Attracting tech talent for startups

When running a tech startup, how can you find, attract and retain the very best talent? 

Sarah Lilley, Director of People and Culture at Daltrey, speaks to Blair about the best ways to attract tech talent, and how businesses can market themselves more effectively to talent.

You have experience recruiting for startups through to established enterprises. What are your techniques for attracting top talent, from a people and culture perspective?

I’ll start off by saying that I love startups – that’s where I feel most comfortable. I’m not a big-business type of person, and the reason why I love startups is because they’re agile. I can really come in and make an impact fairly quickly by making changes big and small.

The first thing I do is look at our ads: what are we saying to candidates to attract them? If we’re not really speaking transparently about what we do or who we are as a business or what the role is, we’re not going to be able to attract people.

Are there companies out there that are not transparent about what the actual rules they’re advertising for are – is that an obvious thing that hiring managers just mess up?

It can be. If you go and have a look at job ads right now, some of them really don’t tell you much about what the daily responsibilities are, or in particular the expectations. They also don’t include why it’s attractive to work at that particular company.

Especially in this candidate’s market – and it’s one of the strongest candidate markets I’ve seen throughout my career – we need to be selling ourselves to them, it’s not the other way around anymore. We need to really make sure that the content within our ads is something that stands out or attracts people.

From there, it’s really about making sure that any kind of recruitment process that’s already in place is very smooth and navigable for the candidate. We just don’t have the time to wait even three or four days before following up on interviews, because people are being snapped up – particularly tech talent.

 You’ve got a great story around how Daltrey went from zero applicants for some roles to hundreds. How did you do it?

First of all, we recognised fairly quickly that we have a great shortage of really talented people in the tech space across Australia and New Zealand. That’s not because we don’t have strong candidates. It’s because it’s a much, much smaller candidate pool. So we naturally started to look outside of that.

Now, we did have to partner with an employer of record (EOR) to enable that global reach, and that’s been a real game-changer because it’s allowed us to employ anybody from anywhere in the world. So partnering with a really strong EOR is crucial to being able to recruit globally.

On top of that, there’s things such as having a really strong EVP. We know from being in the early stages ourselves at one point that startups aren’t for everybody. Some people might see them as a risky proposition compared to a much bigger, more established company. But we can attract those people with a really strong EVP, a really strong product, a really strong leadership team, and a really solid and fast recruitment process that gets people interested from the beginning.

There are also smaller things I do that aren’t widely done. When I’m speaking to candidates, I make sure I have a phone call or an introductory video chat with every one of them, because we want to make sure we’re getting the right people on board. But that also allows us to have the salary conversation upfront. People often don’t do that. You can waste a lot of time – my time, the candidate’s time, your leader’s time and the hiring manager’s time – by not having a simple conversation around salary expectations from the outset. Once that’s agreed to and we move along the process, it’s all very smooth because we know what their expectations are.

I also make sure to send a copy of our EVP document to any candidate I’m going to talk to – that has been a huge success. It’s a very small thing to do, but I would estimate 99% of candidates I speak to after sending our EVP document to them are already hooked. They already have a really strong interest in Daltrey. In fact, I would almost go as far as saying we have a 99% success rate when we make an offer to candidates, and that’s all down to the process and the small steps we take along the way. We make it seamless for everyone.

Speaking of the employee value proposition, how do you create balance so you can get the best talent but also retain them?

The strategy that large organisations employ to attract talent is interesting. It’s all about huge base salaries, shares, sign-on bonuses. But candidates always then think to themselves: what do I have to do to actually earn that money? You can imagine they’re working pretty hard and long hours with little flexibility.

It’s really important that you don’t centre your attraction and talent strategy around financial rewards – there are a number of elements to it. For example, you could have a market-based salary, where you meet the market expectations. That’s not necessarily to say you’re hitting what those larger organisations are offering, but it’s what the general market would offer. There are other things like having an annual bonus scheme, shares, ESOP (employee stock ownership plan) – all of which can make up the total reward.

But if you’re only looking at financial reward as an attraction strategy, it’s not going to work. Candidates these days really want to understand your purpose. What’s the vision? What are you going to offer them? They want to look at things like wellbeing, hybrid or remote working, and other employee strategies and initiatives you have in place. It’s been well documented that people prefer a hybrid working model, so having that genuine flexibility is absolutely crucial.

You also need to have a look at how you keep your team connected. Many organisations have employees all over the world. We’re not all in the one spot anymore. The world of work has changed. So look at how you keep people connected as part of your EVP – you need to have a strategy around that.

There are other pillars such as innovation. What’s the business doing to innovate? Are they stagnant? Do they have big future plans? What is the CEO’s vision? All of these things must be considered and encapsulated.

Want more insight into the world of cybersecurity, digital identity, biometrics and more? Get your fix with the IDentity Today podcast, hosted by Daltrey CEO Blair Crawford. Listen via Apple Podcasts, Spotify or your favourite podcast app.