How can startups or small businesses stand out in a crowd and find quality candidates to hire? Let’s break down some of the key tactics to think about:

Even if you can’t compete on money, you still need to be fair

When you say startup, people often envision passionate entrepreneurs working round the clock without pay. In reality, we all know people won’t work for peanuts, and have immediate needs (and bills), so while dangling equity can be a nice gesture, there needs to be some basic compensation coming in semi-regularly so that someone can exist until the equity matters. If you are funded, talk to your funders about the importance of getting the best people, and money’s role within that play.

Culture is huge

We talk a lot about culture in business discussions, and some people don’t fully seem to understand it, because we live in this data-obsessed era, and “culture” is not easily quantified or translated into data points. Well, we can quantify it in one way and that’s with the talent it attracts. Epic Systems, which handles a huge chunk of medical records, is a massive, multi-billion dollar company you’ve probably never heard of — and they operate outside of Madison, Wisconsin. That’s a long way from Silicon Valley. Yet they get elite talent from top business schools globally. How? A lot of it is their unique culture.

Target up-and-coming talent

Sometimes it pays to be proactive. Find pathways to build relationships and talent pipelines so that, once someone is done with their formal education, they will come and want to work for you. Consider tactics like sponsoring a high school STEM event, going to university talent fairs, working to hold events on campuses, or even have a “doors open” day at the startup. There are lots of ways to reach out within your community and build these connections that may bear fruit long term. After all, you never know who will be a job seeker one day. 

Cultivate the employer brand

This is part of the culture discussion above, but an external representation of that culture. Make sure that Glassdoor reviews are positive — and if any are not, respond to those that aren’t to appear proactive to others glancing at reviews. Use your company’s LinkedIn page to highlight cool projects people are working on, gatherings, happy hours, and fun events like office Olympics. Do the same on your blog and Facebook. The message that any candidate gets from you should be: “I will do interesting work and have fun with cool people if I end up at this place.” And once you have an employer brand, keep an eye on it and help it grow!

David Edgerton Jr is the Managing Principal of The DEJ Group LLC

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