Startup Hiring

Startup Hiring 101: A Founder’s Guide. Part 6 - Sourcing 2nd-degree connections

Steve Bartel

Steve Bartel

CEO and Co-Founder

Posted on

January 25, 2024

Welcome to part six of our series, Sourcing 2nd-degree connections. Let’s dive in.

As a general rule of thumb, sending cold recruiting outreach to people you don’t know will be lower ROI as a startup. You don’t have much of a talent brand or validation yet, so your response rate will reflect this. Even at larger companies, this is often handled by full-time recruiters and sourcers, who spend 40 hours per week to make three hires per quarter.

We strongly recommend you to go back to our guide on sourcing 1st-degree connections if you haven’t exhausted your network yet. If you have, or if you’re hiring for a role where your network isn’t as strong, there are a few strategies for expanding your network and turning your 2nd-degree connections into promising candidates. Expanding your network can also be a great way to find more diverse candidates.

Leveraging 1st-degree connector nodes to source 2nd-degree connections

The best approach to reaching more 2nd-degree connections is to leverage strong “1st-degree connector nodes” to build lists and reach out. A 1st-degree connector node is someone from your network who’s well-connected to other talented people. In a nutshell, you’ll expand your network by looking at their connections to source strong candidates, and then you’ll name-drop the connector node in your initial outreach.

There are a few important factors when choosing your 1st-degree connector nodes:

  • Ensure they have a solid reputation - You want to pick connector nodes that candidates will respect and trust. Also, talented people tend to know other talented people, so starting with the best connector nodes from your network will increase the quality of candidates who respond.

  • Make sure they know you well and say good things - The best thing that can happen when you name-drop your connector node is the candidate back-channeling you and your connector node and saying great things. This essentially turns your cold outreach into a warm intro. Of course, this can backfire if your connector node doesn’t know you or doesn’t have good things to say, so make sure to pick people you know well that would say good things.

  • Reach out to your connector node first - Give your connector node a heads up that you’ve reached out to a few folks from their network, so they aren’t caught by surprise.

  • Prioritize connector nodes with diverse networks first - Out-of-network candidates can be a great way to prioritize diversity early on, especially because your 1st-degree connections will almost certainly be less diverse.

I learned this technique from a hiring manager at LinkedIn, and when done right, it can be really effective.

Example template

Given this is a cold-sourced candidate who doesn’t know you, you may need to share a few more sentences about your company/opportunity. Here’s an example:

Hi {{first_name}},

I was going through [CONNECTOR NODE]’s connections and came across your profile. I was really excited about your work [INSERT PERSONALIZATION]

To introduce myself, I’m the co-founder and CEO at Gem. We just raised an exciting seed round from Accel and are working closely with customers like Dropbox, MuleSoft, Pinterest. We’re looking to build out our founding engineering team, and you look like you’d fit right in!

  • A few engaging bullets about your company or links to external validation.

If you’re interested in connecting or even in just a casual conversation, let me know.



As always, don’t copy these templates verbatim. Use these as a starting point and make them your own.

How we used connector nodes at Gem

At Gem, we used this as an opportunity to prioritize gender diversity for engineering and started with strong female engineers and engineering leaders from our network. These were classmates from school, advisors, angel investors, and some of our top peers and managers from previous companies.

This is how we ended up hiring our first out-of-network engineer (Einas Haddad). We name-dropped a few folks she was connected to within our initial reach-out, and she back-channeled with an engineer she knew/trusted. Many of our founding team knew the “connector node” from college, so naturally, she said great things about the team and the company, and Einas responded to meet up for coffee.

Other ideas for sourcing 2nd-degree connections

You could experiment with sourcing people you don’t know using other things that connect you to talent pools, such as your school, a previous company and/or internship, or a professional group you’re part of. These will probably be lower ROI than using people as connector nodes.

And of course, the same best practices for reaching out to 1st-degree connections (following up, sending as multiple co-founders, etc.) apply to 2nd-degree connections as well.

Up Next

There are obviously more avenues to find great talent for your team. Once you’ve exhausted your 1st and 2nd-degree connections, it may be time to look for outside help. In part seven of our series, we’ll discuss hiring marketplaces and how to navigate them properly to get the best results.

In the meantime…


Request Demo Image

Get started today

See how Gem can help you hire with remarkable speed and efficiency