to learn about what it would be like to work at your company. For example, if they would like to speak with a team member who shares a particular identity (e.g. BIPOC, Women in leadership roles, LGBTQ+, etc.), create inclusive and friendly ways to call in community members internally and create company culture moments.
  • Create clarity throughout the process through written expectations and updates — how many steps the interview process typically takes, what type of time commitment is expected, as well as timelines associated with feedback and next steps

Remote onboarding plans

For a deeper dive, check out this webinar by Robert Walters featuring our own Heather Doshay on Remote New Hire Onboarding

Onboarding can be more challenging when employees are remote and not sitting with each other. There’s less human connection and a lot more self-guided learning. The first month can feel lonely, especially if the team member is transitioning from a traditional office setting. In addition to compliance, here are some tips for helping new remote hires ramp up quickly:

  • Fly-in or virtual onboarding: For total inclusion on remote-first teams, either fly every remote team member out to the office in person for onboarding so that all employees get the same first-week experience, or create a totally virtual remote experience so that remote employees don’t get a second-rate experience of what the in-office cohort gets.
  • Onboarding documentation: Create a companywide onboarding guide that new employees can turn to and access answers to questions without feeling like they are bugging their manager. See our onboarding template here.
  • Pass down your culture: Consider implementing a buddy system where employees you think of as culture carriers can be matched to new hires for their first 90 days and be available to answer any questions. Provide the new hire and the buddy with a small stipend to fund a virtual coffee or lunch so they have a chance to connect socially.
  • Feedback styles: The manager should ask the new hire about their feedback and recognition preferences — public vs. private, how they are best motivated, etc. and ensure that the manager is aware of the preferences of everyone on their team to balance overall recognition dynamics. 
  • Surveys: Consider a new hire survey 90 days after each hire starts, to get insights to continually make onboarding stronger and stronger and intercept any new hire issues that could arise but go unnoticed in a virtual setting.

Pro tip: Here’s a manager activity we recommend when a new hire starts. Explicitly share these with the new hire: (1) Why they specifically were hired for this job, (2) why this specific job is critical to the success of the business, and (3) what success looks like after the first 30, 60, 90 days and beyond.

Equipment to do the job at onboarding and beyond

Hardware and remote office setup is a physiological need for most office workers who are working remotely. How much you offer employees as a company depends on your top-level strategy and approach. A remote-first team might provide a remote office setup stipend or membership to a local coworking space on top of shipping equipment to them (or providing reimbursement for a computer purchase).

Be explicit with whatever strategy you choose. Tell employees “We recognize you spend a lot of time sitting at a computer on Zoom calls here, so we’ve purposefully designed a perk to allow new hires to design an ergonomic desk set up to avoid stress injuries as well as an upgraded webcam and microphone to enable more effective meetings.” 

Here are a few examples of what remote-friendly and remote first teams might provide their employees, along a spectrum from baseline expected (a company computer) to a more generous approach (home office stipend and monthly perk budget):

There are vendors that can make this easier to manage. For example, FirstBase provides remote office setup as a service, inclusive of both hardware and office furniture. Compt allows companies to set budgets for reimbursement in key categories as one-time or recurring offerings. And of course, there are tools that help people be more effective and productive when working remotely, such as Loom for video messaging, Krisp for noise-canceling, and Motion for task and calendar management. 

Remote culture tips: No second-class citizens

The perception of belonging comes down to implicit and explicit factors, so here we’ll review the dynamics that impact whether someone feels truly comfortable at your company. The risk is that a hybrid work strategy can create norms that signal to some employees that they don’t belong or that they are seen as second-class citizens in your culture. 

Remote work time zone etiquette

When you’re on a distributed team, not everyone shares the same 9 to 5, and not everyone can attend every meeting unless they are available 24/7 (spoiler alert: we don’t recommend working around the clock – 3am calls will eventually drive away talent). Therefore, it’s important that all team members can access critical information and share information asynchronously.

Many teams miss the documentation and communication step of doing business and find their company in a state of confusion or in an unscalable and exception-based reality, especially if a key knowledge-holder leaves. 

Here are a few best practices for communicating effectively in a distributed setting: 

  • Establish a source of truth where key decisions and processes can be documented and accessed across the organization. This can be as robust as a companywide intranet or an official company Google Drive storage system, or as simple as a single Google Doc that links out to everything else as an archive (the latter won’t scale once you’re over 150 team members, but it’s better than nothing!)
  • Build a multi-channel communication strategy for big announcements, as messages can be lost with the low signal-to-noise ratio on Slack or a Zoom all-hands. 
  • Record company-wide and team-level Zoom meetings and provide links so that people in time zones outside of where the meeting is being held can still access it on their schedule.
  • Consider using silent meeting techniques, which give all participants an equal footing and by design capture all feedback and discussion in a doc that can be reviewed at any time.
  • Maintain thorough meeting notes via Google Docs, Dropbox Paper, Notion, or whatever you use, both for 1:1s and larger meetings. Establish a single notes document for the meeting that can be referenced back by relevant parties. 
  • Avoid creating secondary documents beyond the company-wide or team-wide source of truth. You don’t want a culture where people create siloed personal records for their goals, priorities, budget, reporting, etc. Encourage everyone to contribute to the ‘official’ documents that already exist
  • Document your documentation norms. Yes, it’s a bit meta, but encourage all team members to follow suit! From e-mail to Zoom chat to Slack to Loom to an old-fashioned phone call, it can be confusing to know which method is right for the time. Receiving messages across a variety of channels can lead to unproductive spin and even burnout amongst distributed teams. See below for some examples of how to make these decisions and guide the team to follow.

Pro-tip: Publish internal guides to which email list or communication medium is for what use case, or how to take a Slack chat headed toward an uncomfortable place to a live conversation. Here’s a few public examples of this done well by Gitlab and Zapier.

Remote-first or remote-friendly time zones?

How rough will it be for employees living across the globe from the core of your team? Explicitly and intentionally decide if you choose to be a remote-first organization that strives for global inclusivity as default, or if you want to anchor to an “HQ timezone as center of gravity” to which everyone adjusts their hours.

Remote-first time zone management: The goal is to ensure all time zones feel included. Strive to delay decision-making until you’ve heard from everyone who should be involved, rather than finalizing decisions before some stakeholders are even awake. All-hands meetings might rotate times on a quarterly cadence to be equally convenient to all. If you occasionally need to ask a colleague to join a meeting outside of their normal work hours, we recommend skipping video. It’s much easier to join if you’re not expected to be camera-ready.

HQ-centric time zone management: If HQ is in San Francisco, all employees must work at least 4 hours overlapped per day with Pacific Time. Employees in APAC might start their day at their local 7am to overlap in the afternoon, and employees in EMEA might start their day at noon and work into the evening to overlap with the morning. Company meetings might take place at 11am Pacific Time and EMEA employees are expected to tune in at their dinner hour or watch a recorded version of the meeting after the fact. 

It’s important to be cognizant of naming conventions for meetings as well as when and how social events happen so everyone feels like it was designed with them in mind. If an SF HQ’d team has a team member in NYC or EMEA and holds a 9am pacific time standup called “morning standup” when it’s noon for NYC and maybe 5 or 6pm for EMEA, that can feel alienating to some. Consider “daily standup” instead to signal consideration and empathy.

