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No time to onboard?

One of the common complaints I’ve heard from startups is that there’s never enough time to onboard new employees. Hand them a computer and off they go. We’re here to get sh*t done. Right?

Wrong. Onboarding is one of the most important things you can do for a new employee. Whether they’re a developer or a member of customer support, taking time to create a thoughtful, well-defined onboarding plan can spare a lot of headaches (for both you and the newbie) and ensure that your new team member feels comfortable and confident stepping into their new role.

T-14 Days

Having been a startup new hire myself, my best onboarding experiences started long before Day 1. At one of the companies I worked for, I got a small care package of tasty treats and a handwritten note delivered to my home when I accepted the job. I was also contacted weeks before I started with ‘hey!’ and ‘we can’t wait for you to start!’ emails from members of my future team. I got questions about my laptop preferences, logistical details on where and when to show up on my first day, an employee handbook, and a sneak peek into what my first week would look like. It was a good feeling knowing what to expect my first few days, and an even better feeling that my team was just as excited for my arrival as I was.

Shared vision

Protecting the vision and values of a startup as it scales is something every founder struggles with. By making it a key component of onboarding, every individual, regardless of function, gets taken on the same journey of what the company is trying accomplish and the values they’re seeking to preserve along the way. Sure, this stuff should have been covered in interviews to ensure there’s mutual fit. But this conversation (and yes, maybe it’s just an informal chat between founders and onboarders) will have a different tenor when it shifts from ‘you versus us’ to a ‘we’ conversation.

One team, not many

It’s not uncommon for early stage startups to have hidden sub-cultures that evolve from the founding team. In theory, there’s nothing wrong with this and it’s what makes joining the “family” a fun and exciting experience. But if you’re the new kid on the block, it can be daunting to walk into a room of best friends with loads of inside jokes. Break the ice and create structured sessions where newbies get exposure to and meaningful chats with people across different teams. I’ve moved several cities and countries in the last 10 years and can say that some of my closest friends post-uni are actually people I onboarded with (or helped onboard) at previous companies.

Empathy & context

Giving newbies meaningful insight into how your organisation works and what different teams are responsible for is super important. Shed light onto who the internal stakeholders are for different types of decisions, whether engineering, product, or design. Help them understand what influences and drives decisions (e.g. maybe it’s going back to first principles of your core values) so that they have a solid framework to become more effective decision-makers. It’s also important to make onboarding a shared responsibility across the company. In doing so, you’ll create a sense of unified investment and personal accountability to bring the newbie into the fold.

And lastly…

If you’re setting up onboarding for the first time ever, things won’t run exactly as planned and adjustments are inevitable. That’s ok! Debrief with your newbie after they’ve completed those first few days/weeks of onboarding to see how they’re feeling. What went well? What was confusing or unclear? Check in again after a month into the job when they’re producing meaningful work. Do they feel they could have been better prepared for the role? What context was missing or what do they wish they had known from the beginning? Show that you care. Believe me, they’ll remember it when it’s their turn to help bring the next newbie along for the journey