startups hiring recruiters

As a founder or early team member at a startup, you’ve probably heard the phrase “I’m also considering a role at ____ (insert name of large tech company here)____.” It can be easy to get discouraged upon hearing these words. After all, how can startups compete with the likes of Google, Amazon, and Microsoft? It turns out, with the right recruitment strategy and effective messaging, there are plenty of ways to compete against the tech giants for top talent.

Let’s start by exploring how you can target passive job seekers:

Target Passive Job Seekers

Most people are willing to move away from their current job if the right opportunity were to present itself. In fact, 71% of workers are either actively job searching or at least open to a new role. These “passive” job seekers are the new norm. So how do you target these individuals? One approach is focusing on employees of other companies who might be “stuck in a rut.” Look for individuals who have been with a company for a couple years and are likely seeking a promotion or a new challenge altogether. As a startup, you probably have a structure that enables employees to advance quickly, tackle new problems, and make a large impact quickly. These are all things that can be difficult to find at a larger company. Sell that opportunity.

Tip: If you’re finding that you lack the resources to dedicate towards sourcing passive candidates, it might be time to call on a recruiting firm. Some firms (like Cloutera!) offer a “sourcing model”, aimed exclusively at building up talent pipelines full of qualified, passive candidates.

Focus on Mission + Vision

Whether you are engaging with passive or active candidates, it’s important to tell a compelling story through your employer branding. What is your vision for your product, your services, and your culture? How is your company unique? What big problems are you trying to solve? Why do your customers love you? Unlike a large company like Facebook or Microsoft, startups often struggle with the fact that they are relatively unknown. This means that your vision along with your mission and values need to be clearly articulated. Why do you do what you do and how does a prospective employee fit into that?

Once you’ve established these core messages, share the information about your vision and mission. This story can be shared on your career page, through your social media accounts, and at local networking events. By honing in on this branding and messaging, you will attract talent that aligns closely with your organization’s goals and values.

Think Beyond Pay

As a startup, it’s unlikely that you can compete with the big tech companies in terms of pay. But you can (and should) compete with benefits, perks, and other incentives. Most startups recognize the value of offering equity, but non-monetary incentives such as ownership over a new product line or the ability to build and lead a team can be equally as enticing. Remember, candidates who are interested in startups tend to be ambitious people looking to make a big impact quickly. Emphasize the fact that you are looking for team members to lead from every seat, so to speak. When it comes to perks and benefits, think beyond game rooms and company happy hours. Employees today are looking for flexible work hours, excellent family-leave policies, and organizations that encourage professional growth.

Candidate Experience (Still) Matters

Candidate experience is extremely important during the hiring process, especially when you’re a small, fast-growing startup trying to compete with the Microsofts and Amazons of the world. Remember, just as you are assessing candidates to see if they are going to be a good fit for your company, they too are quietly interviewing you and the business at the same time. Be sure to give them a positive experience – one that is comprised of consistent communication, clear expectation setting, and an organized, well-thought-out process. We know, things move fast in the world of startups; it can be easy to dive into hiring without first establishing a plan. But don’t fall into this trap. Establish solid processes from the onset and your candidates will appreciate it (and be more likely to join your team).

Tip: “Process” doesn’t have to mean boring! Your candidate experience should show off your company’s culture and personality. Invite candidates to a team lunch or an offsite event, have them sit in on an all-hands meeting, or hold a round of interviews on your beautiful rooftop terrace. When your company is small and nimble, there are many opportunities for your organization to shine.

At the end of the day, you may not be able to compete with tech giants for top talent using salary. That being said, you can compete by leveraging your culture, values, vision, and candidate relationships.

Now that we’ve shared our ideas, we’d love to hear from you. What did we miss? How does your startup compete for top tech talent? Get in touch with us at

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