Alternatively, if your only virtual social events are 5pm “happy hours” in that same SF HQ, it might make it tough for the EMEA folks to ever attend unless they join at midnight, and happy hour may not feel appropriate for the mid-day cadence of an APAC team member. A shift to “social hour” or going a step further to call it “it’s happy hour somewhere” might help. Moreover, hosting events that aren’t centered only around alcohol is inclusive not only for the team member who joins on their lunch break but also for the team member navigating sobriety or their own religious norms. 

Pro-tip: Develop rituals and norms that allow team members to know who’s working vs. OOO both on Slack and in calendars. Ask team members to keep their Slack status up to date so other team members know if they can expect an immediate response. Requiring the team to set “working hours” on apps like Google Calendar is also helpful in scheduling group meetings and setting expectations and boundaries.

Remote work perks and benefits: Building a sense of belonging

Here are some ways to translate culture-building to remote work through incentives beyond compensation:

  • Office or location-based perks: Think of this as in-office catered lunch and snacks, a free gym membership only at the location next to the office, or even child care. If you’re “remote-allowed” you might remind people of that specific choice and that you believe remote and flexible work choices are the perk in and of themselves (and a few years ago, people might have nodded their heads in agreement and moved on, but in today’s climate, they might move on… to another job that is remote-friendly or remote first). If you’re “remote-friendly” you might offer your remote employees a more flexible option to reimburse a gym membership near them or offer a monthly virtual lunch where remote employees can expense food delivery but not try to match every single in-office perk.
  • Remote-first and -friendly perks: If you’re remote-first, you’re going to design your remote perk strategy in a way that feels equitable to what the office offers. For example, you might offer a monthly DoorDash gift card in the value of the amount you spend on your in-office catering per person or equalize a remote office reimbursement budget for snacks and supplies at the same amount as a commuter benefit dollar. It’s not to say everything should be dollar for dollar, but the key is explicit intentionality. 
  • Office-first community: Think of this as the big annual company holiday party, the weekly happy hour, or the in-office yoga class at lunchtime. If “remote-allowed”, you might communicate that when it is easy or practical to do so, you’ll create virtual invites to in-office events. If remote-friendly, you might ensure that at least one event each month is specifically designed to be remote (e.g. virtual bingo instead of a happy hour, bring in a virtual yoga instructor, or play a guided meditation). In other words, some programming budget is dedicated to include those remote team members. You might even offer to cover the costs for team members to fly in for the holiday party and build a team offsite around it to align with a business purpose.
  • Remote-first or -friendly community: Here you would design a majority of their programming around remote team member needs, and might choose to give every team member up to $300 to take their family to a nice holiday dinner in lieu of a single location holiday party but ask that everyone who utilizes that budget to share a photo of their dinner and how they celebrated in Slack. They might design policies that allow every team member a budget per year to visit one team member in another location and work with them for a day or two to encourage decentralized social time. 

Remote employee advancement and internal mobility 

Advancement and internal mobility is a powerful way to retain top talent while filling roles in a competitive market. It’s truly a win-win and drives a deeper sense of belonging, though when teams are hybrid, it can get a bit tricky. 

While perks and social events can make remote employees feel included, what’s most important is them believing that a bright career future is possible outside of HQ. If you decide the executive team must be in office, does that mean a remote emerging leader can never be promoted beyond a certain level? In a more informal sense, how much water cooler talk turns into mentorship or sponsorship that may result in promotion over someone without those opportunities? Or what about a Zoom meeting that ends, and everyone working remotely logs off, but the manager stays behind in a conference room to chat with the employees physically in the office that later turns into a changed decision or context the remote employee misses? These informal moments create proximity bias.

The first step is to decide what limitations you want to formally construct (if any), and then the second step is to identify all the implicit and explicit ways people may feel held back by being remote and find ways to mitigate those dynamics. These could be documented advancement and internal mobility policies as described below, extra office hours especially for remote teams, or a special rule that no decisions happen after the Zoom meeting turns off if there is even one remote person on the call.   

Most small companies don’t (and shouldn’t) start out by over-architecting complex promotion and internal mobility processes (though when you’re ready to think about designing performance management processes, check out this guide and all the templates in this folder!). Typically, when companies are small, all it takes is someone raising their hand and asking for an opportunity, and based on a number of factors (e.g., business need, readiness, how good at influencing they are), a promotion or new role is forged. This is not sustainable with scale and can lead to remote team members feeling like second-hand citizens.

So how do we solve this dynamic with scale?

  • Provide equitable opportunities to build social connection: The goal is not to block some relationships or casual connections from forming, but rather to create transparent paths for all to gain access to the same opportunities. How can companies create spaces for those who want virtual sponsor relationships? Can we empower virtual channels through which all can participate in water cooler culture such as a weekly casual coffee chat or using Donut to create more connections between senior leaders and emerging talent?
  • Create a written overview of your promotion/internal mobility process: It doesn’t need to be a 40-page legal policy, but can be policy- or process-“lite” where there’s a consistent way internal opportunities for promotion or mobility are advertised inside the company and approvals happen. Here are some helpful templates to get you started: Internal mobility & promotion policy template, promotion request template/form! Consider including content on the following:
    • Do employees need to hit tenure (e.g. 12 months in role before being considered, unless business needs justify a move sooner)?
    • Will all new role opportunities be posted? Will they be posted internally and externally? If internal only, how many days will it remain open for applications?
    • Will all internal moves require an interview process that assesses competencies for role fit? 
    • How will in-line promotions (e.g. not a new role, but someone moving from X to Senior X) differ in process? 
    • Will promotions be available to happen anytime? Or at key points in the year (e.g. at the start of each quarter)?
    • Will promotions assume an approved backfill? If not, how will backfills be decided?
  • Enable your managers with training. Training managers on the processes and making them aware of their biases can help mitigate inequitable internal mobility and promotion decisions. The biases most common in this scenario are:
    • Similarity bias – “We work the same way and think the same way, which makes it easy to communicate and work together.”
    • Familiarity bias – “I like them and know them on a personal level, so I’ll weigh that higher than attributes required for the role.”
    • Halo effect – “They are really nice and well-liked by the team, so they must be good at their job.”
    • Horns effect – “They made a mistake on that one project we worked on cross-functionally, so there is no way they would be good for this opportunity.”

Remote work, mental health, and burnout

There are a variety of reasons team members may experience burnout, isolation, and anxiety regardless of how an organization is structured. Not only are remote workers subject to all of the same risks for burnout and other mental health issues as their co-located counterparts, they are physically isolated which may add to these concerns, have to put extra energy into enduring Zoom marathons, and it’s also more challenging for managers and teammates to see what’s really going on.

Research in the Applied Psychology academic journal reveal employee’s ability to align their work and personal responsibilities to avoid some types of common burnout are improved by people managers that demonstrate these four strategies:

1. Connect: Make employees feel comfortable. Normalize personal life moments in the workplace, from saying hello to a disruptive child to making it clear that the team cares more about results than clocking in at a certain time if something comes up.

