Weathering The Storm

Successful Recruiting

Not too long ago, companies that put a "dotcom" moniker at the end of their names went public with much fanfare, offered stock options worth megabucks and had instant access to a large pool of excellent candidates ready and willing to jump on board. It's a lot harder now; you've got to dedicate time and effort just to get top talent to even consider working for you.

Successful dotcoms now more than ever rely on creative measures to pique interest during the recruitment process. For example, Lake suggests that when offering potential employees a job at your firm, you should "come up with a compensation package that can cater to differing contributions," she says. For example, it's important to base compensation on contribution-not solely on a set hourly schedule. "It shouldn't matter when most people work, as long as they get the job done," Lake continues.

But beyond that, you need to realize that the fallout from the recent dotcom bust has left potential and current employees with the expectation that you'll instill confidence once again; that you'll take whatever measures necessary to prove your company has devised a realistic long-term plan for survival. So while it would be nice to be able to offer employees an excessive benefits package and myriad stock options, realistically speaking the climate now calls instead for things like job security, the chance to really "make a difference" at your firm, a contract and educational-matching funds.

Christopher Todd, an analyst at Internet research firm Jupiter Research, points out that smaller dotcom start-ups-those virtually unknown companies that lack brand recognition-must become forthcoming with their balance sheets. "[New] entrepreneurial businesses can't rest on their laurels the way larger, more traditional companies can," he says. "Candidates are going to be somewhat skeptical, and they're going to want information that provides a full spectrum of what they're getting into. Smaller dotcoms should be prepared to provide this information to them."

Richard Smith, the Atlanta-based director in the high-tech practice at Spencer Stuart, an executive search firm, agrees: "You have to present a compelling growth opportunity for the individual." Besides, employees at all levels are doing much more due diligence today than ever before. "You need to stand up to that, and be able to show them why your company will be a successful story at the end of the day," he adds. Expect difficulties in the recruitment process to only intensify, however, if you've just laid off people, if your company has morale issues, or if you've unfortunately cultivated a weak corporate culture.

It will help somewhat, though, to establish some sort of structure to the interviewing process when recruiting employees. "Prospective employees feel more confident and comfortable with a company if there appears to be some sort of methodical process in place during the interviewing stage," says John Bongiorno, founder and CEO of myrecruiter.com, a New York City staffing and consulting firm for the Internet industry. "As much as people say they don't want structure and that they want to be independent, they actually do want structure."

It all amounts to a lot of extra work you're going to have to do to find and keep employees in these trying times. For instance, Smith says you should advertise internally to your current employees that you have a profitability plan in place. "Communicate your business model pervasively to your employees," he says. "Let them know that you are moving in the right directions and why your company makes sense." However, Smith admits this can be difficult-especially if you're one of those companies having trouble and your CFO or CEO just left, for example. But Smith insists that if you put all the right incentives in place, you'll be in a better position to prevent more key managers from defecting. Says Smith, "If the key management players are properly incentivized , then they have the motivation to go to their people and say, 'We do have some momentum and we are going to keep this thing going.' "

Melissa Campanelli is a technology writer in Brooklyn, New York, who has covered technology for Mobile Computing & Communications and Sales & Marketing Management magazines. You can reach her at mcampanelli@earthlink.net.

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This article was originally published in the February 2001 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Weathering The Storm.

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