Recruiting star performers to your startup: how to appeal to top talent

Recruiting star performers to your startup: how to appeal to top talent.jpg

Everyone knows the importance of having the right people in their business. 

And not just the right skill set, but also the right culture fit. But for a startup, this is even more crucial. The wrong hire or even just a mediocre hire in a startup business can mean the difference between becoming a global success and failing to launch. With limited resources, the promise of long working hours, limited brand strength, and a community awash with competition, how can techpreneurs still attract ready and willing top talent to their venture?

Today we’ll review the top techniques that two of Australia’s most promising techpreneurs use to attract great talent to their business.

1. Have a clear and compelling vision 

Being involved in an exciting business that shows great promise is an attractive proposition for most people. A business that is doing important or interesting work, and that can articulate a compelling and exciting vision will attract talented staff. This is particularly so if its leader can present a realistic roadmap for achieving its short and long term goals.  When the paycheck and notoriety of companies such as Google are gazumping every attempt to grab at new talent, strong leadership, direction and passion step in as the emotive magnets for people who want more than a cubicle ride in a faceless megacorp.

“At the core of hiring top talent in a startup is getting them to understand and believe in the problem you’re solving,” explains Phil Hayes-St Clair, CEO and Co-Founder of AirShr. “If people think they can solve a big challenge, they will organise their lives to receive a smaller reward now e.g. smaller remuneration, longer hours to pursue a larger prize, e.g. kudos for big achievements, career development and better job title, a percentage of profits to make up for lower remuneration later, or potentially even equity in the business” Hayes-St Clair adds.

2. Detail the role and know your culture 

Michael Overell, the CEO and Co-Founder of RecruitLoop says that understanding the role you’re hiring for is critical, as is knowing what success looks like. This is because your interpretation of the role might be different to someone else’s.

Detail the role to include essential and nice-to-have skills you are looking for, as well as the kind of experience you’d like them to come with.

Renee Welsh, CEO of the globally expanding startup Booking Boss agrees.  “The process of detailing the role makes us think long and hard about what our business is trying to achieve. This clarifies what challenges will and won’t be solved by specific roles, and gets agreement among our leadership team about the highest priority roles to hire for. Sometimes a hiring priority changes after we’ve mapped the full detail of a role,” explains Welsh.

However, while it is crucial to be aware of the importance of skills, startups cannot afford to ignore culture fit in the hiring process.  Understanding prospective employees’ work style, expectations, and what is important to them in a work culture tells you more about how they’ll fit into your business than their skill set. Booking Boss, for example,  always performs a culture fit interview first.

“Flying through the culture-fit interview is the most powerful indicator of hiring success for us. However, when you’re just starting out, it can be easy to get enamoured with a skill set that you think will propel you a long way, and to ignore the niggling culture-fit question. This is a mistake, that in the long run can cost your business time, money and even other good employees,” Welsh explains.

If you haven’t experienced a culture misfit before, Welsh says it’s akin to having a foreign person move into your home.

“Say, you have an awesome housekeeper move in to your home, but the housekeeper does not speak your language, and has no respect for your family’s rituals, routines or needs. Perhaps they cook late at night, keeping everyone awake, or slam cupboard doors at 5am. Maybe they decide to clean the family bathroom while you’re trying to get the kids ready for school. It is an extreme example, but it gives you some idea of how uncomfortable it is when a culturally inappropriate hire is made - when someone just cannot fit into the way you do things, and the stress it can create for you and your team,” explains Welsh.

3. Think outside the city

If competition in your hometown is fierce, consider offering remote working arrangements to talent outside your region. Offering work-from-home positions with a flexible work schedule can open up a massive pool of talent that requires a more flexible work set-up.

“Recruiting outside the larger city areas can reduce employee salary expectations as well as lower your overhead costs when it comes to office space and amenities. You’ll need strong communications channels in place, including online chat and project management systems, and daily phone check-ins. Gen Ys and millennials are pretty used to communicating like this anyway, so as long as you’ve found a talented and motivated self-starter in the first place, remote workers should be an asset to your startup business,” explains Welsh.

This kind of flexible thinking can also apply to contracts. Many startups offer some kind of contract arrangement for example, before full-time positions are agreed. This can lower the risk for both employee and employer.

“You can lower the perceived risk of joining a startup for the prospective employee by offering them some paid freelance work to begin with, giving them (and you) and opportunity to develop mutual trust and understanding, prior to making a more permanent commitment,” adds Hayes-St Clair.

4. Go back to University 

Young creative and technology genii form a sea of emerging brains that are thirsty for knowledge and experience. But waiting until the end of the semester is just asking for a head-to-head pitchfest with Apple.

Talk to lecturers in the relevant departments during term time to see if they’d be willing to mention your opportunities, or connect with University careers centres to promote your positions or to get involved in annual careers fairs. However you do it, do it before December if you want any chance of picking a winning recruit.

“We’ve had some great success recruiting interns from Universities. These guys are young, keen to learn, and if you get a great one, willing to flexibly take on a wide range of support activity that helps keeps you focused on the important things,” says Welsh.

5. Attract the ‘elders’ of your areas, who then attract the new talent

AirShr has a history of attracting ‘elders’ for each functional area, that is, the local and international stars of each function, and securing them into a permanent or mentoring position. These guys then attract new talent who want to work with and be connected with those elders.

“In most professional circles, and particularly in software engineering, ‘elders’ are the people that junior engineers want to have a conversation with. They have presence, ooze humility and have usually seen your problems 100 times over. The only way you can identify an elder is through networking and observation over time, you can see the software engineer who is the natural leader, to whom others turn for advice, and who always has time and the curiosity to troubleshoot,” says Hayes-St Clair.

Renee Welsh is a figurehead of the Australian tourism industry, having had several high profile positions in well-known organisations such as Wotif, as well as being a regular speaker at several global conferences and an innovator and then, the following year, a judge in Phocuswright’s Global Innovation Summit.

“Strong talent always shares a thirst for knowledge. If they know they’ll get access to knowledgeable and experienced people, you’ve got a stronger currency to lure them with,” agrees Welsh.

Despite the cash constraints of your startup, there are several creative ways you can identify and recruit top talent to your business. Just make sure you’ve detailed what you’re looking for, and that you know your culture as well as your exciting vision and challenges. Be flexible about where you go to find talent, and offer flexibility in working conditions in the package too. Lastly, put your best foot forward by using industry elders or mentors to attract the up-and-comers. Everyone loves a superstar, afterall.

CeBIT Australia Start-up Summary Report