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Your Startup Can Compete With Companies Like Facebook for Top Talent. Here's How. Here are seven things to remember when competing for high-level talent.

By Kelly Kinnard Edited by Frances Dodds

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


Your first hires came through your personal and professional networks. They were young and hungry and ready to take a risk on an exciting new project. But, now you're at a point where you need to hire an established professional -- someone who can take your sales team to the next level, handle talent management and personnel issues for your growing company, or help you start planning for an IPO.

Hiring high-level candidates is almost nothing like hiring developers or sales reps. Instead of posting an ad and sifting through resumes, you'll be working with a recruiter to identify and approach people at the top of their game. These people will be mid-career professionals, used to earning good money, who can work anywhere. You can't compete with big companies like Facebook or IBM in terms of salary or name recognition, but that doesn't mean you can't win over top talent. It just means you have to work harder to do it. Here are seven things to remember when competing for high-level talent:

1. This isn't an interview.

Recruiting is totally different from interviewing lower-level candidates. These people aren't looking for a job. They have a job. The fact that they're open to talking to you doesn't mean they're unhappy or unsuccessful in their current position. And while you know how amazing your idea and your team are, the candidate doesn't -- yet. Keep in mind that you're trying to woo this person away from a stable job. You're going to need to put in some work to do that.

Related: Want Tech Workers to Stick Around Longer? Think 30 Years -- Not 3.

2. Make the process convenient for them.

This starts with your first meeting. They're not going to want to take a morning off of work until they've heard more about your company. Don't expect them to come to you -- find a coffee shop near their home or office, so they can easily fit this meeting into their schedule. As important as this first meeting is, convenience is key throughout the process. I've seen lots of companies schedule day-long meetings with candidates, so they can meet multiple stakeholders within the company -- and completely forget to plan a lunch. Keep the candidates fed and happy, never leave them waiting ungreeted in your lobby and you'll show them you care about their experience.

3. Tailor your pitch to their interests.

Take the time to look over their resume and social media profiles. What projects do they seem most excited about? What themes carry through their entire career? Candidates hate being approached for roles they're not suited for. Make sure you know why this move would be to their advantage. And then go the extra mile and highlight a project that would build a skill they seem interested in, or help them develop an area of their personal brand that they frequently highlight online.

Related: Employees From All Generations Want This One Thing From Employers

4. Keep the momentum going.

Time kills all deals. As a candidate, there's nothing worse than going for coffee with someone, getting the hard sell and then hearing nothing for weeks. In recruiting, delay costs you: In a Recruiter Sentiment Study, 27 percent of respondents cited "lengthy hiring practices" as a top obstacle to hiring.

If you have an executive assistant, have him reach out as soon as an interview is scheduled to introduce himself, and then make sure he follows up quickly after each meeting or phone call. If you're handling the process yourself, make it a priority to follow up quickly with candidates. It's a great way to show how serious you are about building a relationship with them.

5. Be transparent about potential pitfalls.

Yes, you're trying to sell them on your company and the role you want them to play, but that doesn't mean you should gloss over problems or paint an overly rosy picture. According to one Glassdoor survey, 61 percent of employees say new job realities differ from the expectations set in the interview process -- and that disconnect only hurts long-term retention. And if you're still tempted to gloss over uncomfortable details, consider this: ERE research indicates the real cost of employee turnover for high-level employees is steep -- 400 percent of annual salary, to be exact. Transparency now will save everyone trouble in the long run.

Your candidate is probably working for a much larger, more stable company right now. She may perceive startups as risky. And she has good reason to! Of course your company is destined for greatness, but lots of startups fail. If your next round of funding depends on the success of a key project, tell her that. Being honest and transparent about real challenges shows the candidate you want to start this relationship on the right foot.

Related: 9 Ways to Recruit the Best Talent for Your Startup

6. Pay attention -- small talk isn't small.

Remember what the candidates tell you about their personal life, hobbies, and lifestyle. If they mention their spouse is concerned about schools in your area, connect them with other parents who can give them the local scoop. If they talk about wanting to work from home part-time, highlight the flexibility you offer. If they mention they're an avid hiker, a baseball fanatic, a karaoke fiend or a triathlete, you know exactly what kinds of activities to organize when they visit you and your team. Keeping track of details like this isn't creepy; it's caring. And paying attention to what a candidate's spouse is interested in or worried about will go a long way towards getting to yes.

7. Leave them with a good impression.

I hear all the time from candidates who've been through multiple rounds of interviews and even flown out to visit a company--and then never get closure. Recruiting Daily research found 55.9 percent of job candidates get zero feedback at all, and another 20 percent get only "general or limited" feedback. That's not the way to thank an influential person in your industry who's spent dozens of hours getting to know your team and company.

When things don't work out with candidates, make sure you reach out and let them know what happened and why. And if they're the ones turning you down, be gracious. The tech world is small. Think of these candidates as potential brand ambassadors. What do you want them saying about your company?

The talent market is super-tight right now. Top candidates are fielding calls from recruiters all the time. If you can't compete on salary or perks with bigger companies, it's the personal touch that's going to make all the difference.

Kelly Kinnard

VP of Talent at Battery Ventures

Kelly Kinnard is Battery Ventures' global talent representative. Prior, Kinnard worked at Oracle, where she led executive recruiting for the president of product development. Before Oracle, Kinnard was a principal at Riviera Partners, an executive search firm for venture-backed technology companies.

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