If you ask people where startups begin, most people might say with an idea. But no idea will produce any return on investment without the magic ingredient of talent.

Recruiting the right talent can be a daunting task, but it's a critical one. When making hiring decisions, look not only for past achievements, but at what candidates can do for your team down the road. That requires imagination and an effective interview process.

Ask about strengths, passions, and examples of their commitment to bring their best efforts to a demanding project. A good way to get a sense of what candidates are capable of is to have them produce work for you during the interview process, such as writing code or presenting a short sales talk.

However you do the interviewing, in order to get to that point, you need to find strong candidates. Sure, there are job sites on which you can advertise your open position, but your competitors are already doing that. So, let's look at four places to meet startup talent that you may not have considered.

1. Today's talent goldmine: training programs

Training programs are hotter than ever, and for good reason. While they may range from high school equivalency programs to apprenticeships, internships, licensure preparation, and specific skills training, what they have in common is how they help workers avoid unemployment or underemployment. They have been specifically designed to take motivated and talented people, provide the skills they need, and put them in direct contact with the startups and other organizations that demand them.

One component that makes these programs a great resource for finding potential employees is the hybrid learning approach many take. For example, LaunchCode, a nonprofit that offers free technology training, uses a hybrid model that mixes online classes with in-person lectures, meetings, and apprenticeships. Companies are noticing the benefits of a hybrid learning model and are using it for their internal employee training as well.

2. Summer camps: Not just for marshmallow roasting anymore

Instead of lying on the couch at home or being stuck in a summer job with no prospect of advancement, more students are spending their summers participating in preprofessional programs to get an edge after graduation. Even traditional summer camps are incorporating entrepreneurial and business-focused programs for students just entering high school.

These camps are a great place to find interns who could turn into future employees. Steve Robertson, CEO of Julian Krinsky Camps & Programs, an organization that has been providing youth-to-adult programming for 40 years, believes Generation Z workers have much to contribute to a team. "They are quick to take on new skill sets and are cause-driven. Adding this younger cohort to a team not only brings in those qualities," Robertson explains, "but it also helps that team connect with younger consumers and stay up-to-date on trends."

That's not surprising given how accustomed Generation Z is to multitasking and how adaptable it is to change. Finding a Gen Zer through a summer program could give you the perfect intern now and an ideal employee later.

3. A day at the fair, a long-term connection

An intense, one-day approach to meeting today's talent is the job fair. Job fairs are a key resource for connecting startups to candidates, and not just a few but many at once.

Resources like GarysGuide and Uncubed Daily provide information on the goings-on in the startup world, allowing potential candidates to know something about your company before they meet you. Various guides to job fairs help attendees learn how to comport themselves favorably, so job fairs are a conducive atmosphere for finding future employees who have already done the hard work of qualifying themselves.

4. The classic: higher education

Finally, don't abandon the traditional approach: Institutions of higher learning are still a major source of talent for the startup world, and business leaders embrace this relationship. "Colleges and universities can now contribute the most by serving as the glue that connects students to the rest of the ecosystem," says Michael Simmons, co-founder and partner of Empact, a company that specializes in entrepreneurship, innovation, and leadership programs and events.

Startups should network with contacts at local colleges and universities to get referrals for students who show promise. And don't end your search at the business school -- students from other backgrounds and disciplines could also be a good fit for your company.

Colleges and universities are well aware that they serve as a seedbed for new startup talent, and they welcome the role of providing career opportunities for their students. About 60 schools, including Princeton and Stanford, are partnering with Handshake, a mobile technology platform that provides career services. In addition, universities ranging from Harvard and Northwestern to the University of Pittsburgh and Florida State have partnered with businesses to establish entrepreneur-in-residence programs. Students get valuable practical knowledge, mentorship, and an insider view of their future career space, while businesses get access to a source of enthusiastic talent.

However you approach it, making connections with eager potential candidates is a critical step toward enhancing your startup. Fortunately, there is no shortage of effective ways to acquire the human capital you'll need to succeed.

Published on: Mar 23, 2018