9 Ways to attract tech talent as a growing startup

December 3, 2018
7 mins

Over 86% of recruiting agencies face shortages finding and recruiting tech talent. This is according to a survey by Indeed, the most trafficked job-recruitment website in the United States.

Because the number of applicants exceeds the number of candidates, it’s an applicant’s market. Companies are competing for a limited talent pool, fighting for their very existence in a proxy war of finding the right people to put in the right job.

It’s no secret that start-up companies usually lack the funds to compete with technology juggernauts like Google, Facebook, or Apple. Their size allows them to offer salaries and other benefits that are more than competitive. But growing startups need talented employees, too.

In this article, we look at some creative things smaller, younger companies can do to increase their chances of winning this tug-of-war against giant companies for tech talent.

    1. Create a productive environment

      Gone are the days when the relationship between employer and employee went no further than the paycheck. When it comes to employment today, a survey by Fidelity shows that adults aged 25-35 prefer a better quality of life at work than a fatter paycheck. In fact, people in this key demographic say they’re willing to forego approximately $7,600 in pay for an improved situation at work.

      According to Katie Evans, HR at Gusto, to attract today’s top talent, your business needs to, “Build a culture that makes employees feel comfortable from Day 1. Make them see a chance to grow in your company.”

      Growth is an important aspect of today’s job market. Employees in every industry are less willing than yester-years to spend their entire career working in-line at a factory. In particular, IT specialists can be ferociously ambitious; they know their worth and are always looking for opportunities to grow. Career advancement and continuing learning must be part and parcel of your startup’s culture. Companies that find ways to meet the competitive nature of the technology industries can become irresistible suitors.

    2. Build your brand as an employer

      Employees want to be associated with a positive brand. Fifty years ago, that meant talking to their neighbors about their strong pension plans and the quality of the products they helped make.

      Today’s employees still want to talk about the positive things their company does. They want to be proud of how much their company matches their 401K, helps employees find their work-life balance, or reduces the carbon footprint

      “Big names attract talent. When you build your brand, talent gravitates towards you organically,” says Halai Shukran, Talent Management Director at Viant.

      According to a survey by Glassdoor, 60% of participants said that benefits and perks are crucial factors in considering whether to accept a job offer. In fact, 80% of employees prefer additional benefits to a pay raise.

      As a startup, making sure that you know what you stand for on issues that matter to your potential employees will help your brand. Businesses that build their brand are more likely to attract talent.

    3. Stand out

      Google is famous for over-the-top perks like free haircuts, lunches made by a professional chef, yoga classes, and chair massages. SAS offers a college scholarship program for the children of their employees. Twitter’s staff enjoys on-site acupuncture, improv classes, and three catered meals a day.

      As a startup, “You’re competing for top tech talent against giant companies with more resources and bigger brands,” warns Amanda Bell, Recruiting Director at Lever. Startup companies rarely have deep pockets. Which means they need to get creative in finding perks that are important to their employees but don’t break the bank.

      An enlightening study by Fractl found some low-cost benefits that employees value. These include some very possible scenarios – such as work-from-home alternatives and flexible hours – and some possibilities that are easily achieved – such as free snacks and coffee.

      Tailor a work-life balance that presents an added benefit to your employees. Create a brand that incorporates these benefits – especially the more challenging benefits – as core values. Be active on social media platforms like LinkedIn and Facebook, where you can share targeted posts about your workplace environment.

      Don’t forget to let potential candidates know what your company is about and what you stand for. If your goals align with theirs and the conditions are right, they will come in flocks.

    4. Think about remote workers

      According to Telework Coalition, companies that adopt remote working can

      • Save approximately $20,000 annually for every full-time employee who works remotely
      • Increase employee productivity by 22%i
      • Reduce employee turnover by 50%

      A word of caution here; if this goes against your company’s brand, this tactic can do more harm than good. If part of your brand is to emphasize an America-first approach to business, then going overseas will be seen as hypocritical.

      However, even this threat to a company’s brand can be mitigated by looking for local talent that prefers to work from home or co-working spaces. It is an ideal approach for prospects that value work-life balance. If this set-up is appropriate for your business, then make it one of the highlights of your brand.

    5. Invest in employee engagement software

      Employee engagement software (EES) is a kind of computer program that uses complicated algorithms – often hidden behind a compelling, game-like user interface – to try to solve all the problems that have plagued HR departments for the past 30 years. And while they don’t always meet that rather high bar, they are still very useful.

      EES, such as TinyPluse, CultureAmp, and Clarity Wave, use periodic employee surveys to measure the levels of happiness, burnout, aspiration, and frustration in your company. This helps business owners, human resource departments, and managers assess changes in employee experience. Information collected can be used to make informed decisions that enhance workers’ experience.

      As we’ve mentioned, as a startup you should invest time and capital creating a brand. But you then also have to live up to your own hype. If you can’t, then not only will your employees leave, but the best employees will leave first, and your company’s reputation will be ruined. EES is a powerful tool that can help your organization live up to the expectations it creates.

