Technical Recruiting
From Startup to Scale-up: A Step-by-Step Approach to Outbound Talent Sourcing

Nate Remy

As a technical founder, finding the right talent for your company is crucial. While you may have already tapped into your network and posted job openings on your website, you’re likely not getting the strong pipeline of qualified applicants you need. It’s time to expand your methods and embrace outbound recruitment, commonly referred to as talent sourcing.

In this post, we’ll walk you through the first step of talent sourcing, finding compelling talent. To provide illustrative examples, we will assume the perspective of a Series A DevOps founder.

Nevertheless, it's important to note that the following advice can be equally applicable to technical founders at any stage of their entrepreneurial journey, ranging from pre-seed to Seed and even beyond.


Before kicking off your search, you'll want to purchase a lightweight search platform from LinkedIn — either Recruiter Lite or Sales Navigator Core (the latter will come in handy if you also plan to do sales prospecting). You do not need LinkedIn’s full Recruiter offering to effectively find candidates — the cost is not worth the additional functionality at your size or stage. 

While there are several additional tools that surpass the capabilities of these platforms (just look at G2's grid for Talent Intelligence Software ) I prefer LinkedIn due to its status as the industry standard in tech recruitment, coupled with its market presence. Additionally, it’s affordable and immediately available for purchase. Finally, it is proven to be effective — it may not have the perfect UX, but it is a reliable solution that will get the job done.

Conducting a search for backend engineers for my Series A DevOps startup

Part 1 — Identify analogous companies to target

Step 1: Since I’m a DevOps founder, one approach is to look to Sapphire Ventures’ 2022 DevOps Market Map for potential targets or another market map posted online. 

Over time, you’ll build a list of your favorite targets, but today you can also perform a Google search for “DevOps Ecosystem or Market Maps” for alternative resources. To find additional targets, you can map out the following from the primary companies you have identified: 

  • The companies they are hiring their best team members from. 
  • Their main competitors and partners, as they will also be familiar with your problem space. 

Step 2: Next, figure out where my company would belong on this map. For this example, let’s assume I have an Error Tracking startup. 

  • Under the “Operate & Monitor” section in the lower left corner, the following companies can be found under “Error Tracking:” Airbrake, datagen, Instabug, OverOps, Raygun, Rollbar, RevDeBug, Sentry, and sprkl.

Step 3: Add these teams to a Google Sheet

Note: Not all of these companies will be ideal matches, as some of their teams may not be based in your hiring geography or may be very small. To ensure a broader pool, let’s add some more teams to your list by expanding the areas of the Market Map we’re open to considering (you can see in the above example I’ve added Blameless from the Incident Response category).

Step 4: Continue to identify target companies from your chosen Market Map(s) until you have at least ~50 (there is no upper limit on the number to add).

Part 2 — Identify the requisite skills and experience to use as keywords in your search

A few questions to ask yourself:

Do I NEED a candidate to have prior experience with this? Or do they just need to be able to learn it? If it’s the latter, I do not want to include it as a keyword requirement. 

Can I infer if a candidate likely has prior experience with this technology or skillset?  Not everyone fills out their LinkedIn with all of their skills, particularly those who receive a large volume of recruiter outreach. In such cases, if you know a particular company uses the technology, consider excluding the keyword from your search.  Additionally, you will likely want your prospects to have prior experience with venture-backed startups. Because we’re targeting venture-backed startup companies with our approach, we know they will have this experience.

For this example, let’s assume the candidate needs experience with Python OR Go, in addition to experience with AWS, Azure, or GCP. 

  • Based on the companies we have decided to map out, we can infer that their engineers will have experience with one of the three major cloud providers, so we’ll skip adding them as keywords. 
  • We’re not sure if these companies use Python or Go, however, so we should add these to the Google Sheet.

Part 3 — Build out our search in your platform of choice (I’ll do so in LinkedIn Recruiter)

Step 1: Add some companies from your list until you have at least ~200 people results. 

  • Why at least ~200? We’re going to refine our search results in the following steps. In order to efficiently use your time, you want to be sure your search returns an ample number of individuals to review, otherwise, you’ll be unnecessarily repeating steps to build your talent pool. 

Step 2: Add in your Go & Python keywords to filter down this list.

Step 3: Add any additional restrictions to your search, such as Location or Required Years of Experience. This will help make your number of results even more manageable. (Don’t be afraid to experiment here! Ultimately you’re trying to find a group of interesting, qualified candidates, so it’s OK to explore what your various search parameters return.)

Step 4: If there are a lot of extraneous profiles, you can choose to add titles, such as “Software Engineer” and “Backend Engineer.” 

  • Keep in mind that in do doing so, you might unintentionally overlook some qualified talent who have intentionally mislabeled themselves to evade recruiters. These individuals are often among the best targets! 
  • In addition, every company has different naming conventions, and individuals write their titles in different ways. Examples include: Engineer, Developer, Member of Technical Staff, Programmer, SWE, SDE, MTS, etc.

