Guest contributor: Pauline James

This is a two-part article; jump to part two.

Your entrepreneurial dream of bringing a great product to market can only become a reality with the support of a great team. How do you find startup talent that will be as committed to your Company’s mission as you are? As importantly, when you find them, how do you ensure you retain startup talent?

A man and woman discuss the qualities of a potential startup talent candidate as they walk down a sunny street

Know what you are looking for.

You do not need another ‘you’ on your team, no matter how likeable and brilliant that obviously makes them. You want complementary strengths to help drive your Company forward.

Before interviewing, identify the challenges you need this talented individual to solve. Identify not only the immediate pain you need their help with, but ‘what’s next’ and how this role can evolve, with their input and ingenuity.

Assess the depth of their expertise by showing a genuine interest in the day to day work they have completed in previous roles. Also enquire about what decisions they are accountable for? At what point do they pass their work off for input or approval? What do they enjoy most and what assignments do they find more difficult or boring?

Not everyone is comfortable with the ambiguity and lack of structure that can exist in growing companies. Encourage an open discussion on how rigidly assigned duties and procedures are applied in their role and how this compares to your company.

Every conversation should be a dialogue, where the candidate receives as much information as they are sharing. A candidate’s decision to join your company is just as important as yours to make an offer, and should be well-informed!

Find startup talent by telling them about the challenges they will face, a man works in a small startup office facing challenges

Be honest about the challenges the candidate will face.

You want someone who is excited and not deterred by the challenges faced in your mighty and growing company.

Share your enthusiasm for what ‘can be’ and how you see this role contributing to your Company’s exciting vision. At the same time, do not sugar-coat the obstacles they will face. Highly motivated individuals will be excited by these challenges and their opportunity to help fix them.

It might take longer to find startup talent that will embrace, for example, the difficulty of delivering results at the same time as building processes. Someone who is motivated and excited by their part in the bigger puzzle, will keep pushing forward to find solutions when the going gets tough.

Find startup talent that is willing to work through challenges that a larger company may be able to work through such as this woman working from her home office.

How can I compete with large Companies?

Isn’t it more challenging to find startup talent when you are a smaller company with fewer resources?

Not necessarily. Large companies can have a reputation for being more impersonal, laser focussed on efficiency, and to routinely look for ways to downsize and outsource work. They are not always considered ‘safe bets’ by candidates. The workday can also be intensified or extended, without the flexibility smaller companies are often willing to offer. Each expert spoken to highlighted the key advantage employers have, when willing to provide flexibility. This holds tremendous value to employees. As does a more personal work environment, where employees can see the impact their contributions bring to an organization.

Take advantage of this beyond the recruitment process. In your regular check-ins, ask how they are feeling about their ability to contribute to the organization. Enquire whether their work arrangements support them doing their best work, and be prepared to problem solve if tweaks are needed.

Talented employees sit at a desk working - to find startup talent you must present them with challenges.

Talented employees want development.

The most talented employees are self-motivated and driven by a need to continuously learn and develop.

Simon Parkin, Senior Partner and Founder of The Talent Company, supports Tech entrepreneurs in recruiting talent and has found they often have a significant advantage,

“Real talent is looking for the flexibility, growth, and learning on the go these organizations can provide, often from day one. Larger organizations, often hire candidates for a specific role. If you are hired as a specialist, that’s all they want. In small and mid-sized companies, they care about a candidate’s potential and want to leverage all of it. This resonates with talent, who find this opportunity to develop and take on more responsibility as exciting.”

Continue to part two: Attracting & Retaining Talent as a Startup


More articles like this:

Importance of Having a Clear Purpose & Culture from Day One, Employee One – Part One

Importance of Having a Clear Purpose & Culture from Day One, Employee One – Part Two

Attracting & Retaining Talent as a Startup – Part Two

Pauline James, MIR, Principal, Anchor HR

[email protected]

About Pauline James:

​Pauline has held a number of senior positions and led Employee Relations and Labour Relations in the Canadian market with large national organizations. Over her career she has also held roles in Training & Development, as an HR Generalist, and in Operations.

She has supported small independent units and large complex divisions in identifying barriers to employee engagement and performance. This has resulted in an improved employee experience, while also reducing risk and costs. Having worked closely with her clients and as a leader herself, she is sensitive to the genuine desire of leaders to provide a great work environment while meeting business objectives. Pauline is committed to working with her clients to help them become more effective, respecting their business’ unique challenges.

Pauline has a track record of working with Operations and HR divisions to build effective and sustainable programs, tailored to their needs. This includes support from the design through to implementation, including leader training and employee communications. What is unique about her approach is that she is committed to teaching and helping leaders to become independent as opposed to promoting reliance on an ‘expert’.