Successful companies are built with strong talent. Employees who have been with you since Day One are valuable because they’re often entrepreneurial, and people who have an impressive resume as a result of working for high-profile brands can give your company a different kind of boost.
For example, alumni from best-in-class companies bring elements of those workplaces to your company, says Victor Ho, cofounder and CEO of the loyalty-marketing app provider FiveStars. Launched in 2012 with 20 employees, FiveStars has more than doubled in size every year, adding talent from companies like Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Sony.
"Both Facebook and Google are typically highly metrics-oriented and systematic in their approach to growth, for example," says Ho. "We've benefited from those learnings and applied that at FiveStars."
Getting talent from top-tier places also makes it easier to get additional talent from those places, adds Ho. "It's like a domino effect, as other talent sees the hiring of alumni from Facebook and Google as a signal of quality at your startup," he says.
Before you start searching for impressive resumes, there are four things to do to improve your chances that they accept your offer:
Attract employees from high-profile companies by sticking to your mission. It’s simple, but it’s also counterintuitive, says Ho. "Generally, Silicon Valley has a desire to be accepting of every type, with a people-pleasing mentality," he says. "We decided to start a company because we believe in a small, alternative view of commerce, and we have a certain value set: shared humility, authentic relationships, warrior spirit, and joy every day."
A strong culture can be polarizing; some people will love it, while others will be put off. "You have to be firm and clear on what you stand for, and it’s better than being in the middle and getting nobody," says Ho. "This has been instrumental in attracting the right talent."
When the FiveStars founders started to recruit outside talent, the partners decided that if an executive was talented but money motivated, they didn’t want them. Ho says he’s been able to attract top talent by offering an opportunity to advocate for a specific cause, relational commerce.
"Google will not say they care more about small business than we do, or that they want commerce to be more relational than we do," says Ho. "For those people who are at Google and want something more, we’ve got something that big companies can’t touch."
Hiring for mission over money also helps small businesses weather the ups and downs. "When times are bleak, the deeper someone’s alignment with your company’s mission and values, the more likely they stay on board and help you fight through," says Ho. "People who just want to add startup experience to their resume find it easier to cut bait and jump. When an executive leaves, especially one who joined for the wrong reasons, it can be devastating to morale."
You can identify employees who are looking for the money over mission during your recruiting process, says Jonathan Kestenbaum, executive director of the talent acquisition firm Talent Tech Labs.
"Be cautious of the way they speak during interviews to identify these red flags," he says. "Format interview questions to find the entrepreneurial motivation driving toward a ‘where do you need me’ mentality and less of a ‘that’s not my job’ mind-set," he says.
For example, ask questions about what type of time and financial budgets they might need for hypothetical projects. "If the candidate comes out with large numbers, be wary," says Kestenbaum. "If they go MacGyver, claiming the ability to work with what they have, that’s the employee your small business needs."
You’ll never compete on prestige or financial returns, says Ho, but there are other strengths a small company can offer. While equity in the company is a common enticement, Ho cautions against making it the centerpiece of your package. "Some people come to startups hoping they’ll blow up so you can make money," Ho says. "Coming from that angle is tempting and easy, but it leads to problems if the decision to join your company is centered around money over mission."
Instead, he suggests playing up the chance for autonomy and deeper job satisfaction. "I very much believe that the whole concept of work-life balance is complete BS," says Ho. "You don’t work from nine to five, and then finally live when you go home; that would be incredibly depressing."
People work to fulfill deeper desires, and good work is fundamentally what everyone craves, says Ho. "Especially millennnials, who have a deep caring or desire to accomplish something that resonates with their values," he says. "That something could be an underdog, entertainment, productivity tools. Whatever it might be, it’s a core drive not for many."
The "small" part of your business is your angle, adds Kestenbaum: "Small businesses often provide a career booster for employees since each position normally moves outside of the original job description to include opportunities for more experience," he says. "Small businesses will likely offer fewer benefits than a corporation would, but having the ability to dip into several departments helps employees find new skill-sets and passions to further their career."
While Ho has used recruiting firms, he says his best hires have come from internal searches. Half of his company’s leaders actively sought out opportunities with FiveStars because the mission resonated with them, while the other half were met in serendipitous ways, like being introduced through colleagues and employees.
"If our goal is to not compromise on mission and values, it’s incredibly important, especially when hiring leaders, that they’re deeply aligned," he says.
Recruiting talent from high-profile companies may feel like a coup, but business owners should operate from the mind-set that demonstrates what you are building is very rare and special, says Maynard Webb, chairman of the board of Yahoo, former COO of eBay, and founder of the seed investment firm Webb Investment Network.
"Don’t be swayed by big names," he says. "Just because somebody works for a great company doesn't mean that they are great or will be right for your startup. There’s a big difference from being on the bus at a great company, and someone who is driving the bus."
Only recruit from a high-profile company if the right person is there, says Frank Green, president of the finance and IT recruiting firm ExecuSource. "The only real impact of hiring from a high-profile company is if you need to fill a position with an individual whose pedigree would add validity to your startup in addition to them being the right candidate," he says. "Your work product will build your reputation, not having people internally from X or Z company."