In today’s economy, the market for top talent is extremely competitive. Between startups, established brands, and the freelance economy, attracting and retaining highly sought-after talent is a challenge. Millennials are more prone to move around in the early part of their careers, which is at odds with most companies’ hope to retain talent. Millennials tend to seek out opportunities that give them a sense of purpose and fulfillment over security.

You don’t pick talent. Talent picks you.

How do we as businesses retain and grow our biggest asset—people?


To attract talent, you must be marketed properly.

Your first hire is extremely important. Invest upfront in creative and marketing strategy first. Your brand vision, purpose, mission and values must be clearly defined. Don’t skimp and hire a junior designer/marketing hire. Go for a seasoned consultant or freelancer with experience who truly gets the brand, sees the vision, and is clearly aligned with it. 

This is the foundation for your company and ultimately what defines your culture.  You must first build the foundation before the house.


Creating a company that attracts talent through employer branding.

You want to attract candidates who specifically want to work for you. Your existing employees are your brand ambassadors; they should be the biggest champions for the company. Because of their personal experience, your employees are the best people to speak on behalf of the company. They can explain what initially attracted them to the brand and how the company provides opportunities for professional growth. If you are just starting out and don’t have many employees yet, ask yourself this: what truly makes your company unique, and how will your company keep employees happy? There is so much data available to everyone now on social media and sites like Glassdoor or LinkedIn. Creating, maintaining and preserving your employer branding is paramount to attracting talent.

People talk.


Hiring is a huge investment.

You want to get it right the first time. Hire slowly and fire quickly if things are not working out. Once you’ve identified a hiring need, in most cases you’re looking to fill this role rather quickly. Until you do, this means that you or other members of your team are assuming those responsibilities.

The process itself is very time consuming. You have to first identify a need, then find the talent, review resumes, schedule and conduct interviews, create an evaluation (assessing skill set, cultural fit), check references, and finally onboard. The more people involved in the hiring process, the longer it will take to complete.

I’ve seen so many young brands do things on the cheap early on, and stick it out when things are clearly not working. In the end, this is a poor investment. We all make mistakes, so if you’ve already been down this path, don’t be discouraged. Learn from your mistakes. Always trust your intuition and instincts. Consider hiring a consultant or proven professional to manage this process for you and to educate you as you grow. Invest in the right hires early on.


What is company culture and why is this such a hot topic in retaining talent?

In my mind, core values = cultural fit. It’s important to discover your company’s core values and make them visible. Then, hire people who share these values. A company’s core values influence attitude and behavior.

Ask yourself:

  • What is the tone of our company?
  • What do we value collectively as an organization?
  • Where do we want to be in 5 years, and who do we need on our team to get us there?
  • What qualities do we embody that make this company an incredible place to work?

If you’re a startup, chances are you’re working scrappy; everyone is wearing many hats and there can be ambiguity around the role. A job description may not even exist yet. In this instance, hiring people who can work in a dynamic environment and be comfortable with a level of ambiguity is probably a better option than hiring someone out of a more rigid corporate setting.

Candidates who come from the corporate world may have more experience, but they are used to working in a more structured environment. They expect their responsibilities to be very clearly defined, and will likely not fare well in a startup setting. I’ve seen this very common hiring mistake made many times—while these candidates’ proven track records may be very appealing, this fit rarely works.

Know where you are in the hiring process. It may be best to engage these corporate candidates as a consultant or in an advisory role. They have a lot to offer, but most often a full time hire will come with a heavy compensation requirement.


What to look for when assessing cultural fit.

I am a big believer in getting to know people as people before they are employees. Once you’ve determined you like the person’s experience and you’re ready to interview them, it’s a good idea to meet them in a more relaxed environment outside the office. Arrange to have a coffee or a drink and see what they’re like in a different setting. Get to know them on a more personal level. Here are some questions you may want to ask:

  1. What do you do in your spare time? Outside of work, what are you passionate about?  
  2. How do you like to be managed?
  3. Tell me about a time you failed?

With the first question, you’re screening to see if they have anything unique to bring to the table. Question two tells you a lot about their working style. The last question tells you how they handle unfavorable outcomes.


Now that I have the talent, how do I keep my employees happy?

What are the benefits we offer that show our employees we are committed to their well-being, as well as their personal and professional growth long-term?

We’re talking about benefits and perks that go beyond the traditional healthcare, 401k, and vacation time. This could mean company outings, a flexible schedule, work from home options, wellness offerings, leadership opportunities, and more. Can you offer coverage for professional development, paid attendance for industry events and conferences, extended maternity and paternity leave? These are the qualities that can separate you from the competition and make your company desirable to top-tier talent. 


Surrounding yourself with the right people often begins with choosing a co-founder. Read our tips on choosing a co-founder here

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