When it comes to hiring and retaining startup talent, the times certainly have changed. Just a few years ago, startups were the place to be. The lean teams and laid-back culture were very appealing, especially compared to the stuffier, more bureaucratic cultures of large organizations.
But now, we’re seeing a shift in what matters most to talent. People still want purpose-driven work and are attracted to the idea of building something from the ground up – qualities that startups are well-positioned to leverage. But they don’t want the toxic hustle culture and steep leadership learning curve that often comes with young, brilliant founders.
So what’s the solution? Every company has its pros and cons, but if startups want to remain competitive and attract the best candidates, they need to fully understand what they bring to the table and figure out how to position themselves in a talent-driven job market.
Why Startups Need to Prioritize Their Employer Brand
An employer brand is a combination of how the market, current employees, and potential employees view the company. It’s what job seekers know about the company and what sells them or turns them away. If you have employees, you have an employer brand – even if you haven’t officially invested in it.
Unfortunately, it’s also the reason why so many startups struggle to find good talent. Early-stage startups don’t have the brand awareness that other, more established companies do, so it can be hard for them to even get the attention of top talent, let alone compete on offers. If your candidates don’t know about your company and what you do, it can be tough to convince them to choose you over another employer.
Plus, early-stage startups can be extremely volatile work environments. Nine out of ten startups fail, but a strong employer brand can help offset your company’s perceived risk and attract candidates who aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty, and are just as excited about your startup’s potential as you are.
5 Key Employer Branding Tips for Startups
1. Don’t skip the basics
Startup founders have to wear many hats and are juggling a million different priorities, so they often haven’t taken the time to put together a basic careers page or enable job posting on their website. As a result, when it’s time to hire, founders typically go with the “post and pray” approach. They whip up a quick job description, post it on social media, and hope for the best.
This strategy might hold you over in the short term, but establishing a careers presence on your website can help you in the long run by giving you space to share your employer value proposition. It can also help ensure your job postings will get picked up by aggregators like Indeed and Prospect.fyi, which can greatly boost the reach of your recruitment efforts. An effective careers page should have links to your most recent job postings, as well as sections that clearly explain why a candidate should choose you and what makes your company unique.
2. Tell a compelling story
Free meals and afternoon happy hours may have been enough to get some candidates in the door before, but today’s skilled talent cares more about working for a company whose values and goals align with their own. Instead of leading with pay and perks, think about what your organization offers your employees beyond compensation. For example, is your company mission-driven or selling an innovative product or service? Do you have a passionate, visionary founder?
People know that working at a startup may not always come with the biggest paycheck or typical work hours, but they’re very often inspiring and energetic places to work. Plus, working on a small team means each contributor has the potential to make a huge impact. These are the true benefits that your potential talent will buy into, so make sure to highlight them on your careers page and in your recruitment marketing efforts.
3. Be honest and transparent
Candidates will quickly figure out if they’ve been sold something that’s not the truth, so don’t fake the funk. People often think all startups have a rocketship growth trajectory, but the reality is much more like a rollercoaster ride. Working at a startup can come with some high highs and some pretty low lows, and you need to be honest about the less shiny aspects of your company if you want to attract talent that can thrive in this environment.
For example, early-stage startup employees often take on tasks and responsibilities outside of their core expertise and initial reason they were hired. Some candidates may see this as a drawback, but the right candidate will understand that this is part of working in an early stage, high growth company and embrace the opportunity to learn new skills and push beyond their comfort zone.
4. Use your people
We won’t sugarcoat it – finding people who have the technical and functional skills to thrive in an early-stage startup is tough. That’s why we often see a lot of founders hiring their friends, family and professional network first. However, when they run out of people in their closest circle, they don’t know what to do. Sound familiar?
You might not have in-house HR or recruitment talent (yet), but you can find the right people by taking advantage of what you’ve already got: your team. Recruitment is a team sport. If you already have incredible employees who are passionate and excited about your mission, engage them as brand ambassadors. Highlight them on your careers page and social media channels and encourage them to share your job opportunities with their network to boost the reach of your hiring efforts.
5. Get expert support
We see a lot of startup founders running into the same issues. For example, they may know how to create and post a pretty good job description, but they don’t know how to reach a talent pool beyond the candidates applying for their postings or tell their story in a way that connects with talent. We also see founders who recognize that they need HR support, but when they bring someone on, they’re too junior and don’t have enough expertise to get them to where they need to go.
You may be able to do a lot on your own, but if you find that your recruitment or retention efforts are slacking, it may be time to bring in some expert support. For example, here at Blu Ivy Group, we help companies of all sizes – yes, even early-stage startups – hone their employer brand and define their employer value propositions so they can get the right people in the right roles.
It’s Never Too Early (or Too Late) to Build Your Startup Employer Brand
Companies that build their employee brands from the outset will always have a competitive advantage when hiring. Not only will it make your company more attractive to top talent, but it can also help position your company as an industry leader. What your startup may lack in brand awareness, you can make up with authenticity, transparency, and compelling storytelling.
To learn more about how we can help you create a more effective employee experience for your organization, or for additional research insights or inquiries on how to build an award-winning employer brand, please contact Stacy Parker at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Blu Ivy Group is a global leader in employer branding, organizational culture, and recruitment marketing. We help organizations across the private, public, and not-for-profit sectors build extraordinary employee experiences, magnetic employer brands, and high-performance cultures.
From C-Suite to Employer Brand and Talent Acquisition leadership, we partner with our clients to transform their organizations and design the most compelling workplaces of the future.