OK, So You're Not Google. You Can Still Compete With It for Top Talent.
When it comes to talent, startups face a daunting task when it comes to competing with big companies. Alex Turnbull, the CEO of helpdesk software startup Groove, discovered last year that an engineering candidate was also considering Google, and figured he was doomed. His first thought? It would be impossible to offer competitive salary and perks, let alone the prestige of working for tech’s largest brand.
“While I was offering salaries that were highly competitive in our market, there was no way I could compete with what Google could offer top engineers. And so, as that same prospect explained to me a week later, he would be taking their higher offer.”
For most startups, the phrase “talent acquisition” isn’t used on a daily basis, but it’s a part of their world whether they like it or not. And while engineering is the most obvious example in both early stage startups and established tech companies like Facebook, Apple or Google, finding and recruiting talented candidates is a challenge in other areas, too.
However, it’s not all bad news for startups. Call it being lean, call it leveraging the David versus Goliath syndrome -- there are some built-in advantages that larger companies simply can’t offer. Here are a few things to consider when competing with the giants.
1. The best candidate wants to learn and impact the bottom line.
By far the biggest draw for great talent is the ability to learn at a rapid pace. Many candidates, especially those early in their careers, are looking for an environment where they can really dive in and develop their skills. As Jake Gibson, founder of NerdWallet, points out, employees in a startup often get more responsibility and more experience than they can at a larger company.
When you’re working with a startup, time is short and resources are generally limited. As such, you have to do it all, and if you don’t know what to do, you’ve got to figure it out. This kind of environment is attractive to many candidates, and it affords them great opportunities to learn. This is especially attractive for many millennials and gen Z’ers who value continuous feedback and improvement.
2. Less is more.
Working for a startup means that when you have a new idea, you start as small as you can, build smart, prove your concept, then scale it once you have evidence that it works. That continuous feedback loop is part of what draws people to startups in the first place. Engineering talent, for example, usually has a love of problem-solving. It’s why they entered the field in the first place.
Dealing with bureaucracy, paperwork and being required to justify budgets are a lot less interesting, and that’s a built-in advantage for most startups. If you want to test something, you go for it. Once you want it to go live and be in production, or grow on a bigger scale, then you present data and make your case to the team.
3. Great talent knows there are tradeoffs, so be clear on what you think those are.
One of the things that early-stage companies often overlook is that it isn’t a zero sum game. For talented engineers, marketers, designers and others who are at the early stages of their careers, there is a clear calculation to be made. Putting Google or Facebook on your resume may be a strong signal for your career prospects, but it doesn’t automatically increase your skills or assure a successful career.
Even an ex-Googler pointed at this dynamic via a piece in Business Insider last year: Getting experience at a startup can lead to a stronger, longer career at an established company later.
4. Job applicants will research you -- make it easy for them.
The last and perhaps strongest advantage is that when it comes to brand awareness, you may not be able to compete with Google, but you can make it extremely easy for them to learn more about your company and the type of work they can experience and skills they can expect to acquire.
Doing things like encouraging your most excited employees to provide company reviews online and short testimonials about what they’re currently learning can go a long way. As much as possible, make sure you are telling potential job applicants what you believe in, and what they’ll get an opportunity to work on. Doing so will help attract and retain not just talent, but the right talent for your company.
While there are a variety of approaches for a startup to do that, you’d be hard pressed to find a better example than Turnbull’s blog mentioned at the beginning of this post. For the last two years, he’s consistently shared his company’s culture and learnings and showcased the day-to-day operations of Groove. And it’s paid off. Over the course of the past two years, he’s attracted and hired excellent talent and continues to attract great applicants by writing about what he and his team believe in.
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