STARTUP

How to Attract Talent to Your Start-Up

At a start-up, you need employees that are in it for the long haul and fit your unique culture. Find out where to look, what to look for, and what to offer a new hire.

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Employees are valuable. So are referrals. That was the thought behind Meebo's decision to offer a $5,000 reward to anyone who referred qualified potential employees to the company that launched in 2005. The only stipulation? People would only get paid if the candidates got hired.

As an instant-messaging and social media service, Meebo never really had trouble finding and attracting talent. They offered employees referral bonuses, posted on job boards and committed themselves to so-called "guerilla recruiting." But they realized, some time in May of this year, that they had 10 high-level jobs to fill and they hadn't been using all of the resources available to them to find the best talent. They hadn't yet reached out to their massive user network.

So, Vice President of Human Resources Tom Perrault and his team decided to offer the public the $5,000 prize.

"Good talent is going to make the difference in the growth of our organization and in the future," says Perrault. "So we're willing to pay for good talent."

The referrals the company got, especially from vendors and external partners were, in Perrault's words, "spot on," and the experiment was a success. The moral of the story, though, is not that you have to throw money around to attract top talent.

Instead, the takeaway message for recruiting is: play to your strengths (in Meebo's case, it's networking), be active, not passive, and get your name out there. This guide will provide a few recruiting tips, as well as what to look for in a new hire, and how to entice the best talent.

How to Attract Talent to Your Start-up: Face-to-Face Interaction

No matter how small the internet has made the world, experts still recommend in-person networking as the No. 1 way to recruit talent.

"I've done a lot of placing people into positions, and I have never used a job board as a way to do that," says Rich Sloan, co-founder of StartupNation. 'Personal [interaction] is so much more powerful and important to me."

Start at your local Chamber of Commerce, which should list information on industry events happening in your area. Don't stop there, though. Research local industry groups and associations. "Every type of business has their own meetings," says Martin Zwilling, founder and CEO of consulting group Startup Professionals. "You'll find people who know your business and are looking for opportunities."

Even if you don't find employees at these industry events, you will at least make contacts who understand your needs and will put you in touch with other people they know.

Or, you could create your own networking events, as Meebo did. Perrault says the company started scheduling Meebo meetups around the world and asking fans and users to come out to rub elbows with the Meebo staff.

"We'd say, "Hey, we're going to be in Chicago. We're going to be in Japan. We're going to be in New York. If you're interested in Meebo, come to XYZ coffee shop,'" he says.

At these events, they hand out cupcakes and t-shirts. Once, one of Meebo's founders even played JavaScript bingo with people who showed up. They wanted to give guests a memorable experience because, says Perrault, "It wasn't just about recruiting. It was about building a community, and people who show up to those things have a heightened interest in Meebo."

Even if you don't have a huge network of people to advertise your meetups with, you can always try becoming an official Meetup group to get the word out.

And don't forget about schools and universities. Job fairs abound, so it's wise to get in touch with career counselors at both local schools and schools that have high-performing graduates in your field to see how you can get involved.

"Every university makes efforts to get interconnected with the entrepreneur community," Zwilling says. "They have outreach programs, and the people who are involved are the people who will find you interns and people who will be graduating soon."

Meebo judges and sponsors programming competitions at schools like MIT, Stanford and Berkeley, so they can see firsthand where the real talent is.

Dig Deeper: How to Improve Your Hiring Practices


How to Attract Talent to Your Start-up: Use the Internet Wisely

No one wants to sift through endless responses from a job board listing. You may find the right candidates in the end, but you'll waste precious time separating what Perrault calls "the weak from the champs."

This is not to say, however, that you can't find good talent for your start-up online. In the era of social networking, there are tons of sites dedicated to matching qualified applicants with the right employers, including Startupers, VentureLoop and Startuply. You can even try InternshipIN to find people while they're still in school.

Make sure, when you register for these sites, that your profile reflects the spirit of your company. That goes for your Facebook presence, too. If your business is casual and fun, you'll need people who are attracted to that type of environment, and your time will be best spent if you find these people from the very beginning.

Dig Deeper: How to Use Social Media as a Recruiting Tool


How to Attract Talent to Your Start-up: What to Look For

"There are certain kinds of people who thrive in an environment with the risk profile and anarchy of a start-up," says Sloan. "Start-ups demand great working relationships. There can be no issues."

This means the cultural fit is equally as important as what's on a person's resume. Zwilling recommends looking for people who are results-oriented, people who can tell you what exactly they've done in their careers. As you probably know already, responsibility gets pretty evenly distributed in a start-up with a small staff. You need to know that people can produce when given that responsibility.

"I hear a lot of people talk about what their job description is, but I'm looking for results," Zwilling says.

He also recommends looking for someone who is "attracted to the promise of a big win." The road may be rough at first, but someone who's ready to see your business through and can tell you why it's worth it to them is someone you want on your team.

If your business requires long or odd hours, look for someone whose other commitments aren't going to prevent them from contributing. And, most importantly, you should steer clear of people who list being tired of the corporate world as one of their main reasons for applying. That doesn't automatically mean they're ready for the start-up world, either.

Preempting these issues is key, so Sloan suggests putting all potential employees through a training session. He says,  "The test period will reveal what the dynamics really are."

Dig Deeper: The New Rules of Hiring


How to Attract Talent to Your Start-up: What to Offer

As a start-up, you might not be able to offer top talent all the benefits and employee perks that a big corporation can, but what you can offer is the promise of purpose and independence.

According to Sloan: "People get involved in a start-up for three reasons. One, they like creating, being part of something new. Two, they want to participate in the upside. Three, they want to live a meaningful life, and the closer you are to the success or failure of a business, the more meaning and purpose you feel."

Without a corporate ladder to scale, employees at start-ups can also start out with higher job titles, which can be a big incentive for driven individuals.

No matter how driven a person is, though, he or she will still want to be reassured that the company will be around a few years from now. Sloan suggests being open about your financial situation, discussing your business plan and demonstrating knowledge about your place in the industry. You don't want your new hire to face any surprises during the first few weeks.

In addition to promising purpose and more important roles, many start-ups have another secret weapon to help them secure top talent: a casual and fun working environment. If you've got one, don't be afraid to show it off. Meebo puts all its new hires through a three-hour work simulation, in which new hires not only get to demonstrate their skills, but they get to see how the office operates day-to-day.

"If we get them in the door, we have a fighting chance," says Perrault. "When we do the debrief, every single person says, 'It's so easy to see the enthusiasm of your employees, and it's infectious.'"

Dig Deeper: 10 Employee Perks We Love


How to Attract Talent to Your Start-up: Always Be on the Lookout

Don't lose recruiting momentum just because you've filled all current positions. "Even if you don't have an opening right now, eventually you'll have an opening, and you need to get people interested, so by the time you're ready, they'll want to join you," Perrault explains. "If you're not recruiting all the time, you're not doing it right."

Sloan suggests keeping a running list of all the people you meet or hear of who impress you. He calls it a "Superstar list." "It's good to always keep track of outstanding people," he says, "because you never know how or where you can plug them in."

Even when you're not actively recruiting, you can still engage talented people in non-traditional forums. Meebo posts JavaScript puzzles on its site, and every once in a while, when someone does particularly well, Perrault's team may contact that person to discuss job opportunities at Meebo.

"It's so clear to everyone here that recruiting is not just an HR job. Everybody here understands recruiting is the lifeblood of our organization," Perrault says, "and that makes for a richer and stronger recruiting process."

Dig Deeper: Never Read Another Resume

Last updated: Aug 6, 2010




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