Foosball Won’t Solve Your Talent Problem

Scott-Maxwell-500 by

Startups like to think of themselves as agile innovators, but when it comes to talent acquisition, most indulge in lazy thinking.

Even in 2018, many seem to believe that perks like foosball tables, ping pong, kegs, scooters and canisters of cereal will lure talented techies. Startups routinely waste opportunities to use their websites and social feeds as recruitment vehicles.

This is the wrong time to take a cavalier approach to recruiting. A recent KPMG/Harvey Nash survey found 65% of tech leaders said hiring challenges are hurting the industry. Some sectors are hurting more than others; if you have the skills to do serious AI research, you’re one of just 10,000 people in the world who have that level of expertise.

Convincing such talent to take a flyer on your company instead of a well-heeled competitor is a tall order. Startups need to spend more time thinking of how to market themselves to tech job seekers.

Opportunity > Culture

Everyone wants to work where they feel comfortable and appreciated. But free snacks and a “fun” atmosphere are table stakes now.

Dig deeper and what new recruits are often looking for is opportunity. If they start out as one of many programmers, they want to know that there’s a path to senior management. OpenView subscribes to this idea as well. We are set up so that there’s infinite headroom. New employees can grow as fast as they want and won’t hit a limit.

Mentorship is part of this calculation. You want ambitious workers, so provide them with the means to grow on the job or they will look elsewhere. Research from Deloitte has shown that Millennial workers who stay with an organization more than five years are more likely to have a mentor (68%) than those who don’t (32%).

Another lever startups can use is flexible time. A lot of stay-at-home parents and primary caretakers are willing to work full time, but prize flexibility.

An alternate way of achieving this is to communicate that you appreciate your employees’ time. Basecamp in Chicago, for instance, has a strict rule on requiring just 40 hours of work a week and 32 hours (with one day off) in the summers. Many companies that limit time like that report that they don’t lose any productivity. This is especially true if your company is careful about not wasting people’s time in pointless meetings and has set up a workspace that minimizes distractions and lets employees get their work done.

Drop Some Filters

Times of high unemployment prompt degree inflation in which clerks and secretaries suddenly need college degrees. During boom times, like now, the opposite is true.

Lowering your standards isn’t necessarily the answer, but it’s a good idea to look at the filters you’re using and then ask yourself why they’re there. Most programmers are self-taught, for instance, so a college degree may not be relevant. You may be filtering out some great employees because you’re being too conventional in your recruiting process.

Similarly, don’t be too hung up on degrees from top-tier schools. Someone who went to MIT is likely very smart, but maybe the person who didn’t get into MIT is more motivated because they have a chip on their shoulder. The combination of motivation and humility is a potent one and is more important than what school you went to.

Find your competitive advantage

Just being a great place to work isn’t enough. If a candidate doesn’t know anything about your company, they go to your website. Too often startups prefer unilluminating, minimalist websites when they’d be better off outlining what it’s like to work at the company and offering a glimpse of the personality and warmth behind the company.

Finally, smart companies use their websites and communications to talk about what their company stands for. Many Millennials are concerned about the ethics of the company they work for and their stands on such things as conservation and equality.

The trick for startups is to think of their potential pool of workers as another group to target for marketing outreach. Ideally, you should be equally good at reaching both groups because both are equally important.