Why Startups Should Focus on Non-traditional Methods for Branding and Attracting Talent

For job seekers, the focus isn't always on salary anymore.

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Written by Polly Barnes, Operating Partner, EQT Ventures

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The Great Resignation has plagued businesses since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although some expected the exodus of employees, primarily in the tech industry, to slow as the pandemic eased, that has not been the case. The available applicant pool shrunk by nearly 25 percent in 2021, while the number of posted jobs nearly doubled over the same period.

Now, as the spectre of a global recession looms, it's a particularly high-pressure time for the tech sector. Layoffs that started in the U.S. have since reached Europe, with rapid grocery delivery startup Gorillas announcing 300 job cuts and Klarna cutting its workforce by 10 percent. Big Tech giants have also instituted hiring freezes.

Still, the Great Resignation looks set to endure; a few weeks ago, the PwC's Global Workforce Hopes and Fears survey revealed one-in-five workers is looking for a new job. This presents a unique opportunity for startups that have struggled finding talent to swoop in and hire desperately needed staff.

Focus on what sets your startup apart.

Busy building technology, teams, and fundraising, it can be easy for founders to deprioritise promoting their company to current or prospective employees. However, this is a false economy; those investing sufficient resources into branding will find that their hiring pipeline is much healthier as a result.

While startups might not be able to compete with corporates, unicorns, or Big Tech giants on salary, there's so much more that makes them special. For example, when job-hunting, the highest-paying company might be quite boring, as they lead with salary rather than engagement. In contrast, startups are unique in being able to offer an exciting and fast-paced working environment with a meaningful impact, underpinned by a strong company culture.

Nonetheless, there's no use in having competitive company values and perks if people aren't aware of them, or don't understand why they're in place. As such, employer branding and engaging content is becoming core to startup recruitment strategies, with some particularly successful examples happening on non-traditional platforms, such as TikTok and Twitter – vital for attracting Generation Z (or Gen-Z).

Engaging Gen-Z: TikTok and beyond.

Accounting for one-third of the global population, Gen-Z are an increasingly sizable part of any workplace. Getting their attention and keeping them happy is a challenge that shouldn't be underestimated. Rather than adopting a one-size-fits-all approach to recruitment, founders should make specialist efforts when seeking Gen-Z workers.

This means targeting them on platforms they already dominate. Earlier this year, CM Group research revealed that nearly half (49 percent) of Gen Z individuals gather news and information from YouTube, while almost a quarter (23 percent) turn to TikTok – twice that of any other generation. The same percentage (23 percent) ranks authenticity as important – more than nearly any other business attribute, including social impact.

So, for example, a short video that really captures a company's culture, hosted on YouTube, could really pay dividends. It should include soundbites from staff at all levels and across different teams, capturing the myriad factors that make the company in question special. For example, flexible working comes more naturally to startups. Considering that nearly half (48 percent) of workers who quit their jobs last year cited childcare issues as the main reason, the importance of such flexibility cannot be overstated.

A people-centric approach: Transparency and purpose.

Shining a light on these qualities – and, crucially, in the right place – could make all the difference in convincing someone to make a move. For any startup, the key to success here is communicating how people's careers are looked after and proving a people-centric approach. If turning to YouTube, make sure to maximise ROI by promoting it across multiple channels.

As for TikTok – which last year became the most popular domain on the internet – this is increasingly a platform people are turning to for answers to career dilemmas. 'TechTok' is one of many examples of career content on TikTok aimed towards Gen-Z jobseekers, either at the beginning of their careers or when they're looking to switch roles.

The hashtag #CareerTikTok has 979.3 million views, with people documenting their career journeys and sharing their wisdom on CVs, interviews, and more. Startups that tap into these trends successfully could find themselves rewarded with access to talent that bigger companies could only dream of.

Outside of social media, given how much Gen-Z values authenticity and individualism – favouring transparency and purpose in their work and, in turn, their bosses – make sure to update job descriptions with language that appeals to this generation. Doubling down on campus recruitment is also important, which means nurturing strong relationships with universities and colleges. For those who don't have existing connections, companies like Handshake specialise in matching students with employers.

Ultimately, it's never been more important for startups to make the right hires at the right time; too much is at stake to make a mistake. By investing time, effort, and money in non-traditional platforms and methods that make clear business sense, founders can not only weather an impending storm but thrive in it.