How Startups Can Win Top Talent – Part 1

How Startups Can Win Top Talent – Part 1

Last month, our Founder and CEO, Mei Lu, gave a talk on the “How Startups Can Win Top Talent” panel during Seattle Startup Week, hosted by Mikaela Kiner of uniquelyHR, along with four other panelists: Matt Cholerton, Jennie Ellis, Shauna Swerland and Meagan Sylvester. Mei shared tips on how startups can win top talent using a variety of strategies and techniques to attract, recruit, and hire top tech talent in today’s competitive market.

Here are Mei’s thoughts on questions from the audience. (This is part 1 of a multi-part series to address the hiring and recruiting questions of many startup founders.)

How do you see the recruitment industry changing with automation?

We promote developing personalized, one-on-one relationships with candidates, which is a very powerful way to engage top talent. Automation could be a very powerful tool when done right to enhance personalization, instead of losing it. However, personalization cannot be achieved completely through automation yet. Therefore, we should be looking for those tasks too time-consuming to do manually but can benefit from the help of automation.

For example, startups can take advantage of automation, after researching and establishing the overlap between the interests and skills of a candidate and what the company needs, to create and deliver compelling, personalized messages to a larger group of high potential candidates to increase the number of applicants and the speed of hires.

How do you make sure you are hiring the best candidate possible in the area that you don’t personally have expertise in?  

As a startup team grows, it’s common to need to hire new people whose area of expertise doesn’t exist in the company yet. To improve the chance of making the right hire, startups can reach out to their network and advisors for help. Even more importantly, startup leaders need to first know what success looks like with the hiring of this new role. Knowing clearly the specific business outcomes that you can expect out of having this person onboard is the foundation of making the right hire.

After having this clarity, then tap into somebody you trust and is an expert in that area, who can help you avoid making wrong decisions in the process.  For example, if your company is about to embark on machine learning, involve an experienced machine learning expert to help you set realistic expectations of building internal machine learning competency and identify best ways to select the right candidates, including technical assessment.

The danger of not consulting an expert in areas you’re not familiar with is more than just hiring someone whose technical capability falls short. There’s also the possibility that you miss out on a good hire. There was a situation when a team turned away a candidate who was more knowledgeable and experienced than people on the existing team. The current team didn’t know enough about how to deploy a machine learning system, and, unfortunately, had an immature understanding of the problem. When the approaches of this candidate differed from those of a current team member, the candidate was rejected because the opinions of the existing team member outweighed the candidate’s. This is where consulting a trusted expert can help your startup avoid misjudging good talent or letting them fall through the crack.

What are some interview and hiring processes at Amazon (or other big companies) that startups can adopt? Also, are there processes to avoid?  

There are several places where startups can benefit from a more mature recruiting process. They include clear assigned responsibilities of each interviewer, reduced duplicate questions for candidates, and more consistent candidate experience.

On the other hand, there are interview and hiring practices startups should be vigilant about and consciously avoid. This means removing anything that’s damaging your company’s candidate experience. For example, startups should check if they are focusing too much on filtering out rather than selling to candidates, having an unnecessarily long, dragged out process, making hasty decisions, or not actively nurturing the relationship with candidates and the talent community.

The main contributor to many commonly seen recruiting and hiring problems at startups is the lack of planning and preparation. When a startup puts in good effort to prepare and plan for their recruiting and hiring, positive changes will start happening, including more compelling recruiting messages, attracting candidates with a more appropriate fit, improved candidate experience, better candidate evaluation, and more successful hires.


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  1. Pingback: How Startups Can Win Top Talent – Part 2 | Geekology Blog

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