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How to hire great talent.

Calendar icon 8th June 2020

How growing businesses can hire great talent.


Often I have discussions with clients around the state of the market and invariably the opinion is either that the market is ‘candidate driven’ or ‘client driven’ – put simply, that there are either lots of jobs and no candidates or no jobs and lots of candidates.  In positive markets or recessions, we in the recruitment world have defined the market this way with varying degrees of grading.  So where are we right now?  Somewhere in the middle, I guess.  This is an unusual market and there are plenty of obvious reasons but what we can be almost sure about is that the dynamics will change over the coming months and hopefully for the better.


This will mean (I suspect), that we will move closer to a candidate driven market and while businesses with great brands, strong employee value propositions and deep pockets can continue to hire the brightest candidates, not all up-and-coming companies will have this luxury.  This article is aimed at those high-growth, earlier stage businesses where acquiring the best talent is an existential imperative but also one of the most challenging exercises for any Founder or Leader.  It’s for good reason that the candidate driven market has given rise to…The War For Talent.


This energetic sounding moniker is a well-worn term and the title of plenty of books, seminars, and articles.  It has been taken extremely seriously by some organisations and hiring managers and less so by others.  Looking specifically at the Tech sector and even more so at those Venture-backed businesses trying to innovate, disrupt and grow as quickly as possible, it is a fair reflection of both the market and the appropriate mindset to have when planning your Talent Acquisition approach.


The point of this article is to highlight the various factors that candidates tend to consider when looking at new career opportunities and then at the ways in which we see great businesses go about talent attraction, acquisition, and retention.


What are the key areas that candidates look for?  Below is a list of the areas that we advise our clients to concentrate on:


1) A positive, productive, and inclusive culture – are there any employers left not looking at this very seriously? ‘Culture’ is probably the first complaint that candidates have about their employers and the force-multiplier that great candidates look for in their next role.  Not only, defensively, does culture keep a team together in tougher times, it is the extra special icing on the career cake when boom times roll around.


2) Learning opportunities and a career development – have you noticed how marquee businesses like McKinsey, for example, keep on (understandably) about how many of their alums have gone on to take CEO roles in the Fortune 500? Learn, develop, grow with us, (they say) – and pick your next role – this is such a huge selling opportunity to candidates.  And the answer is 70…as of 2011.


3) A product or service that interests and excites – this will be personal and obviously won’t be universal but the honest, genuine communication of ‘why’ a product or service is important and valuable feeds into the next point…


4) A vision and mission clearly communicated – so simple, yet so often not Tech Crunch normally get the headline mission statement, but would every employee be able to give you a sincere and detailed version of the shared vision for the company…and what that means for them personally?


5) Compensation – not a dirty word, why should employers not talk up earning potential particularly in Sales roles. A great client recently shared with me her philosophy on compensation and particularly in stock options – the bottom line was that if you’re asking people to be part of a journey, to build the spectacular then shouldn’t they expect to share in the rewards short and long term?


6) Benefits – tangible, intangible, expensive or effectively ‘free’ – it is important to highlight these. Not so long ago the idea of fresh fruit and snacks in the office was a differentiator.  It will be interesting to see what the ‘next fruit’ is…


7) Flexibility – people have recently learned what it means to really ‘work from home’ which is likely to have given rise to conversations around larger life choices. Flexible working terms will win out in the future.


8) Authentic leadership – possibly a bit vague – but great leaders demonstrate leadership in a variety of ways. Whether introverts or extroverts, a specific genius or full on polymath; authentic leadership is highly valued by candidates.  As a side note, we see the most authentic leaders clearly recognise their shortcomings and balance this by hiring complementary strengths in their leadership team.


There will be others, but the above 8 points are invariably covered by candidates when discussing their ‘shopping list’ of must-haves in their next role.


The challenge therefore is to demonstrate how you as an employer embody and foster an organisation that promotes these points.  This is easy if you are Google and invested in genuinely different workspaces before anyone else.  It is not so easy if you are a Seed or Series A business with little or no customer brand, let alone employer brand and you likely haven’t gotten round to hiring your first serious Head of People just yet.  Here then are some ideas, basic and not so basic that could be of use.



Use what you already have.  Your current employees will be a great hiring team for your future superstars:


  1. Vision

Make sure this is clear and communicated to your current team and can be easily understood by every potential candidate.


  1. Employee Surveys

Tools like Peakon are great for businesses with a bit of scale but before this there are plenty of ways of canvassing opinion, confidentially, to ensure you are getting an honest view from the team.  Don’t wait to see what your Glassdoor score looks like – it can be too late and take ages to improve.


  1. Values

What are the most important values and behaviours that will create the culture and environment you want to create?


  1. Structure

Working hours, flexibility, office location, team meetings…while we all want to have choice and freedom – a recognisable and consistent structure can provide a framework for employees.


Ultimately, be confident that your team are all really bought in and evangelical about their role and the part they are playing in the business.  Happy, motivated employees are wonderful brand ambassadors.




  1. Network

It sounds obvious but your network will likely have some of the highest quality introductions to good candidates.  Investors, ex-colleagues, and peers will all be sources of candidates.


  1. Recruiters

It can be tough to find the most appropriate recruitment partner – whether for team build out or executive hiring.  Expertise, track record and personality should all be taken into account when selecting the best firm.


  1. Interview Process

Part of the job of a good recruitment partner is to help you shape this – it really is key.  A few common mistakes we see include: long processes with more than 3 stages; processes taking longer than 3 or 4 weeks; multiple ‘final’ decision makers; inconsistent assessments varying from candidate to candidate; lack of feedback; candidates being rescheduled multiple times.  For an idea of best practice, the best HR/People Directors will make sure that any rejected candidate is given full, transparent feedback and aim to give that candidate a really positive learning experience in return for their time and interest in the role.  That is so powerful.



Frankly, if the above points on Attraction and Acquisition are well covered, the business is performing well, and everyone is paid well then this is the easy part!  However, here are 2 further points that will be important in more challenging trading times:


  1. Training

You don’t need a big L&D budget or dedicated Training Manager for this but good candidates want to learn and improve themselves so what courses can be provided or paid for – or which sessions could be run in house by the leadership team, your network or investors?  What value can you offer to your employees to help them grow?


  1. Celebration

Celebrate at every opportunity.  In small, growing businesses it is vital to celebrate the little wins and incremental improvements whether on a personal or team level.  This does not need to be expensive but public recognition and celebration is universally popular.


The ‘war for talent’ is currently on hold…but it will be back.


Chris Preston is the Managing Director of Zeren

Zeren partners with high-growth Technology businesses to find the best Managers, Directors and Leaders.