      Word-of-mouth has always been important in the recruiting process, and in a market with websites such as Yelp, Twitter, and LinkedIn, word-of-mouth is more powerful than ever. Using technologies such as EES to streamline your business and personnel issues will create a feedback loop in which you create a brand that attracts strong employees who are happy and who tell their friends (and everyone who can access their Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn profiles) about how great your company is. And those friends will, in turn, apply to your company. And be happy. And spread the word…and on and on.

    6. Make universities your friends

      Most startups are so focused on looking for an experience they forget the benefits of new graduates. Graduates are hungry for success, have updated skills, and haven’t learned any bad habits from previous jobs. While training can seem like both a chore and money-pit, there are plus sides! Teaching raw recruits to do things your way is one of them.

      That’s one of the reasons giant tech companies have ties with the best universities. Last year, Google and Amazon announced new partnerships with several universities, including Howard University and Johns Hopkins. The partnerships aim to expose students to opportunities in Silicon Valley and build capabilities in artificial intelligence. But it will also help these giant corporations ensure that their up-and-coming future employees have the skills they need to succeed.

      While your startup probably doesn’t have the capital to create its own program at a leading university, you can nevertheless borrow a leaf from their book and gain some benefits by creating a presence on local campuses.

      • Offering internships or regular, short-term employment will help you train upcoming graduates without the costs of committing to full-time employment.
      • Building a brand on campus creates loyalty with graduates and the student body.
      • Attending university career fairs will help you find the right talent.
      • Inviting candidates to career dinners will help you find candidates whose personalities are a good fit with your team.

      Evaluate students without setting foot on the university campus, cut down your cost and scale your hiring process. Explore HackerEarth University Recruitment Software

    7. Forage from within

      According to a study in The Wall Street Journal, companies pay external hires 20% more than the staff that was promoted internally, but then give these higher-paid employees lower performance reviews. External hires are 61% more likely to be fired than internal promotions and 21% more likely to quit.

      So, don’t be so focused on filling a position from the outside that you pass up great talent that is already within the company. Remember our earlier points on company culture, building a brand, affordable benefits, and employee ambition? One highly valued benefit from the study by Fractl was assistance with student loans and tuition. Using this as a benefit to help your best employees advance their careers is a great way to bring all of these needs together and create a win-win scenario between you and your employees.

      If you notice significant potential within your company who could fill the position, mentor and train them. The best candidates are often internal, but they are not easy to find. Promoting from within is great for your staff and your company.

    8. Use recruiters who speak a familiar language

      A company is only as strong as its employees. And in a startup with only a few employees, the strength of each employee matters more! With limited resources, you need to invest in the right people to drive growth.

      If you’ve tried other tactics on this list but feel you’re running out of options, consider using a recruiter. They ask for a headhunter’s fee, but they can bring a lot to the table, too. A good recruiter will be able to clearly describe the job and its benefits, while also representing your brand. But most importantly, the best recruiters already have the contacts your business needs to find just the right person.

      Also, read – How to hire developers for your startup 

    9. Show the candidates how they will make a difference

      Few employees are looking to push papers for 30 years and retire silently. And this is especially true of tech talent. Employees today want to know they are making a difference and feel they are impacting the world. If you can articulate how they will be able to achieve that in your startup, you’ll have them sold.

      Most mission-driven employees find startups to be the perfect partners. Here, they can make contributions to the company and its customers in a more direct way than they could if they were part of a huge corporation.

      If you’re looking at your applicant pool and are afraid that the Googles and Twitters of the world will take all the best talent, then use your company’s smaller size to its advantage. Remember, today’s employees are willing to exchange, on average, $7,600 per year for added benefits. Make your company’s small size – and the relative greater impact an employee can have there – one of your selling points!

Remember, good things take time

The market for tech prospects is highly competitive. But in your hurry to fill a position, remember not to rush the process. Your goal is to create the strongest company you can. This won’t happen if you fill your office space with any warm body that turns in an application – it’s important to find the right people for your company.

And after on-boarding, remember that part of your mission is to build a culture that makes your company a great place to work. You have to live up to the expectations you created through your branding! Companies that only look the part, without making the effort to live the part, are more likely to fail.

It takes neither deep pockets nor astronomical paychecks to become a front-runner in recruiting tech talent. But it does take diligence; the search for the best minds should be continuous and thorough. The companies that take this approach can build a pipeline of quality and reliable talent that will propel their business to the next level.

What strategies did you deploy to attract tech talent in your startup? Share it with us in the Comment section below.

Ensure your tech team is not wasting its time in interviewing irrelevant candidates before hiring. Pre-assess developers before hiring to improve efficiency by more than 44%

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About the Author

Angela Payne
Angela writes about in-demand skills, tech companies, and careers. With over 18 years of experience in the Human Resources industry, Angela is responsible for the overall strategic direction and long-term vision of the Monster organization in Canada.

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