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Snag the Brightest Young Talent (It's not About the Money)

Can't compete with Wall Street salaries? Use these creative strategies for attracting the best Gen-Y talent.
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While building your business, you are probably overflowing with ideas and enthusiasm. What you might not have in such abundance yet is cash. But you still need to hire to grow—and you need to hire the best and the brightest. How can you lasso the best collaborators when you don't necessarily have the resources to lure them in with high salaries?

It's a question we put to Rob Catalano of Achievers, a fast-growing start-up that just secured $25 million in Series C funding. Achievers, which is based in Toronto, helps big companies such as Microsoft and Hyatt implement reward-and-recognition programs. Through its research, Achievers is knows just what Gen Y is looking for in an employer—well, everything outside of salary and benefits. The company also has learned from building its own team quickly, but cheaply.

"A year ago we were about six people in our marketing team and today we're 28," says Catalano. "We've been in the bootstrapping world and even with a little bit of funding are trying to find creative ways to recruit and retain Gen-Y employees." So what does he suggest?

Deputize your existing employees.

If you have existing employees they can be your most valuable resources for attracting high caliber candidates on the cheap, explains Catalano. Plus, potential hires come to you pre-briefed on the organization, and so are more likely to integrate smoothly into it. "[Employees] already intuitively know what the company's about, what the drive is, what the environment looks and feels like," says Catalano. "So candidates actually have more insight into that organization if they have a referral as opposed to just seeing things on job boards."

Referral programs are already a fairly well known way to hire great employees at low cost, but Catalano suggests small businesses tweak the existing model to get the most out of the idea: "We actually reward people as soon as they bring someone in to a first interview. It's a small reward but it ties very closely to the behavior of actually referring. One of the problems with referral programs is that you reward someone once [the new hire is] in seat for six months and it's not very motivating. Even with initial rewards, it is still lower cost than any other activity we've done."

Leverage social media.

Your company probably has a social media presence. Maybe you have a recognition program, but have you considered the benefits of linking the two? By making recognition in the form of achievements, badges or even shout out tweets easy for your existing employees to share with their social networks, you extend the reach of your employer brand to anyone following your employees' feeds. "At Achievers, everyone in our company, once they receive recognition, has the ability to share that into their social networks in a couple of clicks," says Catalano. "Anytime someone reviews that information, it links to the fact that we're hiring."

Highlight the experience.

"When we surveyed [Gen Y] about what they want in a job, salary was up there, but interesting work and career advancement actually surpassed salary," Catalano explains. "Once you can kind of take money off the table and they can pay their bills, they are more interested in challenging work." If your organization offers these intangible advantages, you need to be highlighting that fact in your recruiting efforts. How? See below.

Think like a marketer.

"Knowing who your target is, knowing what they're all about, and knowing how you differentiate your business from other start-ups," is key, suggests Catalano, who urges small businesses to treat recruiting like marketing. "It comes down to, what are the benefits," he says. Figure out "what's going to resonate with people, whether its culture, whether its great growth opportunities," and "have great content that helps you build that employer brand." What sort of content does he have in mind? Achievers gets its message out in a variety of ways, including website content like a Top 100 Reasons to Work at Achievers; list and videos that give potential candidates a transparent glimpse into the company's culture and the daily reality of work there.

How is your company enticing top Gen Y talent? What other strategies (aside from big salaries and great benefits) have worked for you?

IMAGE: iStock
Last updated: Dec 9, 2011

JESSICA STILLMAN | Columnist

Jessica Stillman is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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