Every CEO I’ve ever asked has told me their biggest problem is recruiting talent. For large companies, it’s a problem of scale. When you’re hiring a lot of people fast, the quality of candidates can slip. For startups, recruiting is a deep, visceral pain. One of your primary competitive advantages is your ability to move quickly.
In Silicon Valley, where “growth hacking” is a career path, hiring talent is a constant battle. You’re fighting aggressive giants like Apple, Facebook and Salesforce that offer enormous compensation packages, generous benefits and perks by the boatload. I have a friend who calls Alphabet “Mama Google” because the company takes such good care of her husband. “Mama” provides three meals a day, laundry services, nap rooms, a Cadillac healthcare plan — you name it.
Despite all that, I’m proud to say that in the past year, my company successfully recruited some of our most senior leaders from Facebook and Google. In an increasingly competitive environment, we doubled revenue and doubled our team this past year.
Here’s how to compete with the giants and attract top talent.
Use their strength and size against them. What a startup lacks in plush packages, we make up for in meaningful rewards, such as greater influence on leadership, direct impact on company direction and exposure to multiple aspects of a business. Giants claim to be steady, but that’s a euphemism for stale, slow and predictable. Plus, I’ve seen plenty of 1,000-person layoffs at blue chips. Finally, while larger tech companies can offer bigger paychecks, they can’t offer the promise of pre-IPO shares in a fast-growing startup.
Retained searches can either be the worst or the best
As with most service agencies, the brand of the firm matters less than the character of the individual who will be doing the work. Some retained search firms have a database of folks they ping again and again, offer after offer. Some of those candidates look at recruiting like it’s a dating game: They’re not serious about making a commitment, just looking to see if there’s something better out there.
Retained search firms with tons of potential hires rushing toward them tend to be less proactive about reaching out to top performers who are happy in their current roles. My advice: Screen for a hungry, strategic recruiter who will hunt for the people who aren’t looking, but have the skills you need. You’ll see fewer candidates, but that’s a good thing. You’ll waste less time and find a better match.
Know your story
I’ve spent a lot of time refining our pitch as a company. This includes my vision for where we are headed, as well as the steps we are taking to get there. New recruits want to know they are joining a company that excites them, with a leadership team they can believe in. Make your recruiter give you their version of your pitch, as well, and help them shape it until it sings.
Share the ugly truth
I’ve met a lot of startup founders who try to sugar coat the job requirements. That’s bound to backfire. The new hire will figure out that they were sold a bill of goods, and you won’t likely see terrific results, either.
Don’t pretend working at your startup will be a straight nine-to-five. Don’t guarantee lifetime job security. Let them know it’s going to be hard work. Explain the fact that they will be working in ambiguity, doing many new things for the first time. When some people hear that they will tuck and run. The right ones will lean in, eyes bright, ready for adventure.