2. Respond: Work effectively with employees to creatively solve conflicts between work and personal responsibilities. Be open to listening and helping problem solve, using discretion and not overstepping of course.

3. Rethink: Organize work in their department or group to jointly benefit the employees and the organization. If an employee is feeling burnt out, are there specific buckets of project work that could be reassigned to them to help reinvigorate their excitement in exchange for taking something off their plate that’s causing burnout?

4. Model: Demonstrate effective behaviors on how to juggle work and personal responsibilities. As a manager, model good behaviors like truly taking time off at regular intervals and disclosing that you sometimes feel burnout and then share what you do to manage it effectively.

Burnout isn’t always something that stems from too many competing responsibilities and a consistent state of being overwhelmed. It can also stem from a lack of personal alignment between one’s personal values, the company mission, and the role itself. We recommend managers communicate why each team member’s individual job responsibilities are mission-critical to the company’s success. 

Companies should design systems of resources and processes to not only mitigate, but also respond to burnout, isolation, or unproductive job-related stress. Stigmas around mental health in the workplace are diminishing, which is great, but not everyone is open to talking about these experiences. That why it’s vital that help and resources are easily discoverable within a company’s intranet or handbook. 

We recommend companies provide resources for team members to confidentially get the help they need as well as train managers on navigating mental health and burnout in the workplace. Here are a few resources that can help, and some can even be positioned as perks for those looking for preventative measures. You’ll also typically find that your benefits broker can provide free EAP programs and you can also share websites for in-network therapy under your benefits plan. 

  • Spring Health – Certified therapists and counselors 
  • Modern Health – Certified therapists and counselors
  • Better Help – Certified therapists and counselors
  • Bravely – Coaches who can help with difficult situations at work including burnout, but not certified counselors
  • Empower Work – This is not a paid solution, but rather a non-profit free for employees in need that you can share as a resource for your team if you cannot provide one of the above solutions in a paid partnership

Remote employee recognition: More than virtual high-fives

Image Credit: Revel Interactive

In the long run, the most important forms of recognition and engagement are internally derived from the self-perception that the work someone does matters and that it matters to acknowledge their contributions. If an employee can’t articulate how they are important to the business or are recognized for their efforts, no amount of high-fives or shout-outs will retain them. However, that alignment and advancement path is a long-term journey. The little props and bits of public praise or the random Starbucks gift card acknowledging someone’s efforts go a long way to keeping one’s recognition and esteem battery charged.

Develop and maintain channels for verbal and written praise for achievements no matter the location or time zone. Also, remember it’s not all on leadership to show appreciation for their direct reports. Whether a company invests in HeyTaco or Bonusly or simply repurposes a slack channel focused on #props or #appreciation, public recognition that’s accessible to all regardless of seniority or location is key. 

It’s important to note that especially when navigating a global team, this dynamic of giving props, shoutouts, kudos – whatever the team calls casual and quick praise – there are two challenging layers to navigate:

  1. Kudos across time zones: When praise only happens as a segment during synchronous meetings, and remote employees tend to watch after the fact, they may feel not only a decrease in belonging but may also receive less praise. Moreover, they have no avenue through which to give others that same praise in kind which may result in less of a flywheel of praise for that person’s work. If coupled with a lack of clear alignment to business goals and path toward advancement, it is likely that the employee will fall prey to low workplace esteem and potentially low engagement or premature attrition. 
  2. Cultures and preferences: While not culturally specific 100% of the time, it is common for some people to feel uncomfortable with excessive praise, especially in public. This can result in awkward feelings or interactions due to preference for a different source of recognition, or a more public team-level imbalance of who receives praise and who doesn’t. 

There’s no simple answer for managing these areas, and teams will need to adjust what they can when they can to accommodate the diversity of the team. Three vendors in addition to the ones cited above may be helpful in navigating recognition: 

  • Blueboard – Helps leaders provide special experiences to recognize employees that can be sent in public or private.
  • Compt – Manages distributed benefits and perks broadly, but can also be a platform used for monetary recognition such as a stipend category for work anniversaries, employee appreciation, and more. All perks are 100% customizable and tax-compliant which is a major upside, with the one drawback is they function as reimbursements instead of gift cards.
  • Fringe – Similar to Compt except that there are specific categories available for the various recognition types and it’s not customizable, but the benefit of Fringe over Compt is that there are no reimbursements and all recognition gifts are virtual gift cards.

Remote work manager checklist: How to know if employees feel supported

Putting all of these tips together

Gallup’s Q12 Survey

How do all of these strategies work together? Consider Gallup’s Q12 – a set of survey questions that measure employee engagement. Gallup has surveyed more than 2.7M people across 100k+ teams to uncover indicators of engagement that lead to performance and retention outcomes we all strive for. 

In remote work, we often make isolated decisions about compensation, tooling, and more, but the employee experiences a holistic and integrated working experience at your company. See how all the pieces we presented throughout the guide work together in a list of quick tips aligned with the Gallup Q12 questions:

  • I know what is expected of me at work.

Deploy a single source of truth like an intranet or a company-wide Notion doc that outlines expectations that managers reinforce during onboarding and one-on-ones. Check out Gitlab’s handbook as a model, but something more concise will do as long as it is up to date. 

  • I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right.

Provide remote employees with access to communication and productivity tools as well as a remote office stipend to feel fully resourced, healthy, and effective in their jobs. Check out FirstBase, Compt, Loom, Krisp, and Motion to meet a variety of remote employee needs. 

  • At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.

Remote employees work just as hard as anyone else, often logging more hours than their in-office counterparts. Acknowledge their efforts and prime all managers, but especially new managers to build trusting teams where results matter above facetime.

  • In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work.

Consider creating a culture of recognition that extends beyond the in-person high five. Check out Slack plugins like HeyTaco, and feedback features within products like Lattice to help recognition become everyone’s responsibility, not just those in leadership roles. 

  • My supervisor, or someone at work, seems to care about me as a person.

One majorly overlooked retention tool is helping employees feel seen as whole people. Managers should normalize and honor extra-office responsibilities in the workplace. It can be as simple as saying a friendly hello to a wayward pet on a Zoom call or asking about the new plant in the remote office background. 

  • There is someone at work who encourages my development.

Consider the way your team designs learning and development programs, promotion policies, and other career opportunities and how these are or aren’t inclusive of remote employees. Consider rotating career development event times or creating asynchronous opportunities for learning.

  • At work, my opinions seem to count.

Zoom can make it challenging to speak up in meetings, especially when a majority of the team is co-located. Try calling on remote team members to share before co-located team members in hybrid meeting environments. Find ways of collecting ideas and opinions of remote team members in a virtual suggestions box. Tools like Ariglad can be helpful for organizing these suggestions. 

  • The mission or purpose of my company makes me feel my job is important.

The best retention predictor is feeling a sense of purpose in the work being done day in and day out. Especially with the isolated nature of remote work, a connection or tie between the daily grind and the company mission is more important than ever. 

  • My associates or fellow employees are committed to doing quality work.

