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The Startup Talent Standoff: How can you hire when time isn’t on your side?

As a rapidly scaling business, securing the right talent is always a key aspect of your growth plan. In the early stages of a business, it’s your people that will make or break you. However, when your initial team is small, it’s hard to find the time to hire the perfect candidates as well as focusing on the growth and development of your product, brand awareness, and finding funding.

When demand is so high that your business has no choice but to grow, it often means more work is required for hiring success. It’s likely that your team is already wearing many different hats, so adding the challenge of recruiting the right talent creates more pressure and may mean other growth areas have to be put on hold to the detriment of your end product or service.

Finding the right people for your business who understand your mission and culture is something that takes time and effort to get right. But when it comes to hiring in 2021, everyone from large enterprises trying to digitize to exciting tech startups are now competing for the same knowledge base and talent pool. This means recruiting has gotten significantly harder, and the race is on.

In a competitive talent market like this, there are many things startups should be doing to position themselves as an attractive prospect to candidates and their existing teams to ensure they stay. Differentiating your employer brand from competitors, gathering the right business intelligence surrounding the roles you need, and focusing on your attrition efforts are even more time-consuming tasks for already stretched senior leaders.

This presents a problem.

You need the talent to scale and an innovative strategy to attract suitable candidates in a competitive market. But without your time on your side, how can you juggle this focus whilst continuing to grow your business?

When this occurs, it's important to ask yourself, what is special about working for your company?

This isn’t explaining “what you do” or “what you make”, but clearly outlining why someone should work for you. WIFM as a candidate needs to be as obvious as what your company is looking for in your next hire.

A good Employer Value Proposition (EVP) helps the right candidates move forward and the wrong candidates for your business self select out. What I mean by wrong candidate isn’t someone who isn’t skilled or talented or meets the job requirements, but the candidate who doesn't align with your philosophy or culture as a business.

The fit may not be there and that doesn’t mean we just want a homogenous talent pool. It is not just recommended to be honest about the values and your personality as a company in your recruitment messaging - it is required. If you are not sure what I mean, check out Glassdoor and other candidates sites who specialize in calling out the “misconceptions or surprises” experienced by candidates.

1. How to Develop a Standout EVP

Large established organizations, while often associated with a safe and stable place of employment, aren’t always able to provide the same level of freedom to create and explore that comes with the more entrepreneurial venture of a startup. This is a key area of differentiation when it comes to developing an impactful EVP. This environment is conducive to rapid career growth and the opportunity to learn by doing as employees’ careers scale at pace with the business.

An EVP is all about promoting exactly what it is you as an employer can offer your employee, encompassing both perks and salary as well as the emotional factors such company culture and values that motivate employees to work for you. Your messaging should be clear about what sets you apart from the competition. Not only will this help attract potential candidates to your business, but it will appeal to the right candidates which will both fit in with and thrive in your unique startup working culture.

2. How to Define Your Employer Brand

A business’ EVP should form the basis of its employer brand. Candidates are less likely to apply for a job if they’ve never heard of the company, so developing and defining your employer brand will help to extend the reach of your EVP so candidates start to come to you rather than you having to put the leg work in to hunt them down.

Employer Branding is not a physical concept for the business to determine, but rather built on its perception as an employer. An effective employer brand will influence positive perceptions through external communication, such as careers pages and social media posts, which portray a believably authentic picture of the business as an employer. It should resonate with the values defined in your EVP and be tailored to the candidates your aim to attract.

The EVP will sit at the heart of the employer brand to inform communications and work as a guide for messaging to ensure consistency, accuracy and authenticity.

3. Outsource Your Recruitment Efforts.

Whether you’re hiring 20 or 200 roles, you could save your team's time and resources by outsourcing your recruitment process. Many founders don’t know the advantages of a recruitment partnership and don’t think it’s a feasible option for a growing business. There is often a common misconception in the startup space that no win no fee is the way to go and that outsourcing can be an expensive commitment. However, in order to ensure your startup has the right team to help it scale, solidity in your talent partnership is key.

Recruitment Process Outsourcing (RPO) is changing and becoming more accessible to startups: its flexible, agile nature makes it an affordable and realistic solution that startup founders should take advantage of. Working with an RPO provider that has in-depth knowledge of your space that knows your business and is aligned with your goals is key. As a startup founder, taking a more flexible approach to RPO enables you to benefit from a risk-free extension of your HR function who source and screen candidates, use digital attraction to promote your employer brand, and act as a strategic talent partner as you scale.

This way, you can have a flexible solution that scales with your business needs (no one needs to hire all year round) and which builds a healthy pipeline of candidates to fit with your unique startup/scaleup culture, reducing the time and cost of future hires. Utilizing a team which is a true extension of your startup will help you stand out as an employer of choice in this incredibly competitive market. Rather than reducing your culture to a list of ‘cool perks’ and desired skill sets to an automated checklist, a proactive approach supported by an RPO team can effectively promote your true culture, employer brand and unique needs. This is the approach that’s necessary to stand out in the competitive market whilst still sourcing candidates that fulfil the requirements of your specific growth stage.

This strategic approach can result in talent that will complement your needs and can support continued business growth rather than providing a panicked and short-term quick fix hire. The market to hire experienced recruiters is tight and expensive, and imagine the frustration of spending 6-months training a TA leader to only have them jump to the next role/opportunity. Gone is your networking representative, your LinkedIn connections and the knowledge of candidates of interest as well as the ones you want to avoid.

Final Thoughts

Talent acquisition and strategic business growth should never be an either or decision for startup leaders - done right, each complements the other. Taking the time to develop a more strategic approach to startup hiring supported by RPO expertise will be a flexible long-term investment in the future of your rapidly scaling company.

There has never been a better time to consider outsourcing and a quick 30 minute conversation can help to determine the most flexible and efficient way to move forward. Reach out directly to Jody Robie, SVP N. America at Talent Works by emailing to schedule a call and we can figure out what options may work for you today.


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