How to maximise your reach and compete for talent as a startup
As a startup, you’ve got limited resources in the early days, yet you need to be able to hire top people to get your business off the ground. It’s also quite possible you’re a founder with limited hiring experience, so it’s important you think about what you have to offer potential candidates before you go to market.
You wouldn’t pitch an investor with a generic idea, so don’t try and pitch candidates with vague job specs. Be clear on your proposition and what makes you unique. The purpose of this article is to ask companies to take a more deliberate approach to how they promote themselves and the roles they hire for.
Please note, most of this advice is generic and can be applied in most circumstances, but for my own purposes I’m focused on the hiring of product and engineering professionals.
So, where do you start?
Discover what motivates candidates
Firstly, it’s important to understand what best motivates candidates so you can ensure your offering is as enticing as possible.
Monitoring changes in these trends is key, as priorities do shift over time. For example, in Stackflow’s 2018 survey compensation and benefits came out top, whereas in 2020 candidates were more interested in technologies used. You can also see a clear shift towards prioritising how widely used or/ impactful their work is and the industry they work in.
Thinking about what you have to offer
Next, you need to understand the different levers you can use to attract top talent.
Financial compensation (salary and other benefits)
Arguably, one of the biggest reasons that people move jobs is to improve their basic salary.
How can you find out what’s “market rate”?
Speak to your investors and peers, they’ll likely have salary benchmarking data to hand.
Research other online adverts from similar companies.
Speak to specialist recruiters for their advice.
If you know you’ll struggle to compete in other areas, offering above market rate is an easy way to attract people’s attention. Just be wary in the future - if someone has joined you for money then they’ll be easily tempted away.
If you’re not able to offer a competitive salary you need to consider how you will compensate for this. Offering equity is a common way to offset salary. People will also be more likely to be flexible on salary if it gives them an opportunity to do something they can’t do elsewhere (role/tech/product/sector).
COVID has made people question how well supported they are by their employer, especially in times of need. Part of this is intangible, such as how we feel emotionally about our employer, but the tangible part is visible in the form of their benefits.
For more information on employee benefits and the shift that Covid has caused check out this helpful article from Benefex.
In the early days you may not have the resources to throw at a comprehensive benefits package, so focus on the things that don’t cost you anything, E.G: increasing holiday allowance, mental health days, birthday’s off and promoting a flexible working culture. Put in place yearly reviews. As you grow, and hopefully become more financially stable, you’ll be able to offer your people more benefits. Take the time to survey their needs so you’re supporting them as much as you can.
Company mission and product impact:
Over the last few years, there's been a rise in working for businesses where you believe in the impact of their product and the value it brings to their users. As a Product Manager or Software Engineer, you’re integral to how a product is shaped and built so it helps if you genuinely care about the product.
In Stack Overflow’s report, they noted that the percentage of those surveyed whose top priority was the industry they work in or the impact of their work had doubled.
Regardless of your sector or product type, be clear about the value your product brings to users. Candidates need to “get it” as soon as they engage with your company, whether that’s via a recruiter or job description.
If you’re building a product that is simple to explain and has a social impact or solves a widely recognised problem across large demographics, then shout about it from the roof tops. That will attract great people. Check out Beam as an example.
When hiring software engineers, the tech stack is a key factor in their decision to move jobs. Engineers want to work on interesting problems using modern tech, and they want to learn new skills. Your choice of tech stack, even in the early stages, is critical to hiring top engineers.
For more insight on the desirable vs undesirable tech, check out Stack’s survey.
If you have dated tech, be honest about it, but promote what you’re doing to improve.
If you’ve got a great tech stack, shout about it.
Engineers also love the opportunity to make improvements, if you’re open to or want to explore new ways of working / tech, then make this clear.
Location is a two-fold factor and one of the biggest levers to use when hiring:
The more flexible you are, the easier and faster it is to attract good people.
The more flexible you are, the bigger the talent pool you have to hire from. 😊
If you are restricted in other areas, (financial compensation, tech stack, product etc) location is the biggest lever you can use to open up a larger talent pool. UK based candidates, especially those in the South East, will be the most selective when applying for jobs as they are in such high demand.
Other factors to consider:
Role / Progression:
Every candidate has different drivers, but 99% of the time they will be looking for an opportunity to do something they’re currently unable to do. So, if you’re willing to give someone the opportunity to “step into” the role, you’ll open up your talent pool. If you’re expecting someone to move jobs for a “like for “like” role then there will be fewer candidates to choose from.
What are the values of your product and engineering function? What would the team say about working there? Is the team collaborative? How does the business interact with the product engineering teams? This works both ways, attracting the right people and deterring those not well aligned.
Tip: Outline your core 3-5 values that make up your product and engineering culture.
Most candidates will want to join a business committed to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). What are your goals as a company? How do you ensure your process is fair and equal to all candidates? How diverse is the current team? If you have a diverse team, you will be more likely to attract further diverse candidates.
If you have a clear strategy towards DEI, communicate this externally.
Clearly communicate how your process is fair and inclusive.
Be conscious of the language you use in your adverts, specs and interview processes. Take a look at this guide for more information.
Most candidates are reluctant to join startups because of the perceived risk. Where possible, be clear on your current funding status and financial runway. Be transparent on company strategy and what needs to happen to continue growing. This will give candidates that assurance they are looking for, as too often this is hidden.
People in the team:
Great people attract great people. If your leadership team have been successful in other startups, that’s a great “pull” to advertise. If I’m an aspiring Product Manager and I could be mentored by the CPO that took Just Eat from X to Y, that’s a serious lever to pull.
It’s rare that a company doesn’t have some great levers to pull to attract top people. However, it’s very common that companies go to market without giving due consideration to what makes them great and how they communicate this to the market.
Remember, the more levers you pull, the bigger and better talent pool you give yourself access to.