6 Ways to Attract and Hire Best-Fit Startup Talent

The demand for labor during today’s candidate-driven market is fierce and employers have had to adjust their hiring strategies to attract top talent. For startups, the process is even more challenging because you’re competing with well-known established organizations within your industry. So, what can you do to stand out and appear unique? Here are some ways to attract and hire talent that fits within your organizational culture.

1. Share your founding mission and vision

We all love a good story. If you can effectively communicate your organization’s unique evolution and runway to scale to job candidates, you will be more successful at attracting top talent. Where did the idea to form your company originate? What challenges did your founders overcome to get to where you are today? Most importantly—assuming “mission” success—what is your vision for 1, 3, and 5 years in the future? Share competitor information and your organization’s key differentiators. Millennials—the largest generation in the workforce—and Generation Z candidates are attracted to companies with a mission and vision that they can relate to and get excited about.

2. Give employees autonomy

Top startups have a unique energy that is evident within their company culture. Frequently this energy is rooted in the development of new products and services. Google has been recognized for allowing its employees to spend up to 20 percent of their time working on projects they personally feel are most beneficial to the company’s growth and success. To what extent do your company’s leaders support innovation and new ideas? Autonomy is a key driver of employee engagement. Giving employees the freedom to explore and share new ideas—that are not required to be implemented—is a positive step toward fostering autonomy. Throughout the hiring process, share examples of successful innovation that resulted from your employees’ ability to take ownership of their projects.   

3. Foster a culture of learning and development

Startups typically can’t afford expensive training programs—whether it be in person or online. Research shows that workers retain more than 75 percent of the information they learn through experiential learning—which occurs when an employee gains new skills and competencies through on-the-job experiences and challenges. Job rotation—when employees are moved between jobs within an organization—and job enlargement—when an employee remains in his or her existing role but takes on additional tasks and responsibilities that require training—foster skill development. Share examples of how your employees learn from one another through intentional collaboration such as job shadowing, informational interviews, and mastermind groups. Explain how you develop and leverage your employees’ abilities to foster success and illustrate how the role the candidate is interviewing for is integral to achieving the company’s growth objectives.

4. Structure positions around skills and strengths

It’s important to focus on the work that needs to be done within your organization—with demonstratable skills and learning agility—and stop focusing solely on experience and past job titles of job candidates. Transferable skills are competencies that a candidate has developed throughout his or her life that can “transfer” to a variety of different roles and industries. These skills may have been obtained in a previous job, during his or her education, or through hobbies or volunteer work. By molding position responsibilities around an individual’s skills and strengths, your organization can successfully hire top talent.

5. Build a competitive compensation strategy

Build a compensation strategy that accounts for equity-eligible positions and leverage it as a selling point to recruit top candidates. Startups often pay less than established organizations so it’s important to have a competitive compensation structure to share with candidates. Significant thought should go into your organizational approach to equity/stock allocation to ensure it’s advantageous to all stakeholders. Benchmarking data, best practices, and consultants with expertise in this area are available to help your leadership team navigate this process. Several important questions to get started include:

  • What position levels will be eligible for equity?
  • What is the timing for a vesting schedule?
  • Will employees be able to sell shares before an exit? 

6. Capture employee referrals

Who understands your organizational culture better than your current employees? Use this to your advantage to identify top job candidates. According to CareerBuilder, 88 percent of employers rate employee referrals above all other sources for generated quality of new hires, and 82 percent rate them above all other sources for generating the best return of investment. Incentivize your employees monetarily—or with PTO days, volunteer days, or with a donation to their favorite charity—for introducing your hiring team to an individual that could be a good fit within your organization. The structure and communication around your referral program are important. Provide professional networking training to your employees to help them understand the makeup of their network and how to provide referrals. Then, make sure your employees are aware of open and upcoming positions. 


To stand out among candidates and differentiate your organization throughout the hiring process, communicate the overall experience your organization offers your employees. These six methods will help attract best-fit talent that shares your company’s mission, vision, and values. When aligned, you will be positioned for growth and success.      

This blog was authored by Viaduct’s Senior Talent Consultant John Jameson.

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