Step 5: Run through your results, reviewing each profile to see if it’s potentially someone you’d like to speak with about your opening. 

Step 6: Once you’ve run through the list and identified all of the individuals you want to reach out to, cross the names of the companies you sourced from off of your Google Sheet. Add a new batch of company names to your LinkedIn search, and start the process again. 

  • The number of leads you’ll want to generate is determined by your interested rate (the number of leads that respond interested in your opening) and your passthrough rate (the number of leads that make it to future rounds of the interview process). 

Step 7: Once you've reached 100 - 200 leads, we’ll move on to messaging the prospects you’ve identified. 

  • When you’re just beginning your search and don’t have interested or passthrough rates, you need to focus on having a large quantity of leads — interested rates are often in the single digits percentage wise (particularly for early stage teams), so you can assume this will only lead to a handful of conversations.

Part 4 — Wrapping up

Your sourcing activity should continue until you get a group of interesting, qualified folks into your interview process. 

  • If your opening is for an urgent need, you may want to continue the sourcing process while you complete the initial calls with interested respondents. 
  • If your opening is not urgent, you may want to pause your sourcing process once you have a batch of candidates in the interview process to determine if & how your ideal profile alters based on what you learn from those conversations (for example, perhaps prior experience with Django is determined to be a requirement). Adjust your search parameters accordingly, and then resume the sourcing process. 

Ultimately, although this search was run for a Series A company, the process is applicable to any team that wants to find talent. There are a plethora of other ways to source, such as Open Source projects, conferences, research papers, hackathons & competitive circuits, other social media, etc… that may be preferred by certain teams. The methods outlined here are tried and true though, offering a repeatable method that will ensure success for teams of any size & stage. Particularly for an early-stage founder, it’s a great starting point on your recruitment process.


Now that you’ve seen the process and had an opportunity to follow along, let’s dive into some of the methods we just used (and one we didn’t).

Company Mapping
Company mapping should form the foundation of most recruitment searches. It involves identifying specific companies whose staff are, in your opinion, an interesting profile for your team. This alignment can be based on various factors such as their product and problem area, tech stack, leadership, culture, fundraising stage/company size, and so on.

In our example, we started with this approach by identifying target companies we found interesting given their similar product focus and prior VC backing. These companies included Airbrake, datagen, Instabug, OverOps, Raygun, Rollbar, RevDeBug, Sentry, and sprkl.


  • These individuals have already undergone vetting by companies you respect, having passed their interview process. 
  • Depending on the companies selected, these individuals have proven ability to thrive in a startup environment. 
  • Candidates will be easier to engage and close if you demonstrate the similarity between your team/product and what they have been doing. 


  • This approach can frustrate the teams you target (targeting specific companies is legal and an industry standard, however, whereas anti-targeting agreements are not). 
  • It may be challenging to know who the top performers are, or who is working on what specifically → you have to take a broad approach to eventually get in touch with the right candidates for your team. 

Skills Matching
This is often the starting point for most individuals new to finding talent via outbound recruitment. It Involves researching individuals with the specific hard skills your new hire must have in order to be successful. While this can be a useful way to add non-traditional backgrounds to your search, the search results can be too wide to be immediately useful for early stage teams.

Instead, consider layering in skills-mapping on top of your company-mapping approach. In our previous example, we accomplished this by first looking at employees of Error Tracking companies such as Airbrake, datagen, Instabug, OverOps, Raygun, Rollbar, RevDeBug, Sentry, and sprkl. We then specified that we only wanted to review individuals with Go or Python experience listed on their LinkedIn.


  • Prospects will have direct knowledge of the skillset you are hiring for.
  • Provides a view of the entire talent pool of individuals that have self-identified as subject matter experts in that skillset.


  • Extremely broad search results (if not coupled with additional search methods like company mapping).
  • This is not exhaustive – it only reveals who has voluntarily added these skills to their LinkedIn. If you know a target company uses a particular technology, framework, or programming language you are looking for experience in, you may find success in targeting ANYONE that looks like they might excel in your open position, even if their profile doesn’t specify they have the experience you’re looking for. 

School Mapping
School mapping is an effective means of finding specialized talent in specific areas, such as targeting graduates from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs), or graduates from top AI/ML programs.


  • Efficiently find pools of underrepresented and/or specialized talent, allowing you to supplement your existing recruitment pipeline. 


  • The scope of this search method is limited, and you will be omitting a number of qualified talent if you solely rely on it. For example, this immediately excludes anyone without a 4 year degree, even if they’re otherwise perfectly qualified. 

As previously stated, these are only a few of many sourcing methods. I chose to share these because, during your early stages, you can achieve the highest ROI by utilizing these methods in your outbound recruitment efforts. 

What haven’t we covered? 

There are a number of pertinent topics we omitted from this post for brevity. These include: how to effectively review prospective candidate profiles for fit, how to store candidates (see this resource from LinkedIn), developing compelling outreach & best practices in messaging, more advanced tooling options than LinkedIn’s platforms, and more.

Which would you like us to cover next? Let us know!