How can your company design virtual spaces for teams to highlight the work they are doing when they can’t see them in action every day? Consider how teams can highlight their work product at virtual all-hands meetings, create newsletters or async company updates that allow individuals to shine, and practice documentation and transparency wherever possible to inspire the team to row together toward greatness.

  • I have a best friend at work.

This can be more complicated when there is no coffee station to chat around in the morning or lunch table to enjoy a catered meal with. Consider deploying designated social opportunities for team members to connect as more than coworkers to build real friendships. Try Donut to create virtual hangouts, or create Slack channels that cater to common interests like #parenting, #gardening, #dogs, and more. 

  • In the last six months, someone at work has talked to me about my progress.

Consider performance management platforms like Lattice with their Grow product or other tools in this space to help managers navigate progression conversations. Alternatively, consider creating lightweight career development plan templates that managers can use or empower every team member to engage with a coach through a platform like Bravely to help them initiate their own progression conversations.

  • This last year, I have had opportunities at work to learn and grow.

Remember that opportunities to learn don’t have to be classroom-based. In fact, only 10% of learning for leadership development works best in a classroom setting. The remainder should come from people connections and on-the-job training opportunities. Managers and leaders should identify opportunities that arise on the job and be extra explicit about their intention so that employees understand that they are being invested in for growth. 

Further reading

Subscribe to SignalFire’s newsletter for more guides to recruiting, fundraising, growth and more

How to make a startup hiring plan

SignalFire’s Startup Recruiting Guide

Chapter 3: How To Make A Startup Hiring Plan

By Crystal Guerrero, edited by Josh Constine

SignalFire’s guide to headcount planning, inclusive job descriptions, compensation benchmarking, and interviewer training

Headcount is your biggest expense, so it pays to plan ahead. You wouldn’t write code without knowing what you’re building, or make a sales call to a random phone number. It’s the same for recruiting. Mapping out the process means when you need to fill a role or talent falls in your lap, you’ll be ready to hire, smart, and fast.This guide is designed for founders, executives, and recruiters alike to sharpen their hiring skills regardless of budget or team size. Whether you’re a one-person hiring squad, an in-house team, or are working with recruiting contractors, we’ll teach you to:

  1. Develop a short- and long-term hiring plan

When should you develop a recruitment plan?

It’s never too early! Founders and CEOs should ideally start thinking about recruitment plans before they even have the money to pay for the talent. That way they can budget or raise to cover their future burn rates. Many investors like SignalFire prefer pitches that include a hiring plan so they know what funding will go towards and which key roles or weaknesses remain unaddressed. But let’s say that you’re coming to this realization a little later in your company’s history, like once you’ve made your first Talent/HR hire or assigned someone else to take ownership of recruiting like your COO or VP of Finance. You’ll still need to understand the process so you can evaluate your team’s work and align your efforts.

Why focus on recruiting so early in your company’s history?

If you only have a handful of employees, you might be hesitant to spend time at this stage improving your recruiting processes and operations. But founders often spend 70% of their time on recruiting. It’s the only way to actually gain time back by having people to which they can delegate tasks. Unfortunately, the explosion in startup formation has created a talent crunch. That means you can’t just be a great place to work or compensate well. You also have to know exactly who you need, when you need them, and how to run a swift and professional recruiting process to sign them.

It’s an especially tricky challenge because every startup wants to hire amazing talent, demand has drastically surpassed supply, and when you don’t have a process in place, everything is slower and less efficient. The stakes are high at this stage: Each subsequent hire will consider your existing team’s quality and culture when deciding whether to join. Great talent wants to work with and learn from other great talent. Meanwhile, diverse talent may be apprehensive about joining a homogeneous team. Putting in the work now means you won’t be digging yourself out of a hole in the future.

That said, don’t limit yourself to only senior employees at name-brand companies. While you might feel like nabbing some VP from Google means you’ve derisked your company, they can be hard to attract without huge cash compensation, and might not fit into a scrappier culture. Instead, look for first hires who could have made great co-founders.

Subscribe for the latest SignalFire how-to guides & startups trends

3 steps to launch your recruitment plan

Step 1: The approval: What is the process to open a role

You need to institute a standard approval process that happens every time you open a role. This process should apply to all departments and positions at all levels, including full-time regular, part-time regular, and temp positions. This process should account for A) budget and B) resources for someone (e.g. founder, executive, recruiter, hiring manager, or agency) to work on the role, and C) defining the role and responsibilities.

Initiating a hire

The hiring leader discusses new requisition needs with the decision-maker whenever a department has a need to:

  1. Open and recruit for a new position

The person who makes these approval calls could be the CEO or CFO, depending on your org structure.

Approving roles: A step-by-step guide

Here’s how to go from recognizing a role you need filled to kicking off recruiting. Remember that depending on your team size, the recruiter, hiring manager, head of HR, and even the founder could all be the same person.

  1. The hiring manager emails the decision-maker to request a new open position — this is called a requisition form. You can make this an easy-to-access template and post on your wiki for all hiring managers to access. This should include:
    • -Is this a new position, refill position, or temp position?
    • -Title
    • -Seniority level
    • -Who the person will report to
    • -Basic scope of the role/responsibilities/skillset required — attach job description if this is a refill for a past role
    • -Compensation benchmarks
    • -The decision-maker approves or rejects
  2. If approved, the requisition form is sent to HR (if you are a small team, this step may be handled by finance). It’s helpful to attach a job description at this point if it is available. For help, check out SignalFire’s job description template and our deep-dive into turning role needs into job descriptions later in this chapter.
  3. HR/Finance reviews the requisition form to verify that the job’s responsibilities, necessary skills, and compensation match the open role, and suggest edits if necessary.
  4. Once approved, HR/Finance updates the compensation benchmark spreadsheet with the new role’s compensation bands and shares with the hiring manager and CEO/Finance for final approval.
  5. The recruiter is given all relevant information and begins working with the hiring manager to launch the recruiting process.

For more on job requisitions, check out the Society for Human Resource Management’s approval process.

Compensation benchmarking

How much should you pay a software engineer? How about an intern vs a manager? How should that be divided between salary, bonuses, and equity? And how much equity should you provide in refresher grants over time? These are critical questions for both attracting and retaining talent, but also for hiring planning so you don’t outstrip your runway.

Hypothetical example, not based on real data

This downloadable compensation benchmark spreadsheet and template from Option Impact (dummy data set previewed above) includes recent data on expected ranges for engineering salaries, bonuses, and equity for a variety of seniority levels. While it’s not perfectly up to date and doesn’t take into account COVID-19 or remote work’s impact on compensation, it should give you a foundation for headcount planning. The additional tabs provide templates for building your own compensation workbooks for engineering, product, sales, marketing, and customer support.

You can click File->Download->Microsoft Excel to download the compensation example and templates for your own use. Check out Option Impact’s compensation data services based on 3000 participating companies for more resources like this look at Bay Area startup CEO compensation.

Given COVID-19 is pushing many companies to be remote-first, it may be appropriate to consider compensation changes for employees that move from near your headquarters to lower cost-of-living locations. Payscale’s calculator will show you the change in housing and living costs for moving between different cities.

