Why Do Top Talent Choose To Work for a Startup?

For startups, interviewing software engineers is as hard for hiring managers as it is for jobseekers. That is because it is a two-way street. Startups are looking for a very particular type of talent. On the other side, there are specific elements that lead talent to want to work for a startup in the first place. Engineers interviewing with startups are often looking for a particular type of organization, role, and workplace culture. However, a lack of clear information often makes this process more complicated than necessary. The more startups understand what drives candidates to consider this type of employment, the better chance they will have to find the right fit.

My view on building the right team and a thriving company have changed over time. That has been due to multiple failures and a few lucky wins. I recently had a chance to reflect on all this with other startup leaders.

"Build the best team possible."

I recently received an invitation to join a Clubhouse event focused on the topic of startups and hiring. Over 250 people listened in with speakers including early days ex-Uber launchers and a friend of mine who created the very first AT&T developer relations program. When the floor was opened for discussion, we all got to hear several different views on hiring from the perspective of candidates.

There was much reflection on the question of what a candidate looks for when choosing a startup to interview with and eventually work for. Several factors were mentioned that potential recruits look at. They included the TC (total compensation), company culture, and the background of the founders. Following that, some of the event's speakers and audience members who were hiring managers shared from the other perspective. What became clear is that finding better ways to communicate the right information between candidates and hiring managers may better bridge the gap in the interview and hiring process.

"How far does a startup go to hire top talent?"

Obviously, not all startups are funded with venture capital. So not every hiring manager has access to an unlimited expense account or the backing of a People and Talent team. Not every recruitment effort needs that level of finance and effort. Still, are startups doing the right things to find the right fit?

Andrew Kim shared a fascinating statistic with the audience. When searching for new talent, it takes approximately 3-5 seconds for someone from the HR team to screen the first batch of resumes. That is a cursory look compared to the time that some candidates put into perfecting them. Still, I wouldn't be surprised if fellow software engineers spend about the same amount of time skimming through each job opening on LinkedIn. Touché.

What does all this mean?

The two-way street of hiring comes down to communications. Perhaps, for hiring managers, taking the time to draft a unique and personalized job description would go a long way for a startup. Maybe candidates would take more than a few seconds to review it if they believed it wasn't another carbon-copied template. As for the job seeker, making their resume more useful to the hiring manager by highlighting specific problems and challenges one has solved in her/his career could help. Apparently, video resumes are becoming more popular and can add a new dimension to the review process.

Alex Donn reminded the audience of something that goes easily forgotten for candidates: know what you value. This is critical before beginning the search process, and it is vital throughout the hiring process. Your values are quite different from your market value. Ironically, I believe the latter is more spoken about and discussed. Understanding your own values prepares you to make a better decision about the jobs you seek to pursue. Also, candidates with clear values make the role of the hiring manager a lot clearer, especially for startups.

Great opportunities find top talent - and vice versa. When these two meet, I believe it is due to the alignment of vision, value, and priorities. Startups and engineers need to understand their own unique values. Startups are relatively risky, but candidates know that. They also know that startups create a unique opportunity for growth. Great startups need the talent to get things done and also to make critical decisions. As a result, top talent is given a chance to make complex and mission-critical decisions and grow at a rate not always possible at an established organization.

Yes, startups have risks, but they can also provide comparable rewards, and candidates know that risks also apply to joining a corporation if you are not clear about what you are seeking. Still, if candidates are simply focused on finding a job with better pay and more flexible office hours, they may not find their home with a startup.

Find your rocket ship.