How to Attract Talent

Behind every great startup you've ever read or heard about exists a team of passionate, talented, and motivated individuals. The question is how do you get the most talented people to help you—especially when you may not be able to pay top notch talent and the value of the equity in your company may be unclear. In this lesson, we outline some ways to attract talent to your company.

Nowhere is the creativity of the entrepreneur more on display than when we need to attract talented people to join your venture. After all, we are asking people—especially at early stages—to make a leap. Sometimes that leap is just to an idea. Sometimes that leap is undercapitalized. Sometimes that leap is from the friendly confines of the corporate world. Convincing talent that your opportunity is worth taking a risk on requires not only creativity, but a strong understanding of the benefits of working for your company.

How to Attract Talent

Here are some ideas on how to best approach attracting top talent:

  • Build An Exciting Company That Does Something Big. Attracting top talent starts with building a business that people want to be part of. If that vision is big enough, you can make every other factor irrelevant. If you build an exciting company that’s trying to do something big, good people will want to work for you, and the people who work for you will tell their friends how awesome it is.
  • Have a Clear and Compelling Mission. The mission is the entrepreneur’s most compelling case for why the startup is going to achieve greatness. At the core of this case is a passionately held belief that what the start-up aspires to do is important. As we’ll see, that passion might come from the desire to make the world a better place, being certain that the start-up could capture a great economic opportunity that nobody else has seen, or having the simple desire to solve a problem that perplexes the founder.
  • Articulate the Startup's Long-term Goals. Long-term goals describe a tangible way that the entrepreneur will measure the venture’s success, say, five years into the future. Long-term goals include being the leader in an important new market, becoming a big public company, being acquired by a bigger company, or remaining permanently private and independent. After establishing the long-term goals, answer the question, "How will an employee get a return on the stock they receive in exchange for giving up their life to your startup over the next five years?"
  • Provide a New Growth Opportunity. Startups often provide the opportunity for talented leaders to take on responsibilities and roles they might not have otherwise been exposed to. For example, a director of finance in a larger company might not have the opportunity to be a CFO if not for a smaller, startup company. Providing this opportunity can be attractive to talented people who aspire to be more.
  • Offer Equity. Every startup hire loves equity. If you are in the early stage of your growth, equity can help you compensate for the stability that talent would find at a established company. Venture-backed startups typically offer employees equity out of the 10 to 20 percent of the total shares of the business.
  • Embody a Unique Set of Values. If you want talent with integrity, you need to embody your values in every aspect of your business. If you don't, the best hires will sniff out your company's hollow values.
  • Take Away The Fear Of Failure. One of the hiring challenges startups face is that top recruits might consider it too risky joining the company. After all, the startup has no track record and there’s no guarantee for success. Tackle that issue head on in the interviewing process. Present the worst-case scenario and stress that the candidate would have no problem finding another opportunity should the startup go under. And that with the help of the candidate, the chances of success (and avoiding that result) would be significantly reduced.
  • Mold The Job to the Candidate. The age of the cookie-cutter 9 to 5 job is over. Everyone wants a job that accommodates their needs, strengths and interests. Why not mold your expectations instead of expecting your employees to mold to you? Embracing job personalization as a marketing and management technique will entice the best talent around.
  • Flexible Working Hours and Location. Provide the flexibility to allow employees to work from home or other desirable locations and on the hour schedule that suits them best. Allowing people to work from home or to start later to avoid the morning commute can be great ways to attract new talent.
  • Family Benefits. As potential employees consider your company, they will think about whether it's in the best interest of their whole lives, not just their work lives. If you want to recruit the best talent, put your money where their hearts are by investing in families. A survey from the San Francisco-based Paper G found that startups often offer gym memberships, meals and even subsidized transportation before committing to paid parental leave policies. Offering substantial and documented parent benefits can help corral and keep talent in your company.

Where to Attract Talent

Now you know how. The next question is where?

  • AngelList. If you are not using AngelList for sales recruiting, you're missing out. It's a great resource, built to connect startups with investors and founders with employees. What makes AngelList different from other job boards is that the candidates on AngelList want to work at startups. They understand how working at a startup is different from a traditional job and are looking for jobs with more than just a big salary. This also means it also cuts out all of the potential hires who don't want to work at startups, which saves you time. But it's about more than efficiency. With culture fit being so important for startups, and especially sales teams, you want to connect with the right people, and AngelList makes it much easier to do so.
  • Referrals. The best way to find people for any company is to use your network. Referrals fill jobs faster (29 days vs 45 days for job boards), have a higher retention rate (45% after 2 years vs 20% for job boards), and lead to the highest quality hires. Spend time talking to your friends, colleagues, and family; browse through your connections on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and GitHub. Tell everyone you know about what your company is doing and why they should be excited. Try to grow your network by going to or hosting meetups, conferences, and hackathons. Make sure everyone at the company is doing the same through incentives like cash prizes, recognition, t-shirts, a leaderboard, etc.
  • Employer Branding. Employer branding is all about attracting candidates to your company. You do this by sharing valuable content such as blog posts and articles, talks at meetups and conferences, and open source code. None of this content should be overtly trying to recruit someone (e.g. recruiting videos). Instead, your goal is to teach your audience. This way, you become an expert in their minds, and anyone interested in that area of expertise is much more likely to join your company.
  • Job Boards. When most people think of hiring, they think of posting a job online and waiting for people to apply. Unfortunately, this is one of the worst ways to hire, especially for tech startups. First of all, job posting are rarely effective. They all look alike and they are all full of meaningless phrases and requirements. Most job postings ramble on so much about requirements, they forget to answer the most important question: why the candidate should apply to that job in the first place.
  • Target Passive Job Seekers. Most job efforts target only active job seekers, or about 20% of people, look at them. The other 80% of people are passive job seekers: they'd be open to a new opportunity if it came to them, but they aren't spending any time searching on job boards.
  • LinkedIn Job Boards. An effective way to use job boards is for you to find candidates and reach out to them yourself using services such as LinkedIn Recruiter.

Attracting the type of talent that understands the entrepreneurial venture and can bring expertise to that journey is essential to success. Doing so requires a great deal of your talent and creative thinking. Try some of these techniques to see if you can help others see why working for your company will be the best move of their life.