Image for post

Payscale’s calculator

Step 2: Headcount and capacity: When to hire

Despite uncertainty, it’s important to maintain both a short- and mid-term hiring plan and document where you stand on recruiting each quarter. Tip: Investors and board members appreciate seeing these quarterly checkups in your updates to them.

If you are fortunate enough to have someone besides a founder leading talent acquisition, it’s important to give them (your recruiter, people ops, HR team) guidelines in the form of a headcount plan and forecast. Like salespeople, recruiters are often working with pipelines and managing connections with job candidates over time, so giving them insight into future hiring needs will help them nurture the right relationships.

There are two major points to consider: headcount planning, which is defined as deciding which new employees you’ll be adding to your organization and the rough timeline this will follow, and capacity planning, which is considering how many roles your recruiter will be able to take on at any given time.

Headcount planning

The budgeting process for new headcount typically happens early in Q4 for the following year. At this point, all new positions are discussed and go through the annual budgeting process for planning and approval.

In many cases, circumstances will dictate additional headcount needs outside of the already approved roles. In this case, there should be a discussion justifying the new approval so that the team is aligned as to why the role is being prioritized over the formerly planned roles. The whole team must understand that the recruiter will not be expected to work on or source candidates for un-approved roles.

The executive team should decide how to prioritize roles — determine which three to five you’d like the recruiter to focus on and what ranking roles come in after that. It’s also a good idea to come up with a plan for handling backfill if an existing team member leaves. Be sure to prepare for scenarios where you need to ramp your headcount plan up or down depending on fluctuations in runway or unexpected cash crunches.

Here are a few points to consider when defining your headcount plan and forecast:

  • Which people do you need today, in two quarters, in a year, or even later? If you’re looking to hire mostly executives in a short timeframe, you’ll probably want to work with external recruiters from a capacity standpoint. If you only want to hire a few individual contributors, an in-house recruiter should be able to handle that.

Capacity planning

You need to develop a realistic workload for your recruiters to avoid burning them out. This is why it’s helpful to create a framework for defining the complexity of roles. For example, recruiting software Greenhouse’s 5-point scale allows you to assign a difficulty index to each role. Roles that are easy to fill or already exist and require little setup (e.g. adding another SDR to your team when you already have one) get a score of 1. Roles that are higher levels of seniority or require specialized skills (e.g. senior software engineers or executives) get a score of 5. Recruiters can typically fill around 12 points a quarter, so using this approach can help create alignment around priorities and realistic expectations.

You’ll want to measure or at least estimate your recruiting yield ratio. This is defined as how many candidates will you need to source and move through each phase of the interview funnel to reach your hiring goals.

Here’s a hypothetical recruiting yield ratio pyramid from Workable, though your numbers will vary widely.

Hiring managers and recruiters will work closely throughout the entire recruiting process (which could be quite lengthy if you’re looking for an especially tough-to-fill role), so they need to be on the same page from the outset. Be sure to spend time defining roles and responsibilities as well as creating realistic expectations about how long different steps will take. Hiring is a full-time job, so factor in all the work!

Check out these resources to learn more about recruiter capacity planning:

Step 3: Roles: Who you need to hire

When considering who to hire, start with the big picture: What’s the ideal composition of your company? What distribution of experience do you need? Then you can zero in on questions like what each incremental hire will bring to the table and how to optimize your hiring order. Your management team should discuss upcoming hiring needs within each management meeting. These conversations should then be factored into the company’s annual hiring plan to make sure that growth projections are being hit and the budget is not being compromised.

When you’re ready to think about individual roles, the hiring manager and recruiter should work together to create a detailed job description. We often recommend asking the hiring manager to articulate their needs for the approval process first and then to go back later with the recruiter to refine them at the start of the search.

Here are the questions that should guide these discussions, both at the leadership and hiring manager levels:

  • Why are we adding this role?

Resources in this section:

External links in this section:

How SignalFire can help

Don’t want to handle this all by yourself? Recruiting is SignalFire’s superpower. Our Beacon Talent engine tracks most of the top tech talent in the Western world and can generate reports on the best and most hirable job candidates for any role. SignalFire’s talent program is headed by former Facebook Talent leader Mike Mangini whose team assists our portfolio companies with high-level strategy and on-the-ground recruiting to make sure you score your ideal hires. We made over 1000 job candidate intros to our portfolio companies last year — just one of the reasons we receive a net promoter score of 96 from our portfolio founders, over 85% of whom say we’re their most valuable investor.

SignalFire’s Director of talent operations & development Crystal Guerrero

For first-time founders and serial entrepreneurs seeking a refresher, we start by offering a program based on my (Crystal Guererro) decade of experience leading talent operations for startups. We partner with founding teams to help them establish a world-class recruitment process. We refer to this as a “recruiting engine” — systems implementation, brand building, role definition, recruitment process, sourcing, interview training, and compensation benchmarking to enable teams to identify, attract, engage, close, and onboard top talent quickly and effectively.

This hiring plan guide is part of our Recruitment Process Optimization program where I work in tandem with our founders and talent teams to devise a comprehensive recruiting strategy, advise on systems development, and aid in recruiting execution via our various individual contributor talent pipelines as well as Beacon Talent. To support this program, the Talent Academy Playbook outlines the nuts and bolts of implementing a well-oiled recruitment machine which is a compilation of best practices and learning from my recruiting career. This should help guide your thinking as it relates to building your talent engine.

Service Level Agreements For Hiring Teams

How to create clear tasks and timelines for everyone who’s involved in the hiring process.

So much of recruiting relies on timing. If you’re too slow to follow up, schedule interviews, or make an offer, chances are that promising candidates will get snatched up by another company. But many steps in the hiring process depend not just on a single person but the coordinated efforts of several people. This is why it’s so important to commit to timelines, deliverables, and success metrics so you can move candidates through the pipeline quickly.

Service Level Agreements (or SLAs from here on out) clearly spell out exactly what each team member is responsible for and the timeframe they have to complete each task. SLAs will help you make more offers, get more candidates to sign, and bring your company that much closer to a world-class team.

Which SLAs should you assign?

The charts below provide an outline of what generally happens in each stage of the hiring process along with some recommended timelines for the recruiter, hiring manager, recruiting team (which may overlap in smaller teams), and the decision-maker (who may be the CEO, Head of Finance, or Head of People). Take a look and consider how these map to the people and processes at your company.

You can use this template below to make your own hiring SLA with tasks each role is responsible for.

How long should it take to complete each task?

Time kills all deals. To put it simply, you want to move as quickly as possible in every stage while accurately assessing candidate value.Still, you need a realistic time frame for each task. These numbers will vary depending on complexity and seniority of the role, the recruiter’s existing bandwidth, etc., so consider them a rough guideline:

  • Hiring manager completes initial job description: 1 week

Hold a kickoff meeting with stakeholders to decide which tasks and time frames should be included in your SLAs. Consider how you’ll hold people accountable to them. For example, you may want to incorporate SLAs into their goals or performance evaluations.

Grade your experience

You’ll also want to gather insight from the candidates who are going through this process. A candidate experience survey can help you collect data to identify if there are any slowdowns or inefficiencies they perceived in the process.

