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3 Simple Ways to Attract Startup Talent


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Adding to your startup’s staff represents a major challenge for many small business owners. While there’s no arguing that bringing on rock star employees can help advance your business objectives faster than bottom-of-the-barrel applicants, you may not have the leverage of high salaries, exorbitant benefits and other perks to offer these top players.

So how can you overcome these challenges in order to secure the best talent for your startup?  Consider the following approaches:

Understand What Your Startup Offers

Startup life represents a distinctively different culture than is found within traditional corporations which, for many employees, is actually a perk. According to Rich Sloan, the co-founder of Startup Nation:

“People get involved in a startup for three reasons. One, they like creating; being part of something new. Two, they want to participate in the upside. Three, they want to live a meaningful life, and the closer you are to the success or failure of a business, the more meaning and purpose you feel.”

Knowing that people are seeking out opportunities like the one you have to offer may make it easier to connect with the right people. For example, knowing that employees want to be a part of something “bigger” could make it easier to identify prospective candidates who are experienced but burnt out of traditional corporate life. You could also use the desire to participate in a startup’s upside. Find recent college grads who are skilled but not yet tied down to need salaries that support families.

Once you do start looking for new employees, remember that the best people to advertise your company are your existing staff members. Providing a monetary incentive for employees who refer successful candidates can be a good way to quickly find talented people who will fit well in your organization.

Offer Flexible Work Arrangements in Exchange for a Lower Salary

Just because you can’t offer much in the way of compensation to new hires doesn’t mean that you have nothing to bring to the table. In fact, as a growing company, you can provide one major selling point that most corporations can’t – remote work arrangements.

A 2011 study of 3,000 current and recent college students conducted by telecommunications giant Cisco found that two of every five students surveyed said that they’d accept lower-paying jobs that came with more flexibility in terms of device choice, social media access and mobility – compared to higher-paying jobs with less flexibility.

Today’s workers are more conscious than ever of their work-life balance, making them especially attracted to jobs that give them the necessary flexibility to run errands, balance child care and take care of other personal business as needed on their own schedules. As long as you put the necessary precautions in place to ensure that the work gets done, startups are in an ideal place to offer this highly-sought-after perk to high-performing employees.

Provide Other Intangible Benefits

Along these same lines, for most people, work isn’t just about being paid to perform a set of tasks. There are plenty of intangible benefits that are considered part of the job selection process that exist outside of compensation negotiations.

For example, can you:

  • Offer to help potential employees secure the necessary work visas and permits to live in the U.S. Few companies offer this perk, though doing so can help give you exposure to a much wider pool of talent from around the world.
  • Provide outstanding training and development opportunities. In most cases, offering to assist employees with the cost of pursuing further certifications is much less expensive than providing higher salaries or better benefits – and may pack just as much of a punch. People want to be associated with companies that invest in them, and operating a training and development program is one way to demonstrate this commitment.
  • Give employees a percentage ownership in your company. Doing so will provide them with a potentially lucrative trade-off that encourages taking lower salaries in exchange for future rewards.
  • Create an engaging, ideal workplace. Bring in a massage therapist on Fridays, treat your staff to weekly coffee outings or arrange for on-site dry cleaning pickup. All of this costs substantially less than what you’d otherwise pay top-performing employees, making it an economical way to create the type of work environment that will attract the best employees in a cost-effective way.

Remember, you wouldn’t be a startup entrepreneur if you didn’t have a creative, independent spirit. Put these virtues to work on your human resources strategy, and you should be able to find ways to bring on top talent without overstepping your budget.

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.

Image credit: CC by ▓▒░ TORLEY ░▒▓

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About the author: AJ Kumar

AJ Kumar is the co-founder of Single Grain, a digital marketing agency based in San Francisco. Single Grain specializes in helping startups and larger companies with search engine optimization, pay-per-click, social media and various other marketing strategies.

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