You might've heard that there's a "war for talent" going on in Silicon Valley, and that hiring great people, especially designers and engineers, is becoming increasingly tough for startups. The competition can be fierce, given what industry giants like Facebook and Google are able to offer in terms of employee compensation.

So, in light of all the competition, how does a small startup compete?

I ran this question by Soleio Cuervo, a well known designer in the tech industry who has years of experience growing teams. Until recently, Soleio was the head of design at Dropbox, where he helped grow a team of three designers to an organization of almost 40 people across multiple design disciplines. Prior to Dropbox, Soleio was the second product designer at Facebook. He is now an investor and advisor to early stage startups.

Below are Soleio's tips for attracting top design talent. While he focusses mostly on luring in designers specifically, most of this wisdom can be applied in attracting top talent more broadly.

Ship great products that designers can't ignore

The best way to attract great talent, says Cuervo, is to ship great software. "If your product is demonstrably improving the lives of designers or is impacting their line of work," he adds, "you have a huge advantage when approaching marquee talent."

It makes sense: people are drawn to companies when they see the value in the products they are making. When those products impacts their lives directly, or they can relate to the issue you are trying to solve, it makes that company doubly attractive to them.

Foster a culture of growth and recruiting

Your entire design team should be invested in the next great hire, says Cuervo. "This means empowering them with sourcing, evaluation and having them drive the recruiting conversation as much as your company leaders. Designers are eager to work with great teammates and want to engage with the people they'd be working with during the interview process."

By involving team members in growth and recruitment for your company, you empower team members to impact decisions that will affect their jobs. Not to mention, they will often have good instincts about the cultural fit of the potential new employee, which is equally important to the level of a person's talent when adding them to your team.

Understand core motivation

If a designer's personal motivations aren't aligned with your company's mission, they are the wrong fit. This alignment is one of the first things an entrepreneur should look for when they speak with potential design hires. If there is alignment, the work will be so much more meaningful for the designer, they'll mesh with the team much better and they'll be more committed to the company mission and vision for the long run.

"The best hires are going to be people whose values and personal motivations align very closely with the company's values and competitive advantage," says Cuervo. "The key to making a great recruiting pitch is to deeply understand a designer's core motivation for being in this line of work."

Call in the big guns

For a startup, it's crucial to have the CEO involved in the hiring process. Great designers have a lot of options, and sometimes, what makes the biggest difference is the involvement of the founders and their vision for the company.

"Premier talent requires chief executive involvement," says Cuervo. "The top design hires we made at Dropbox and Facebook were due in large part to the direct participation of CEOs Mark Zuckerberg and Drew Houston. Great designers want to hear the founders' vision firsthand and want to see evidence of a great working relationship with top brass."

As an entrepreneur, it's important to be very hands-on with the hiring process and take whatever time is needed to really get to know who you might be bringing onto the team (and let them get to know you). Thoroughly discuss your vision with them, how you plan to grow, where you plan to take the company, and how they can play an integral part in that plan.

Even if you aren't Drew Houston or Mark Zuckerberg (yet), people will join the company if they believe in you and in your vision.

Published on: Dec 4, 2014