You can use Google Forms, Typeform, Survey Monkey, or another survey tool.Here are examples of a candidate experience surveys to get you started. You can see what the survey should look like in PDF form, and copy text from the Google Docs versions to paste into your own surveys:

  • SignalFire’s Candidate Experience Survey — Downloadable PDF

Defining who you want to hire

Creating a detailed job description that can be used both internally and externally to promote a role.

Your team needs to be able to align around the skillset and qualities that will make someone successful in this role. Otherwise, you’ll be wasting candidates’ time — and your own.

One of the best ways to come to a consensus on your ideal candidate is by crafting a detailed job description. Think of this as a piece of marketing collateral: It should speak directly to candidates and convince them why your company is the perfect place for them. We made this startup job description template to help you out.

Hiring manager kickoff

Before you get started on the actual job description, the hiring manager needs to carefully consider the ideal candidate for this role. What type of company do they currently work for? What are some keywords that define their work to date? What specific work experience and personality traits do they have? We know these are deep questions, which is why we’ve created the Hiring manager kickoff document to walk you through these major categories. Plan to spend about an hour conducting the research and filling out the document, and then you can continue on to the next section. Don’t worry — we’re not going anywhere. This is what we do.

The key elements of a job description

It can be tempting to turn a job description into a wish list of everything your company wants. But if the description seems too broad or demanding, it can scare off applicants. Instead, try to frame your job description in a way that puts the candidate first. Why should they be interested in this role? What will they get, both personally and professionally, by joining your company? This will boost your rate of inbound applications and outbound recruiter response rate.

Here are a few points you should aim to include:

  • Brief description of the company’s product, purpose, and mission

That might seem like a lot to include, but you shouldn’t just lay out a laundry list of prerequisites and projects they’ll work on. Tell them what they’ll actually spend their days doing.Most importantly, you want your job description to be unique. Candidates will likely be comparing yours to several similar roles at other companies and you don’t want to get lost in the crowd. Don’t be afraid to add a little flavor from your work environment and company culture.

Check out SignalFire’s job description template for a deeper look at all the major components. We recommend having hiring managers and recruiters partner on writing this up. Remember that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. You can recycle some wording from previous job descriptions, especially when it comes to your perks, benefits, and company culture.

A note about inclusive job descriptions

Research has shown that the language in job descriptions can affect how they’re perceived by candidates and discourage certain groups from applying. There are a few steps you can take to create more inclusive job descriptions. Here are a few examples:

  • Use gender-neutral terms like “they/them”, “applicants” or “the candidate”, not “he or “she”

To learn more about inclusive language in your job descriptions, see: 5 Must-Dos for Writing Inclusive Job Descriptions.

Textio‘s unbiased writing tool

Resources in this section:

External links in this section:

Choosing & Training Your Hiring Team

How to train your hiring team to conduct consistent interviews and provide vivid candidate feedback

Anyone who joins your company is going to change the team dynamic, and this is especially true when you’re small and early stage. They’ll be communicating and collaborating with the rest of your squad, so it’s critical to have other team members participate in the interview process and consider who would be the best addition to your company. Plus, interviewing is tough and time consuming. The burden shouldn’t only rest on the hiring manager’s shoulders. Spread the love (or to be more accurate, the workload)!

How to choose your hiring dream team

You’re looking to create the right mix of people who can handle the two major tasks in an interview: the assessment and the sell. You need talented specialists and team leaders who can judge the candidates on the skills required for the role, and evaluate how they’ll add to your culture. Meanwhile, you need friendly and persuasive team members to represent your organization in an authentically positive light, and effectively “sell” the role and your company to convince candidates to accept your offer.

Start by reviewing your job description and outlining the key skills you’re trying to assess. Consider which employees would be well suited to evaluate candidates on these skills. If you’re hiring into an existing team that already has a few members, some should definitely be part of the hiring team. If you’re building out a new team that doesn’t have other members yet, you can pull in leaders from other departments in order to get perspective from people with broader work experience.

You may also want to think about conducting cross-functional interviews to get a better sense of the candidate’s personality and general work style. That means including some interviewers for assessing technical skills, and others to judge culture fit. If you’re still relatively small and your executives have the bandwidth to do so, we recommend having your CEO or co-founder participate in the interview process as well.

In addition to the hiring manager, consider one or two interviewers from the same team, one or two cross-functional interviewers, your CEO or co-founder, and potentially one or two hiring team members who can participate in a more casual way, such as taking the candidate to a [virtual] lunch or coffee, conducting the culture-add interview, or participating in the take-home assignment presentation.

Each interview should include no more than four interviewers. That will keep you from soaking up too much of your employees’ time, and ensure everyone has space to participate. If you find some of your hiring team to be off-putting to candidates, it’s important to pull them out of the process as soon as possible so they don’t scare away hires.

How to train your hiring team

Next, you’ll want to create a training experience so that all interviewers use a consistent process for evaluating and giving feedback on candidates. Even if members of your hiring team have conducted interviews before, you’ll probably want them to participate in order to brush up their skills and align them with your company’s unique process. Interview consistency is key because otherwise you’ll have no way to accurately compare candidates who met with different hiring teams or answered different questions. That can allow too much subjectivity or bias to creep in. Most modern applicant tracking systems will provide a scorecard system to make consistency easier.

Illegal interview questions from TheBalance

Here are a few other topics to consider for your training:

Many companies will hold an in-person interviewer training class on a regular basis (e.g. once per quarter) and may require each new interviewer to complete additional online training courses that cover other topics. Some aspects of interviewing are clear cut: There are questions that you absolutely can’t ask candidates, such as their age, race, ethnicity, gender, religion, disabilities, and marital status, for example (for more on non-compliant interview questions, see this article). But there are also many elements of interviewing that can vary from company to company, including the format and length of interviews and processes for collecting and reviewing feedback. We’ll go deeper into all the questions to ask during interviews in future recruiting guide blog posts.

Be sure to schedule time as soon after interviews as possible to sync up with the interviewing team and confer about the candidate. This lets you have the most vivid discussion possible with impressions fresh in everyone’s mind. It also lets you compress the interviewing timeline so you can make an offer or move on to more candidates as quickly as possible. This is particularly critical after the final interview because delays can cause candidates to lose enthusiasm or let other hirers swoop in.

Remember you don’t need a unanimous decision from the hiring team. You’re not looking for the least offensive average of all skills and traits. You want someone who’s the best in the room at something to help level up your company. Still, you’ll need buy-in from at least the key decision makers and people working closest to the new hire.

We recommend dedicating some of your training time and resources to raising awareness of unconscious bias, which has become a hot topic in the interviewing world lately, and goes hand in hand with creating a more diverse and inclusive company. Everyone has natural preferences which can unintentionally shape their opinions of candidates. These can make it more difficult for people from underrepresented backgrounds to get hired, and wrongly favor candidates with similar work or education histories to founders and early team members. Many companies have begun to offer unconscious bias training to help limit some of this bias and make their hiring practices more inclusive. These two blog posts by the recruiting team at Cockroach Labs are a great introduction to this topic: How We’re Fighting Unconscious Bias and Open Sourcing the Interview to Reduce Unconscious Bias.

