5 Smart Sources For Finding The Best Startup Talent

Broad job postings just mean more work for you, sifting through a bunch of resumes that don't fit the bill. There are smarter options.

You’ve got a great idea that you want to take to market—and fast. With limited time and budget, you need to quickly (and affordably) build a team that you can trust, one that’s composed of people who not only have the right skill sets, but also have the fire in the belly to get the job done.

You could try job postings, but you’ll likely spend the bulk of your time sifting through dozens of resumes of people who just don’t possess the right mix of qualifications. You could try immersing yourself in the local startup community, but it could take weeks or longer for you to figure out the landscape and identify the best contacts.

Here are five better options.

Events
Dozens of like-minded folks under one roof at one time—talk about bang for your buck. At events such as Startup Weekend, you can pitch your startup idea and receive feedback from peers. Teams form around the best ideas and then spend 54 hours creating business models, coding, designing, and validating their ideas. The weekend culminates with presentations to local entrepreneurial leaders and an opportunity to gain another round of feedback.

Start by identifying any relevant events in your city or town and, depending on what’s available, expand your search to surrounding areas as necessary. With organizers and facilitators in more than 200 cities around the globe, Startup Weekend is always a great place to start.

Startup Accelerators & Incubators
When it comes to making connections and good old-fashioned word of mouth referrals, accelerators and incubators can be a great place to start. After all, they are "in" the startup business and usually have firsthand knowledge of who is looking to hire and who might be looking to get hired. Some software startups, such as AppDirect, are also getting into the mix by launching programs to give software developers hands-on experience and expert guidance to help them launch their own startups and become successful entrepreneurs—a startup incubator for startup incubators.

Don’t automatically assume you can walk in off of the street and immediately gain access to their digital Rolodex. There’s a good chance they’ll already be super busy with their own startups and probably won’t be familiar with you or your idea. When you reach out, introduce yourself and your idea and ask if they have any recommendations (individuals, events, targeted job boards, etc.) on where you can find the best talent.

Colleges & Universities
Like peanut butter and jelly, startups looking for talent on a shoestring budget and eager college students looking to gain experience just have a way of going together. Thanks to the huge resurgence in entrepreneurship that’s been taking place across the nation, more and more campuses are jumping onboard the startup train by adding new courses to their curriculum, hosting competitions, and supporting entrepreneurially focused student clubs and organizations. The list includes academic powerhouses such as Stanford, MIT, the University of California at Berkeley, Carnegie Mellon University, and the University of Rochester as well as top tier graphic design programs including Massachusetts College of Art and Design, California Institute of the Arts, Minneapolis College of Art & Design and a host of many others.

To maximize your efforts, target schools that offer the right majors/coursework and who embrace a culture of entrepreneurship. Although every campus can be a little bit different, start by contacting the centralized career office. Based on their recommendations, you can also reach out to specific academic departments.

Other Startups
As long as you won’t be competing in the same sandbox, reaching out to other startups can not only be a great way to identify talent, but it could also open the door for strategic partnerships and other potential collaborations. They could know of some incredibly talented folks who are back in the market because their startup was recently acquired, or have suggestions for where you should focus your efforts.

Locally, we have groups such as the Pittsburgh Technology Council, whose primary goal is to help local tech companies succeed. Similar organizations can be a great source for connecting with other startups and entrepreneurs in your neck of the woods.

Social Media Groups
There are a ton of groups on LinkedIn and Facebook representing a host of skill sets and entrepreneurial interests. You can find anything from WordPress developers, to designers, to college and university alumni groups and everything in between.

Social media groups can be an incredibly effective low-cost (make that free) alternative for connecting with prospective employees in your local area as well as folks from other geographical areas that could work remotely.

Recruiting Your Team
Once you know the roles you’re looking to fill and where you want to look, it’s time to focus all of your attention on finding the best available talent based on your specific needs and budget.

Use job descriptions as a way to help set expectations and weed out as many folks as possible who you don’t think are going to be a good fit. Instead of worrying about arbitrary years of experience, spend your time worrying about whether or not they have the right skills and a high motor (aka, a strong work ethic). In other words, make sure they’re going to be able to handle the peaks and valleys that come with being an entrepreneur.

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—Shawn Graham is a marketing and brand strategist for startups and small businesses. Find him at shawngraham.me or continue the conversation on Twitter.

[Image: Flickr user Allen]

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2 Comments

  • A. Kline

    Summed it up nicely, I think: Instead of worrying about arbitrary years of experience, spend your time worrying about whether or not they have the right skills and a high motor (aka, a strong work ethic). In other words, make sure they’re going to be able to handle the peaks and valleys that come with being an entrepreneur.

  • Shawn

    Thanks for the comment, A. Kline. Startups aren't bound to the same rigid hiring process as big companies and it's definitely something they should use to their advantage.