Top Tips for Hiring AI Talent - Nine Twenty Recruitment

Hiring in AI- By Naomi Jones

Holly Clark

Naomi is a Principal Recruiter specialising in AI for the Nine Twenty Emerging Technology desk, where she works with VC-backed start-ups and scaleups. In this blog, she shares some top tips for securing the best talent in the competitive AI landscape. 

If you’re growing your AI startup, you’re probably all too familiar with Sam Altman’s hiring principles. But waiting until the last moment to hire or only hiring from your network, just isn’t feasible for everyone.

I’ve been considering how Altman’s principles in ‘How to hire’ (How to hire - Sam Altman) can be applied in today’s market, when you seriously need the support but don’t want to compromise.

The main principles I’m reflecting on:

  • ‘Have a mission, and don’t be surprised at how much selling you’ll have to do’
  • ‘Look for smart, effective people’
  • ‘Have people audition for roles instead of interviewing for them.’
  • ‘Have a set of cultural values you hire for’

How do we find and assess people quickly in the current market, in line with these principles?

The ‘pitch’

Ideally you will be pursuing people who are already passionate about the problem you solve. However, if there is some education needed, make it super easy for them to get on-board. If you need to wait for someone to get excited in the early stages, it’s probably not going to be the right fit.

A great way to do this is to have internal documentation you can share, that gives a greater insight into the product, business, mission, finances and growth plans. The best documentation I’ve seen shared with candidates is close to an investor pitch deck.


Show off the product

Depending what stage you are at, sharing demos or inviting candidates to test your product is a fantastic insight.


Take them on the journey

Be transparent from the get-go, you don’t want to scare them off, but also don’t want to sugar coat things. If you are looking for resilient, adaptable, problem-solvers, give them an insight into some of the problems your startup faces and see how they respond. 

It’s better to be honest about where you’re at and where you’re planning to go.



Altman has always historically said equity > salary, and that this instils the right values. It’s important your employees have a real stake in the business, a personal financial connection to the outcome.


Interview process

Ensure your interview process reflects the role. The best interview processes for startups are relevant, challenging, yet efficient.

It’s a good idea to keep the culture fit meeting with current employees and the candidate, this has the added benefit of making your employees feel included in the decision.  


Be prepared for them to be meeting with others

Remember if this is the calibre of person you’re going after, they have other options. You might know that your business offers the best challenge/ tech etc., but if that hasn’t been communicated properly, how does the candidate know your startup is the best option for them?


Invite them to spend time at the office

Give them a window into what it would be like to work with you, let the product and your team sell the opportunity.

In an ideal world Altman suggests hiring the candidate as a contractor first. If you’re a fully remote business, you could try adapting your interview process to include a remote session to collaborate on a technical problem. 

Hiring is hard. It’s time consuming, but so important to get right.

These are just a few of the ways you can ensure a smoother process to secure the best talent quickly, without compromising values.


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