If you are a startup founder and have already had some hiring experience, you are probably developing a really good understanding of the type of people who work best with you and, most importantly, already determined the skills and experience that your startup actually needs. You might even have developed your networks so you are aware of some “top guns’ in your industry and have some relationships with people who might one day turn into candidates and then into employees.
You know one of these amazing people could be a game-changer for your business. The question is, how do you attract your dream candidate? You might know everything about them, their capability, their expertise, knowledge base, experience and skills and you probably have a pretty good gauge on their attitudes and their personality and believe that you could work well together. But how do you get them interested in you and your startup, and how do you get them “over the line”? Here are my top tips:
USE WHAT YOU’VE GOT
As a startup, there are often lots of things you don’t have that other, larger and more established businesses have to attract candidates. But you do have some things to offer, so you need to be clear about what they are and how to use them.
STRONG VISION AND MISSION
You must have a strong vision and mission – that might be all you’ve got, so can you sell your vision to others, to get them engaged and motivated to try and bring your vision to life?
If it’s really early days and all you have at this stage is just an idea, well it better be a great idea. And you need to get good at selling it. Get them excited about what you are going to achieve because they need to feel as strongly as you do about the vision in your head. Does your idea appeal to their interests? Find aspects of your business idea that you know will resonate with them and outline specific areas of their expertise where they could assist you.
You’re also selling yourself here, and that’s a unique offering with which no one else can compete. The opportunity for the candidate is to genuinely partner with you to breathe life into your compelling vision. It’s the killer combination of a truly meaningful goal and a great team that makes both the journey and the effort worth taking the risk.
Once you’ve managed to excite some interest in your mission and the opportunity to work with you, you have your dream candidate’s attention at an emotional level. The next assessment step for them, standing on the outside looking in at your startup, will be to make a call on the quality, capability and riskiness of the venture. Different candidates will apply different levels of rigor at this stage, but there are a few things that can help your cause in all cases.
For example, maybe you have passed some objective “quality tests” such as being selected to go through an accelerator program, or perhaps you have a great story to tell regarding your crowdfunding success, or you have some well-known investors or a great advisory board in place. This tells your potential hire that other smart people have critiqued your business and they support it too. So, don’t be shy about promoting all of these things to them.
What are other people saying about your business? What do your customers or product users think about your startup? What are the investors saying about you?
Think about the smart people you know who have believed in your business and tell your potential employee about these people, show them the reviews and articles in the press and on social media. This gives them further social proof that other people have confirmed the validity of your startup.
Social proof also applies to you as an individual. So, if you don’t already have a profile in your industry or your local startup community, then it’s time to start working on it. You need to be active in the local meetup and networking scene. Run some meetups around a topic that highlights your strengths while also contributing to helping others. It could be technical, commercial or industry-specific for example.
Also get active on sites like LinkedIn, Medium or Ucities by publishing relevant articles that build your profile as an expert. Getting referrals and introductions to new people and potential employees is great social proof that you are doing this well.
A MEANINGFUL JOB ROLE & TITLE TO MATCH
In an early-stage startup, almost everyone is like a Co-Founder, although you may not call them that as the Co-Founder title comes with expectations, but it’s definitely cool to be employee number 1, 2, 3 or even 10. We know in some larger businesses now, that anyone up to employee 100 would have had a huge impact on the development of the startup. They were “big cogs” in the early developmental years of the business and all their actions made a real difference.
In your startup, how exciting would it be to offer someone to come in as employee number 6 knowing that they could exert significant influence in your startup? Depending on the stage of the business, you might even want to offer the title of Co-Founder to a dream candidate. I touched on the benefits of this in relation to CTO hires here.
CREATIVE BENEFITS THAT HIGHLIGHT YOUR VALUES
Do you have some creative employment benefits? It’s your startup, you can develop an employment contract with whatever conditions and benefits you like. Although keep in mind that, by doing so, you are setting precedents that may be difficult to unwind or change as your business scales.
The best approach here is to tie benefits into the values in which you and your startup stand for. This has the dual benefit of being attractive to candidates with resonating values while supporting your startup’s culture as it grows. The options are literally endless and could range from offering time off for them to work in their favorite charity, allowing them to do pro-bono work on behalf of your startup, allowing them to bring their dog to work, providing an in-house yoga class or simply a day off on their birthday.
As you can see, the key to attracting and securing your dream candidate for your startup all comes down to playing to your strengths and what you have to offer. It is also important to remember that there are two sides to this equation and it’s worthwhile considering things from the candidate’s side as well. The right person in the right role can make all the difference to the success of your business, so it’s worth investing the time and effort in getting good at this.
This article was written by Luke Henningsen and he is Co-Founder of the growing startup community at Ucities which is being developed to help provide a dedicated space for founders and startup people to network and support each other. He also leads a business called Scale & Swing, which delivers executive search to startups looking for senior talent at a startup-friendly price-point. Feel free to reach out to Luke on LinkedIn or at Scale & Swing or join the growing community at Ucities.