Every startup wants to boast the best and brightest team in the biz, and for good reason. Because startups often operate with a lean team, every single member has an opportunity to help make or break the company’s mission—so of course leaders want the smartest, most capable, and most innovative employees in their court.
But wanting top talent and knowing how to attract top talent are two very different things.
Attracting key startup talent
Whether you’re about to hire your first employee or you’re looking to expand your team, use the following strategies to increase your chances of landing the best employees.
1. Own your mission and company culture
Many people are drawn to startup culture because it allows them to be more personally invested in the work that they do. In order to decide if they want to make this investment, potential hires need to be able to understand what your company is all about, the values that guide your work, the culture that drives you, and where you’re heading.
Before you hire new employees, be sure that you can clearly articulate the company’s mission, culture, and long-term goals. Be transparent about strengths and challenges. That way you’ll empower the right candidates to self-select for the positions you offer.
2. Tap your professional networks
Especially when your brand doesn’t yet have big name recognition, it’s likely you’ll need to do most of your networking the hard way: through personal connections. If you’re hiring for a graphic designer, for example, start by asking friends, professional contacts, and team members for referrals. Then go after those leads.
Ask folks to identify top talent and start inviting those leads to the team’s social gatherings. If people get to know and like your company culture, they’ll have more of an incentive to switch to your team either now or in the future.
3. Offer great employee perks
These perks should have multiple aims. First, they should make working at your company fun. Nap rooms, ping pong tables, and team bonding activities such as renting a yacht for a day are all great ways to contribute to motivate your team and build company culture.
But the best benefits packages will go beyond these perks to make a meaningful difference in employees’ lives outside of work. That means things like offering family health benefits and flexible parental leave policies, allowing flexible scheduling in general, and maybe even enforcing a four-day work week. Offer remote working opportunities, and suddenly you’ll expand your network of potential hires to a national (or even global) pool.
4. Provide growth and learning opportunities
When you can’t yet offer high salaries, a great way to set yourself apart from other startups is by investing in employees’ professional development. If they can add accomplishments and credentials to their resumes and LinkedIn profiles while working for you, employees will be more likely to commit themselves during leaner times. Data backs this up.
Research has shown that professional development is the #1 engagement tactic for workers under 25; employees between the ages of 25 and 34 rank it #2. Startup employees want to know they’ll be able to grow their skills and pursue projects that push their comfort zones, so make a point of providing them with the opportunity to do so.
5. Monitor your brand reputation
These days, potential hires vet startups nearly as much as companies seek to vet job candidates. This is doubly true if you’re looking to land top talent, since most outstanding candidates will have multiple competing job offers at the same time.
It’s important to be aware of your brand’s reputation on sites like Glassdoor, Yelp, Quora, and so on. Creating a fulfilling work culture and positive customer relationships will help ensure that your company’s online presence reflects it at its best.
Once you’ve implemented these strategies, it’s also important to develop a system for tracking and analyzing your hiring practices. That way you can determine what’s working, who’s asking the right questions, and what isn’t serving you as you strive to assemble a high-caliber team.
This article has been edited and condensed.
Kenny Kline is the owner of JAKK Solutions, a NYC-based SEO company. He is a digital marketing expert, MBA, and serial entrepreneurial. When not in front of his computer, he can be found beekeeping, knitting, and being as Brooklyn as humanly possible. Connect with @thisbekenny on Twitter.