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As the saying goes, ‘An organization is only as good as its people.’ This adage is even more appropriate for a start-up, where the team can either make or break the venture. In fact, apart from the business idea, one of the first things investors look for in a company, not just a start-up alone, is the team.
So, the big question here is - How does a start-up attracts exceptional talent? As a founder, one must boil down to doing some simple calculations. Truly exceptional people today are seriously “Limited Edition”. And, of this limited edition, only a very small percentage would have the skill, expertise, knack and personality that you need. And to bring it a few notches lower, only a handful are the ones who would suit your mindset and fit in with your initial team.
Here are a few pointers to keep in mind, considering you are a founder, trying to make ends meet, and without surplus resources to pay recruiters. You won’t settle for mediocrity and to top it all, you know what you want.
Building a winning start-up team can be divided into 2 parts:
1. Hiring the Right Talent
- Personal Network: Since founders are normally leaders, they should be able to build immediate team members, especially a Founding Team from their past organisations, to ensure a ready-to-go team. The founder should also tap his other professional connections and alumni at his/her alma mater, as well as family and friends. Start-ups typically don’t have the hiring budgets that large corporates do. Hence, the importance of the founder’s personal network cannot be overemphasised.
- Network, Network, Network: At various start-up events, including industry bodies such as NASSCOM, TiE, and other avenues – including Meet-ups, Start-up Grind, VCCircle, etc. These events are a potential goldmine for attracting start-up talent.
- Internal and External Referrals: Employee referrals are an excellent source to augment the talent pool of the start-up, since they are the brand ambassadors of the company. External referrals include lawyers and bankers, who also happen to play a very important part of your system. Choose them wisely. They are often well-networked within the community.
- LinkedIn: It’s critical to search and network extensively on LinkedIn, especially through InMails for both personal connections and others. A high-quality LinkedIn profile supplements a resume perfectly and goes above and beyond a resume. It includes recommendations from professional connections, which include past and current colleagues, as well as clients. LinkedIn is one of the most critical sources of talent for start-ups. To optimise LinkedIn as a start-up tool for hiring talent, it’s important to have a decent website, as well as a professional company page, which apart from just the products and services the company offers, talks about the company’s vision and work culture. And not to forget, recruiting and meeting new talent is happening a lot on Facebook as well these days. Make sure you also have a well-updated and well-informed Facebook page of your company, as that is where most of the young talent is thriving off late.
- College Campuses: Fresh graduates out of college are keen to learn and willing to take more risks, since they have a lot less at stake than experienced employees. A well written job description should stand out and be articulate and precise. It should clearly state the exact profile your start-up is seeking. This would go a long way in ensuring that only the candidates, who are truly interested in working with the start-up, apply for the opening.
- Reference Checks: These are indispensable for getting critical insights on the candidate and their working style, their problem-solving skills, what motivates them, their inter-personal skills, and their character.
- Speed is the Key: Once you have zeroed in on the right people, act quickly before someone else hires them. Remember, good candidates are in demand everywhere.
- Use Consultants judiciously: Consultants can be expensive, and thus, should be used only when absolutely necessary. At the same time, it is important to reach out through every other avenue possible, including job websites, events, industry bodies, and co-working spaces, etc.
- Previous start-up experience: It’s important to look for people with at least some previous start-up experience. This indicates a past track record, plus a mindset for working at a start-up.
2. Retaining Start-up Talent
- Identify your Top Performers: Recruiting is just the first step in building a relationship with your most important stakeholder – employee. The top performers are the engine that will fuel the start-up machine, which makes it imperative to quickly identify them.
- Employee Buy-in: It’s very important to involve employees across levels in decision-making, and treat them as equal stakeholders, to build a sense of belonging and confer a sense of ownership among employees. This, in turn, would help them pull in more employees in their personal network to work for the start-up.
- Congenial and Meritocratic Work Environment: It’s very important to demonstrate care for employees by emphasising – both their personal and professional development. It is advisable to devise compensation and benefits policy that attracts and retains the best. In a start-up, even more so, employees deserve a fair share of the pie!
It is also critical to have a phase-wise growth plan. In the first phase, it becomes more important to have people who have specific skills, but are equally comfortable with being generalists. In a start-up, as they say, everyone does everything! In the second phase, it is vital to focus more on people with specialised skills. In the next stage, when the main requirement is scaling up, it might become necessary to engage Recruitment Consultants. In the final stage of the start-up’s journey, which is the maturing phase, it might be feasible to hire a team of recruiters, who actively work with Recruitment Consultants.
While start-up recruiting can be challenging, it’s important to be persistent and patient. With right attitude, start-up hiring can be a lot of fun and a great learning experience!