Head of Talent at Forward Partners on How to Recruit For Startups

By April 18, 2016For Talent

Founded in 2012 Forward Partners is a platform now comfortably leading London’s early stage VC scene. FP invests in idea stage and seed stage eCommerce or marketplace startups. It has a respectable list of enterprises that it has already spent in including Zopa (Benchmark), LostMyName (Google Ventures), Big Health (Index) and Appear Here (Balderton).

“What makes us different? Our dedicated team of professionals offers help to our partner companies across all the major functions,” says Chris Wilkinson, Head of Talent at FP, who participated in Incubating/Accelerating Your Concept panel discussion at EXPAND London March 2016 powered by Jobbio and partners. Idea-stage startups are given an opportunity to join FP offices for 12 months and are provided with the team to help build a prototype product, hire a team, build a loyal following and start generating revenue. This gives them exposure to Tier 1 VC firms like Google Ventures, Index, Balderton Capital, in the last months of their stay at FP. 

How does startup hiring differ from corporate recruitment? What do you think is the most common misconception about the process?

Startup hiring requires creative thinking and compromise. Traditional recruitment practices in corporates tend to hinge on rolodexes and shuffling a deck of known candidates around every few years or so. Roles are more defined and the remits tend not to change all that much. A risk analyst in Lloyds is pretty much the same as a risk analyst at Barclays. The key to success in these scenarios is knowing who is looking for a change.

Startup recruitment, on the other hand, tends to involve a lot more problem solving and compromises. Roles and remits bleed into one another in startups and functions, that perhaps 10 years ago simply did not exist. This require candidates that are not so easy to identify.

Here at Forward Partners, we like to focus on what we call talent hires and these tend to be more common in startups.

This involves identifying potential, raw smarts and a solid base of fundamental skills rather than fully rounded out experts in any given field.

A common misconception is that startup recruitment is about volume, speed and doing away with a formal process. The pressing need to hire quickly in startup environments should not mean that you cut corners or bump off the process. To the contrary, the impact of a bad hire in a startup is magnified due to the fact that the team is so small and close-knit. In these scenarios, you have to be crystal clear about what your process is and stick to it.


Incubating/Accelerating Your Concept Panel Discussion with Chris Wilkinson (FP), Sabine VanderLinden (Startupbootcamp), Adizah Tejani (Level39) and Carly Newman (UCL / IDEALondon)


What are the top challenges startup entrepreneurs face whilst hiring?

Lack of talent, competition and time. There simply aren’t enough quality candidates to go around and there are more startups than ever promising inflated pay packets with generous slugs of equity. Add to this increasingly impatient VC timelines and you have stressful recruiting challenges.

What was the best career advice you got when starting your professional journey?

Take control of your career and constantly push for more responsibility. Move around every 2-3 years or so (this can also be within the same business) to keep learning. If you are not feeling uncomfortable with your workload/learning curve then you are not pushing hard enough.

How can talent stand-out and get noticed in the market?

I would encourage talent to approach companies directly and be tenacious – chase people 1,2, 3 times… Startup execs are time poor and overloaded. You need to punch through this with indefatigable optimism.

Talking of startup trends, what are the most in-demand skills startups are looking for in talent in 2016?

According to my observation of the market performance marketeers, developers and data and analytics experts are the hottest talent today.

What are the three biggest mistakes talent make during an interview?

It may sound boring but it is still true: the first and biggest is the lack of preparation. Do your research – it won’t hurt you! Another one is mistaking informal startup for lack of professionalism. Finally, remember that bad-mouthing previous employers won’t give you any credit.



The essential components of your successful career are tenacity, energy, flexibility, and positivity.

Could you break down essentials for talent to get hired today? Which are neglected most often?

I would outline these four as the essential components of your successful career: tenacity, energy, flexibility, positivity. Often what is neglected is positivity. Startups feed off it. Any negativity saps productivity and is toxic to the team morale. All successful people exhibit positivity. Also, positivity often leads to all the other essential ingredients.

Why would anyone want to join a startup?

You often get to completely own or define your role. You often get close to what makes a business special. You can enjoy the significant long-term reward for all your hard work and startups offer you a great way to learn new skills – quickly.

How important is networking for talent seeking for opportunities and startups on the lookout for new hires?

It will always be the number one way to find opportunities and/or hire people. People hire people and at the events you meet people, not a CV or a role description.

You’ve participated in the panel discussion Incubating/Accelerating Your Concept at EXPAND London event organised by Jobbio and partners.  How useful do you find such events for talent and startups?

Essential. Sharing ideas and networking is the lifeblood of tech clusters. There is a reason San Francisco has had such a head start. The co-location, shared ideas, and ecosystem all support innovation.

Quick fire questions:

The top skill you need to be successful is tenacity.

To know if this is the right job for you ask yourself would I be gutted if I didn’t get an offer?

To be a good team player you need to be in the right team for you.

The app I use most often is Lampshade.io

Get your ticket for EXPAND London March 2017

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