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How to Lure a Superstar to Your Small Business

Want to poach top talent from one of the big boys? Keep these questions in mind, advises investor Hunter Walk.
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Startups live and die by the quality of the teams behind them, so getting the best talent to work at your company is clearly one of an entrepreneur's top priorities. But how can your dinky company compete for the best of the best against marquee names with deep pockets?

Luring superstars to a fledgling company can sound like mission impossible, but it’s not -- as long as you know how to do it right. That’s the theme of a recent post by Hunter Walk, who previously worked as a Google product lead and is now a seed-stage investor. Having seen both sides of the startup/behemoth divide, his post offers founders several questions to think about before they pick up the phone to try and convince a restless big shot to make a jump to their business.

Do They Really Want to Leave?

"I’ve found many don’t! The candidate wants to feel loved, and being chased by a startup will help his or her self-worth but waste your time," explains Walk. So before you spend a lot of time wooing that potential dream employee, make sure they’re honestly looking for a new challenge by assigning some homework.

"You want to see someone who has hustle in them, and can develop a point of view in advance of an employment offer. There’s mutual benefit as you each get to 'try before you buy.' Those who never follow-up? Well, you just avoided a bad hire," writes Walk. Such exercises can help you determine is a candidate is talking to you for the "right" reasons, such as passion for the project or career advancement.

Are You Being Used as a Negotiating Chip?

Say your superstar aces her homework assignment and you make her an offer. One of the greatest dangers here, Walk warns, is the big company the person is currently working for making them a gargantuan counter offer. How do you respond? Refuse to be a bargaining chip, advises Walk.

"Unless you’re in the blessed class of ventures on track to be the next billion dollar IPO, you just don’t have the resources to outbid the Googles of the world," he writes. So does that mean you have no weapons with which to fight back? Not at all. They’re just not monetary.  

"Anticipate the counter and account for it in your discussions with the target hire," Walk says, offering two ways to potentially foil a big-money incentive to stay. "The most extreme version is to tell the candidate the basics of your offer verbally and not even make a formal offer until he or she agrees in principle. The candidate can still back out, but they’re putting a professional reputation at stake by breaking their word," he writes.

Walk also suggests getting verbal buy-in to the idea that compensation is only part of the what you’re offering before you make a formal offer. "Explicitly get the candidate to say that the compensation part of the offer is within an acceptable range. Then emphasize the aspects that his or her current employer can’t match - the speed and nimbleness of a startup, the upside of fast growth and so on," he suggests.

Like Walk’s advice? Check out the complete post for another tip and more details on the points above.

 

Last updated: Jan 22, 2014

JESSICA STILLMAN

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.




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