To the same effect, you shouldn’t tolerate intolerant behavior from candidates. Remind your hiring team to be on the lookout for culture red flags like inappropriate jokes or casual sexism.

Optimize your hiring team

Once you have created or selected a training program, all interviewers should be required to complete it before participating in the interview process. Send out the message that interviewing is both a big responsibility and a badge of honor (not a chore!) — only high-performing employees who embody the company values should be invited to participate in the process. Remember that the individuals you choose to participate in the interview process are representatives of the company and you should be confident in their evaluation and decision-making skills. Consider if there’s a modest gift or reward you can share with employees for being pulled into the interview process given it will eat up time from their primary role.

After you’ve established a cohort of experienced interviewers, you can also create an interview shadowing process, allowing a fresh group of team members to sit in on interviews with more experienced interviewers. While this involves some extra bandwidth initially, it will ultimately expand your number of available interviewers, allowing people to sub in as necessary when someone is not available. This also helps to avoid interviewer burnout and interview scheduling delays while bringing diversity of perspective to evaluations.

Now you should understand how to develop your hiring plan, approve a new role, build out your hiring team, divide tasks, write job descriptions, fire up a recruiting process, and prepare for interviews. Sign up for our next chapter to learn about the hiring funnel. We’ll explore how to source job candidates and move from initial contact to final-stage interviews. To be invited to the next expert talent council event, email our Director of Talent Operations & Development Crystal Guerrero at [email protected].

Image for post

Resources in this section:

External links in this section:

General interviewing resources:

Professional interviewing help:

Compliance trainings, anti-harassment, unconscious bias training, and diversity & inclusion training:

  • Everfi: HR, compliance, and risk training

About SignaFire’s Talent Program

Recruiting is SignalFire’s superpower. Our Beacon Talent engine tracks all the top tech talent in the Western world, and can generate reports on the best and most poachable job candidates for any role. SignalFire’s talent program is led by former Facebook executive recruiter Mike Mangini whose team assists our portfolio companies with high-level strategy and on-the-ground recruiting to ensure you score your ideal hires. We helped make over 1000 job candidate intros to our companies last year — just one of the reasons we receive a net promoter score of 96 from our portfolio founders, over 85% of whom say we’re their most valuable investor. Want to start working with SignalFire’s Talent team? Contact this article’s author, our Director of Talent Operations Crystal Guerrero: [email protected]

Subscribe to SignalFire’s newsletter for guides to startup trends, fundraising, and recruiting

Startup job description template

A list of essential components for writing job listings

by Crystal Guerrero, edited by Josh Constine

A boring job description implies a boring job. By instead communicating the opportunities for career growth instead of just the responsibilities and qualifications, your open positions will help fill themselves. Here we’ll lay out a template for writing an appealing job description.

This template from our Director of Talent Operations Crystal Guerrero is part of SignalFire’s hiring plan guide. To get our next startup recruiting how-to guide, sign up here

Job Description Template

[JOB TITLE] Senior Product Manager

[ROLE DESCRIPTION: Overview of the job’s responsibilities and challenges]

[Company name] is seeking an experienced senior product manager who can contribute to… A PM at [Company name] has “full stack” product responsibilities including working hand-in-hand with our designers, engineers, customer success representatives, and sales teams to deliver a timely, high-quality product.

We are interested in a PM who has [this work experience] who can apply [these skills]. The person who will be most successful in this role has [work style traits] and can [solve challenges particular to the job].

[DESIRED JOB CANDIDATE VALUES] Who will love this job:

  • [Attracted to a specific challenge we’re tackling]

  • [Work style trait that gels with our culture]

  • [Alignment with company mission]

[RESPONSIBILITIES] What you’ll be responsible for:

  • Owning the … strategy of the platform

  • Collaborating with … to prioritize features on the roadmap

  • Driving…

  • Working with the … team to develop…

[QUALIFICATIONS/DESIRED TRAITS] What we look for in a candidate:

  • Strong … skills

  • Passion for…

  • …experience a plus

[WHAT WE OFFER] Perks at [Company name]:

  • Competitive salary, bonus, & equity packages

  • 401(k) retirement plan

  • Pre-tax health care, dependent care, and commuter benefits (FSA)

  • Flexible medical, dental, and vision benefits for you and your family

  • Life insurance & disability insurance

  • Parental leave

  • Fitness discounts for gyms or home equipment

  • Unlimited paid time off

  • Option to work 50% of your time in [location X] satellite office

  • Free catered lunches and dinners for in-person employees, and meal stipends for remote employees

  • Office social events including happy hours, parties, and community service projects

  • Fully paid on-site parking, local commuter pass

  • $10,000 referral bonus for new hires

  • Apple laptop and ergonomic home office stipend

  • Employee activity groups for runners, cyclers, rock climbers…

  • Much more

[WHO WE ARE] About Us:

[Paragraph outlining the following: Product description, customers or demographics using the product, location, well-known investors, advisors, executives, and the company mission]

Diversity Commitment: We are focused on building a diverse and inclusive team. We welcome people of all backgrounds, experiences, abilities, and perspectives and are an equal opportunity employer. We do not discriminate on the basis of race, religion, color, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, age, marital status, veteran status, or disability status.

Learn more at [company website link].

Spotify starts by breaking down its job listings into broad categories and acquired companies

This template is part of SignalFire’s startup hiring plan guide. To get our next recruiting how-to guide, sign up here.

About SignaFire’s Talent Program

Recruiting is SignalFire’s superpower. Our Beacon Talent engine tracks all the top tech talent in the Western world, and can generate reports on the best and most poachable job candidates for any role. SignalFire’s talent program is led by former Facebook executive recruiter Mike Mangini whose team assists our portfolio companies with high-level strategy and on-the-ground recruiting to ensure you score your ideal hires. We helped make over 1000 job candidate intros to our companies last year — just one of the reasons we receive a net promoter score of 96 from our portfolio founders, over 85% of whom say we’re their most valuable investor. Want to start working with SignalFire’s Talent team? Contact this article’s author, our Director of Talent Operations Crystal Guerrero: [email protected]

Hiring manager kickoff playbook

Job Description Prep & Phone Screener Script 

by Crystal Guerrero, edited by Josh Constine

You’ve got an open job position to fill, but how do you write an accurate job description or start to screen applicants? This document will walk you through preparation for defining an ideal job candidate’s skills and experience, determining companies and industries from which to recruit, and which top-selling points and questions will score you the best applicants. Then we’ll outline which questions to ask applicants to quickly understand if they might be a good fit.

This resource is part of SignalFire’s Startup Recruiting Guide chapter on hiring plans and launching a recruiting process. You can sign up here to get our next chapter and more guides for startups.

PART 1: Recruiter → Hiring Manager initial communication

Recruiters: You can copy and paste this into an email or a working document to share with your hiring manager. If you’re a smaller team, the leadership, hiring manager, recruiter, and HR roles may overlap, and you might just be filling this out yourself.

[JOB TITLE] Details – link to Job Description 

Let’s start preparing for the kick-off! I am getting things prepped and ready to post the [JOB TITLE] role. [LEADERSHIP] mentioned you will be the hiring manager for this role and to sync up with you accordingly.

