Recruiting with Margo Crawford
Recruiting with Margo Crawford

Start-ups face tremendous challenges when it comes to recruitment: Money is limited and hiring poorly will be expensive. And there are geographic challenges – are you near where the talent is? New firms often have a specific market timing constraints, so when hiring is done is crucial.

Margo Crawford, founder and CEO of Business Sherpa, which she describes as a virtual HR department,  summarized her key hiring wisdom in her Entrepreneurship 101 lecture on recruiting.

Her mantra is to 1) Plan well, 2) Search creatively and 3) Choose wisely.

Plan well
Crawford reminds us that a recruitment plan is an essential part of overall business strategy. Depict your recruitment milestones  graphically or on a spreadsheet that overlaps with other business milestones (such as financial, technical, sales milestones). Determine your “pillar hires”: the positions you need in order to move forward. This may not always be a VP at the top, but might be someone at the front lines of your day-to-day activities. You may need to hire doers before your builders.

Preparing an excellent job description is the most vital step to attracting talent. The description should list minimum required skills, but go beyond that to paint a picture of an ideal candidate. It must sell the role. (Remember, however, not to post descriptions that discriminate based on gender, age, sexual orientation, disability, religion, or other human rights issues.)

Search creatively
Online job boards (such as may be straightforward to use and cheap, but will only reach people who are actively searching. Dig deeper to reach the reservoir of “passive candidates” who might be the better fit.

Crawford touts Linkedin–which she says is underused in Canada–as an effective resource to push postings to  passive talent. One caveat here is the time needed to cultivate networks that pay off. Also, job-seekers are always trying to tailor CVs to match key phrases they think recruiters want. This leads to a “resume arms race” which turns up better-sounding resumes in search results, but not necessarily better candidates.

Info overload is a problem with social sites and recommendations from far-off acquaintances are questionable. Grow reliable sources through user groups on Linkedin. Also subscribe to list serves and professional newsletters as well as connecting with university alumni groups, Crawford suggests.

As for print? Crawford says print ads are too costly and mostly ineffective and she hasn’t placed a print ad in 15 years.

Your corporate web site is a good place to post a job, whenever feasible. Also, listen to word of mouth through existing employees, your advisory board, investors or board of directors. Ultimately, an endorsement from a highly trusted individual is the cheapest and most credible source of recruitment, Crawford says. Options like executive search and headhunting firms are much more expensive and not as reliable.

Also try Google Ads that link search results back to your web site or job posting. This is a cheap and effective way to boost your HR profile. The challenge here is mastering the art of search engine marketing and keyword selection.

Choose wisely
Crawford tips for how to fill the role:

  • Never hire from a pool of one candidate. Ideally, keep “filling the funnel” with new candidates up until the moment a hire is made.
  • Job interviews, though necessary, fail often. It’s easy to be distracted by tone of voice, level of confidence or physical appearance and succumb to biases unrelated to future job performance. Job-related testing may be far more reliable than what you glean from an interview.
  • Interviewing will exhaust you. Whenever possible sit with another person to give yourself a chance to evaluate, not just ask and answer. And though it’s difficult to schedule, interview as much as can you within one period. You can’t compare candidates properly if your effort drags out over weeks and months.
  • Second-round interviews help shift focus, giving you a chance to “sell” your firm and the candidate a chance to ask more questions. Remember, however, to put all your hiring concerns on the table. Never skirt around a question that you need to have answered!

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Pat Tanzola

Pat Tanzola is a writer and serial social entrepreneur enrolled in ENT 101. He is a founder of, the Giro T.O. bike ride and the Toronto Neighbourhood Brunch Club. He worked on digital media at The Walrus and currently at the University of Toronto. He also writes for The Mark and his personal blog. See more…