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How to hire top talent in a shifting jobs market

19 Nov 2021 By Laura Willming

The coronavirus pandemic has caused global disruption, but it’s also been the catalyst for some positive changes in recruitment. While the so-called ‘Great Resignation’ of this year has seen an unprecedented surge in people leaving their jobs, the flip side is an active talent pool, with brilliant individuals now looking for new opportunities.

I head up our Portfolio Talent Team at Octopus Ventures. It’s our job to ensure that our portfolio companies are doing all they can to attract and retain the best talent. In a competitive market, recruitment can be a challenge, but by getting certain key elements in place, startups can ensure they deliver on their hiring plans – and keep growing.

With companies and individuals continue to adjust to ‘the new normal,’ here are some of the key considerations companies will need to think about in the year ahead.

Compete on mission, not salary

It’s been a crazy year for technology investing. Capital has been flooding into the market from VC investors all over the globe. With more companies competing for the same talent, and it’s driving up the cost, and many of the large US tech firms have turned to the UK and Europe to build their teams.

A knee-jerk response amongst startups is to boost salaries, but trying to compete with the renumeration packages offered by the likes of Google and Amazon isn’t always practical – or appropriate. It’s not a battle you’re likely to win.

The kind of talent a startup needs will be as motivated by enthusiasm for what they’re building, and the mission of the company and the team, as they are by a pay-packet. Startups need to think carefully about building their recruitment brand to best-reflect the culture they’re hoping to hire into. Of course people want to make money, but the last couple of years have made clear that people also want to contribute to something they care about, and working in startups is unquestionably one of the best ways to do this.

Every startup has a mission and a problem they’re trying to solve. Making that clear from the outset, so that it connects with people, is critical. That’s why copy-and-pasting job advertisements won’t do. Companies need to put their goals front-and-centre, and need to be specific about how a role will contribute to the overall mission. A bespoke listing that lands with the right candidate is far more use than something generic that could solicit a pile of irrelevant applications. Candidates connect better, and your business stands out from the crowd.

Getting creative with how you share your message is a great way of quickly communicating a company’s mission and culture to applicants, giving them a clear sense of the opportunity at hand. We love seeing different mediums utilised such as decks or videos.

Move quickly

It’s important to be proactive in sharing information that candidates need to make an informed decision about the opportunity, as this will companies save time in the long run. It might sound like a little thing, but we’ve noticed it’s become increasingly important. The timeline  from meeting a candidate to making a job offer is shrinking. People are moving faster, and an organisation that’s taking a week or two to complete the selection process is at a disadvantage.

However, this should not be at the cost of critical ‘getting-to-know-you’ time. The delays typically appear when companies don’t prioritise recruiting, if internal meetings take precedence over interviews, for example.

The startups that enjoy first-pick of the talent pool do things the other way around, putting job interviews ahead of non-urgent activities that can easily be delayed. Decision making also needs to be accelerated. Organisations need to be ready to make a decision about a candidate within 12 hours, if not sooner. Companies that drag their feet with feedback risk losing the candidate they want.

As with the point above, it comes back to communication. By making the role requirements clear from the outset, writing a great job description and refining a recruitment brand, a startup can streamline decision-making by making sure the candidates its selecting from are the ones best-suited to the role.

Breaking the monotony of Zoom

After nearly two years of Covid disruption, most companies have become pretty good at remote recruitment, but it can still be hard to synthesise the quality of an in-person meeting. Face-to-face encounters still represent the most direct, and honest, route into assessing a connection.

It shouldn’t, however, be a dealbreaker, but it can be good to mix things up. A remote, Air Pod facilitated walk and talk offers a nice change from the stilted ritual of the Zoom call. It’s important, too. Candidates thinking about joining a company will take their interview experience into account.

Gestures also go a long way in persuading people that a company is the right fit. A bottle of champagne, or even ice cream, are a nice way of welcoming someone onboarding. Sending something shareable ensures that the goodwill extends beyond the candidate – their families will also recognise the prospective employer’s value. Call it soft-scoop power.

Fundamentally, it’s about making sure individuals feel valued. The hiring process communicates a lot about a company. Inviting someone back for several rounds of interviews, and asking them the same questions each time, isn’t going to make them feel confident about the relationship that’s being built. People want to feel like recruiters have got to know them, and that the decision-making process isn’t entirely impersonal.

Room to grow

The competition for specialised talent is set to continue, and employers will need to respond creatively. Traditionally, companies have sought to fill roles with experienced candidates. In leadership roles, this makes sense. Candidates who’ve ‘done it before’ are valuable for their capacity to see around corners, and anticipate what’s coming as they scale the business.

For more junior or mid-level talent, though, being hired for a job that the candidate has done before might feel like a step backwards, retreading ground they’ve already covered in their previous role. Instead, companies need to start thinking about their own internal development capability, looking beyond experience and into skillsets. It might be more efficient to hire someone with less experience and skill them for the role than to wait months for the most ‘qualified’ candidate to come along.

Related to this, as employee expectations shift companies also need to prove that they’re invested in employee development. Prospective hires want to know that their new manager is as interested in their potential to grow as their capability to perform a function. Doing this effectively will help you stand out.

Compensation and the new normal

One consequence of the pandemic was that for millions, there was nothing to do but work, as the working week blended into the weekend without much change. By the same token, this meant some people were able to save a lot of money. Over the past year, we’ve seen the impact of this, as people feeling more financially secure have been empowered to leave jobs that aren’t meeting their needs.

These individuals aren’t just looking for better salaries. They’re looking for purpose, fulfilment, community and connection. But pay is still important. At a growing startup, a lot can change in six to 12 months. It’s important that employers stay across performance reviews, and recognise significant contributions. A small salary increase will go a long way towards building goodwill and, if an individual is already on the hunt for a new job, it may give them pause.

The way that employees think about ‘benefits’ has also shifted. It used to be that offering employees remote work, or hybrid schedule, was a differentiator. But it’s table stakes today, and this is something all companies need to take on board.

Going forward, my guess is that we’ll see companies trying to provide more flexibility around the working day itself, allowing people to work ‘asynchronously’ when it suits them. Services that promote financial wellbeing, such as financial coaching, can also be a good idea, as more employers recognise the impact of money worries on their staff. However, I still believe that culture is one of the most impactful ‘benefits’ you can offer, so it’s worth investing the time (and money) in cultivating and nurturing the culture you want. It will pay off many times over.

Finally, it would be remiss to avoid mentioning equity, which is where startups can really standout in the job market in terms of the potential for long-term financial reward, especially when prising senior executives away from large tech companies.

Reasons to be optimistic

While there’s no doubt that competition for talent is intensifying, the great resignation also creates real opportunities for the startups that can get it right, as people are more excited about joining startups than ever before. As the landscape begins to settle over the next 12 months, companies with a clear mission and a commitment to employee experience will attract the talent they need to grow.

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