I have created a preliminary doc that helps outline the specifics of the role. This is an information-gathering doc that will help me both in the candidate-sourcing phase and the recruiter phone interview phase.

Please spend 30 minutes to 1 hour adding details about this role. Please fill out the sections that I designated with [HIRING MANAGER], as I would like you to think about and define this before we meet. This is a template version so I have added ideas to get you started. Anywhere you see a “?” or “…” is somewhere to fill in the information.

We can figure out the rest of the details ad hoc. If you would like me to share this template with anyone or ask anyone else to participate, please let me know. I will also set aside an hour for us to review the info and discuss logistics.

The more info you can provide, the better!

Link to Ideal Candidate Profiles [HIRING MANAGER: please add at least 5 LinkedIn profiles]:

Companies to Target [HIRING MANAGER, please add]:

  • Are there companies that are known for having strong teams around this position?

  • Domain?

  • Companies using a similar tech stack?

Profile Search Keywords [HIRING MANAGER, please add] –

If I were to search on LinkedIn, what keywords would represent the skills you want to see?:

  • Current companies?

  • Past companies?

  • Technologies/languages/frameworks?

  • Skills?

  • School?

  • Degree type?

  • Similar job titles?

Ideal Candidate (Work Experience) [HIRING MANAGER, please add]:

  • Compensation maximum: …

  • …years experience in…

  • Any need for X years (total) in a …-facing role in a … related industry or field?

  • Experience working with…

  • Strong understanding of…

  • Has experience taking a company from X size to Y size?

  • Has launched a …-type of product?

Ideal Candidate Traits (Who are they/Culture) [HIRING MANAGER, please add]:

  • Ability to work in a fast-paced, diverse, and rapidly changing environment.

  • Someone that can…

  • Attention to…

  • Soft skills/attributes such as: Energetic, no ego, willingness to take full ownership, wear multiple hats, doesn’t fold under pressure, cross-functional communication skills, someone that feels like they have to be a part of a startup (this is part of their goals/dream)

Red Flag examples: 

  • Contractor/Consultant

  • Large gaps in experience

  • Job hopper

  • Anything else?


Top 5 Selling points for this role? Why is it compelling? Why join this team instead of another? [HIRING MANAGER, please add]:

Please don’t mirror what is already listed on the job description. If you were trying to sell a candidate on the opportunity, what are the major reasons why this role is HOT?

  • You will establish yourself as a…

  • You will have the ability to…

  • You will build…

  • You will contribute…

  • You will lead…

  • You will learn…


Team structure [HIRING MANAGER, please add]:

  • Who does this hire report to?

  • Who is on their team?

  • Who is on their pod?

  • Who do they work with cross-functionally?

  • Team dynamics?

  • Growth opportunity?


Phases of the interview and times for each: [Hiring Manager, please coordinate]:

  • Recruiter Phone Screen (Name – 30 minutes)

  • Hiring Manager Phone Screen (Name – 30 minutes)

  • Video Call / Onsite 1: meet with [TEAM NAME] team member (NAME –  45 minutes) – Optional person to rotate in if not available (NAME – 45 minutes)

  • Video Call / Onsite 1: meet with [TEAM NAME] team member (NAME –  45 minutes) – Optional person to rotate in if not available (NAME – 45 minutes)

  • Video Call / Onsite 1: meet with cross-functional team member (NAME –  45 minutes) – Optional person to rotate in if not available (NAME – 45 minutes)

  • Video Call / Onsite 2: HW presentation (60 minutes total)

    • Required to meet: (1 hour total)

      • Name(s)

      • Optional to meet: ?

  • Video Call / Onsite 2: (Other 1:1’s)


PART 2: Guidelines for initial phone screen

Here we’ll go over major question topics to discuss in your first phone call or video conference with a job candidate.

Note that we’ve omitted topics regarding citizenshipfamily status, and compensation history. These are regulated by laws that protect candidates from discrimination and compensation suppression. Please be sure to comply with these laws and consult an expert before asking about these topics.

Employers can still gauge the applicant’s pay expectations without asking for their salary history by including a range in a job description. You can use this compensation calculator to get a ballpark range. Even with a salary history ban, an employer can ask what an applicant hopes to earn. And nothing prevents highly paid job applicants from volunteering their current salary to set employer expectations.

Recruiter Intake – Questions for candidates: 

  • Pain (motivators for looking):

    • Why are you leaving/looking outside of your current role?

    • What are you looking for in your next role that is lacking in your current role?

  • Career: What are your top 3 motivators to take a job? 

    • 1.

    • 2.

    • 3.

  • Location:

    • Where do you commute from?

    • Are you able to make that commute to [OFFICE LOCATION]? (Do you commute via car, train, bike etc.)

    • Are they moving? If needed, do they expect to be reimbursed for or given a relocation bonus?

  • Company: 

    • What is your ideal team size? (team and company)

    • What is your main interest in joining an [early-stage / late-stage / public] company?

    • If coming out of something large, would you be able to transition well to a company of [COMPANY SIZE] because your level of contribution is going to be different? Are you ready for that challenge?

  • Compensation Expectations: 

    • Base

    • Bonus

    • Equity

    • Total

  • Timing: 

    • If we decide to move forward, what is your availability for this week? Get two days/times of availability for followup interviews.

    • If we decide to move forward, how quickly would you be willing to accept an offer and start working?

    • Do you have any upcoming vacations or projects at work that might obstruct this timeline?

  • Competition: 

    • What companies are you currently interviewing with & what stage are you at?

    • Do you currently have any offers in hand? When do they expire?

  • Experience: [HIRING MANAGER, please add]:  What about their past or present experience would qualify them for the role? Please edit these questions and create your own.

    • Tell me about your experience working on a [TEAM NAME] team:

      • How was the [DEPARTMENT] function organized and where did you fit in?

      • What were your responsibilities?

      • Who did you report to and what is their title?

      • Did you have any direct or in-direct reports?

    • Tell me about your day-to-day/specific project/experience you worked on

      • What was the purpose of the project?

      • What did you solely contribute?

      • Who else did you work with on the project?

      • What was their role?

      • Did you face any issues?

      • What did you learn?

      • Did the project get implemented?

      • Did this help [increase productivity / boost metrics / lower metrics, etc]?

About SignaFire’s Talent Program

Recruiting is SignalFire’s superpower. Our Beacon Talent engine tracks all the top tech talent in the Western world, and can generate reports on the best and most poachable job candidates for any role. SignalFire’s talent program is led by former Facebook executive recruiter Mike Mangini whose team assists our portfolio companies with high-level strategy and on-the-ground recruiting to ensure you score your ideal hires. We helped make over 1000 job candidate intros to our companies last year — just one of the reasons we receive a net promoter score of 96 from our portfolio founders, over 85% of whom say we’re their most valuable investor. Want to start working with SignalFire’s Talent team? Contact this article’s author, our Director of Talent Operations Crystal Guerrero: [email protected]

Subscribe to SignalFire’s newsletter for guides to startup trends, fundraising, and recruiting

Get our latest tips & trend reports
Sign up for our Newsletter

Newsletter pattern