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Startup HR: How to Compete With Big Firms for Talent

As a startup, you may not be able to compete with large companies on brand recognition or hiring reach. My startup NerdWallet definitely can't be tossing up recruitment billboards along Silicon Valley's Highway 101. But we managed to attract some amazing employees -- without going crazy with recruitment costs.

Do not underestimate the value small companies can offer potential employees that larger companies simply can't match. Opportunities like providing groundbreaking work or flexible environment will most likely not fly at larger firms.

For those entrepreneurs looking to nab top-tier talent for their startup, here are some tips on making your work environment standout:

The less is more perk. Fewer employees means larger responsibilities. At a small firm, workers wear more hats and get a much greater variety of experience than most larger companies can provide.

Related: Why Hiring Exclusively for Experience Doesn't Make Sense

Small startups don't pigeonhole employees -- we simply can't. Everyone has a specific, tactical job to do, but they are also integral in guiding the strategic whole. This gives startup employees a deeper dive into skill sets that will pay greater dividends down the line and attracts the kind of entrepreneurial talent a startup depends on.

And it's the sort of experience for which young employees ache. A 2011 survey by Employers Insurance found nearly half (46 percent) of millennials want to start their own business in the next five years, compared to 35 percent of Gen Xers and 21 percent of baby boomers. There is no better place for them to gain experience than at a startup.

Ability to make a real difference. An employee can have more impact building and sustaining a corporate culture at a smaller company than a larger firm. You're not a cog in the wheel -- you have the freedom to run hard and make it happen.

At a startup, if you see an opportunity, you can pounce on it without thinking, "Well, that isn't really my role." Several of our employees have stretched into areas far beyond their original mandate: The only limit is their own imagination and audacity.

And you can see the impact your work has. If you're an employee at Google -- one of tens of thousands -- your impact on the overall trajectory of the company will be minimal. But at a company like NerdWallet, employees can create their own products (often, really, creating their own jobs) and bring them to fruition. It's like having your own personal startup experience within a startup.

Allowing for unlimited vacation. Let's be fair: Not every startup offers this perk but many are jumping on this trend. (For people working at big corporations, this benefit will unlikely be in your compensation package.)

Related: Want to Work at a Startup? Here Is How.

When I worked on Wall Street, there were people who would go for years without a vacation and just be miserable. Vacation policies are like handcuffs that tell you how many days you are allowed not to work. Having a policy of unlimited vacation signals you are creating an atmosphere where people want to come to work.

We have an honor system that allows employees to take all the vacation time they want, as long as work gets done. And we'll watch your back while you're away, just as you'll watch mine when I'm taking time off. This isn't some perk that employees are afraid to enjoy: NerdWallet CEO Tim Chen and I both love to take off and travel.

Get more personal attention. Millennials care most about being well trained and receiving strong professional development, according to a Hiscox eDNA small-business survey. While budgets may be too small at startup firms to bring in outside coaches and management consultants, the experience of learning on the ground cannot be replicated. Plus, because employees are helping pave the path for the startup's future, they are given more one-on-one attention for career development. 

Working from home and flexible hours.  As I am writing this, I am sitting in my San Francisco home with my newborn twins. NerdWallet has employees at our San Francisco office, as well as colleagues working in home offices stretching from Washington, D.C., to Hong Kong.

Where work happens -- whether between baby feedings, at the beach or in the office -- doesn't matter, as long as it gets done. And often employees will forego working at brand-name companies for this kind of flexibility.

Jake Gibson heads operations for NerdWallet, a startup focused on offering price-comparison tools for financial products. Prior to joining the company, Gibson did a long stint at JPMorgan Chase, where he traded derivatives and managed new automated trading technologies.

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