How Startups Can Excel at Attracting and Retaining Top Talent

Flexible hours, bonuses, discounts on products, cars, premium health coverage, or even covered fertility treatments. The benefits package offered by large technology companies to attract and retain talent is increasingly robust and diverse. And, of course, salaries accompany the offer.

Access to digital talent has become one of the major issues of concern for companies of all types, and competition has turned the headhunting arena into a battlefield. 

In this context, startups that need to find qualified personnel have a double challenge: to find a place in the middle of the battle and to do it—most of the time—with fewer economic resources. In this scenario, a concern arises: how to achieve the dream of one’s own business if it is so difficult to find people who can help make it a reality? 

According to ManpowerGroup’s Global Talent Shortage Survey, 75% of employers have problems finding the candidates they need. In the region, the country with the most difficulties in finding them is Puerto Rico (83%), followed by Brazil (80%), Argentina (78%), and Guatemala (72%). According to the research, technology is the industry with the greatest shortage (85%), although the problem also hits hard in sectors such as finance, real estate, and health. 

Against this backdrop, startups have the challenge and opportunity to position themselves with a proposal that differs from traditional corporate offerings. 


A different proposition

In the beginning, the founding team of a startup has among its tasks the function of acting as recruiters. The first step in the process is to contact talent from close circles and thus set the wheel in motion.

“To do this, they must have a clear purpose and storytelling that clearly shows what products or services their startup offers. Not an easy task considering that sometimes the product changes and adapts. But there is no other way. The founders must move and look among their contacts for people who can get excited and join the project”, explains Eduardo Suárez Battán, headhunter and executive director of Suárez Battán & Asociados, a firm based in Buenos Aires.

In this market, startups have found creative ways to attract and retain talent. Argentine data technology company Quales Group, named one of the best places to work in Argentina by Great Place To Work, is a good example. 

Judith Irusta, Chief Operating & People Officer of the company, explains that one of the keys to attracting and retaining talent is creating a value proposition beyond financial compensation. This involves, in her case, offering challenging projects, training, and professional development, and an enriching work environment. 

The company also strives to be disruptive in terms of the benefits it offers. Even before the pandemic, it had already implemented remote work and agreements with different coworking spaces where employees could meet. They even implemented a reduced work week to promote work-life balance.

Its full remote work modality allows many of its employees to travel and work, so it is not uncommon to see teams distributed in different parts of the world in a meeting. They even offer the possibility of taking a sabbatical year while keeping the job when they return. All of these proposals are particularly appreciated by the new generations. 

“We asked ourselves what our employees want. Because of their age, many of them wanted to travel, and we thought about how we could accompany them from our side and build loyalty. This type of proposal makes the employee realize that we value what they are interested in,” says Irusta. And he advises: “A nice hack for the Human Resources areas is to think that they are not the ones who have to plan the benefits, but that it is the people who have to bring them to the table. You have to be the medium.”

With a young mindset

(Adobe Stock)

A few key concepts come into play here. “Flexibility is the word: many workers expect it from any kind of company, and in a startup, it can be a very valuable benefit. Sometimes in large companies, these processes are more bureaucratic, and in a startup, because of its dynamics, they can develop very quickly,” says Alexandra Manera, director of Human Resources for Argentina and Uruguay at Adecco Group, the Swiss-based human resources firm. 

Ideas such as work from anywhere or work by objectives, which were installed especially in startups, accompany the demands for flexibility led by millennials and are now taken for granted by generation Z. And that segment is precisely, a great ally for companies in their beginnings. “One option that more and more companies are adopting is to select students or recent graduates from job boards, training institutes, and universities and train them internally,” explains Manera.

They do something along those lines at Jüsto, a Mexico-based digital supermarket that already has 1,800 employees and also operates in Peru and Brazil. “There are few people and very expensive. In that case, it makes sense to attract talent with potential and then develop it in-house. The key is to find people who want to grow with you. Otherwise, they will stay for a year and then leave,” says Paulo Neto, Chief People & Performance Officer of the firm. 

He explains that the ideal is to be able to detect the talent that makes the cultural fit with the company because working in a startup is not for just anyone: “It must be someone passionate and with a lot of resilience. Here you can grow very fast, but you must be willing to put your hands in the dough and do the work. If you find a profile like that, you won’t need so many benefits,” he reflects.

Beyond the budget

In the early days of a company, it is common to see that enthusiasm is in abundance, but resources are scarce. According to experts, this should not be an impediment to attracting the best talent. “Sometimes it’s more important to know the needs of employees than to take big actions with lots of resources,” reflects Adecco’s Manera.

A good way to close the gap is to recruit by skills, a different approach than recruiting by job titles. Manera explains: “The transformation of skills and disruption of industries is happening rapidly. And instead of limiting hiring by a title, you can find more talented and dedicated workers who fit the needs of the company by emphasizing their skills and other qualifications.

Another aspect that appeals to employees is the ability to choose their career path. In the technology sector, employees want to learn constantly, and that is why at Quales Group, they thought of the possibility for each collaborator to choose their own training and certification. 

For Judith Irusta, several aspects make a startup’s proposal attractive, such as personalized treatment and proximity. “In an after-work meeting, you can meet the founders. That generates a great sense of belonging and is a big difference. In addition, we strongly encourage entrepreneurship, and when you go through Quales you will take tools to start your own company later”. It is already customary in this company to see that many former employees later become suppliers, she says. 

With the acceleration of digital transformation, today, traditional companies are also looking for the type of talent that startups are looking for. This forces companies to put focus on another fundamental concept: purpose. “You have to have a value proposition to offer and be a headhunter all the time, every time you come across someone, try to motivate them,” says Jüsto’s Neto. “And good people attract good talent. First, we have to do some work in-house to help us sell our employer brand externally.”

Bsale, a Chilean startup that offers a sales system for stores, is also facing this challenge. Elvira Montero Prieto, the co-founder of this company that also operates in Peru, recognizes that getting talent is difficult, but that in her company, they managed to understand the most important factors. Among them are: the importance of transmitting the company’s culture and trajectory, offering competitive remuneration that includes emotional pay (a concept that refers to non-monetary remuneration: that workers feel valued), creating a work journey for professionals, and making the selection process as simple and efficient as possible.

Regardless of the stage the company is in, it is necessary to work on establishing an employer brand, which is the positioning of a company as a good place for professional development. 

In her case, Montero Prieto stresses that they work on it from the first contact with candidates. “This is fundamental. It is also a tremendous responsibility because what we promise then we must deliver, and it depends on the whole team to achieve it. We maintain constant and close communication with the candidates throughout the process. This helps them to understand the steps and also to get to know us,” explains the entrepreneur.

Specifically, the strategies they have developed to attract and retain talent are based on highlighting their culture, offering competitive compensation, creating internal career development for the different areas, offering relevant benefits for employees, applying technology to streamline the recruitment process, and maintaining very good communication.

It is difficult for most startups to have a large benefits pool like a traditional company. However, listening to employees seems basic, but it works, and all it takes is the will. Hand in hand, a beer in an after-office or a sincere chat can become the best attraction tool: you just have to be willing to do it.


Five tips for developing an employer brand according to Adecco

Get back in touch with the mission: in many companies, mission statements are read carefully when the new employee joins and then forgotten. Connecting tasks and activities to the core of why the company does what it does helps re-inspire the workforce. 

Support camaraderie: Because the social aspect is one of the most important to the culture, it can be challenging to recreate in a remote environment. Fellowship grows by connecting frequently, so make sure the team can do this individually and as a larger group.

Celebrate wins: as part of the company culture and with the goal of making people feel appreciated.

Remember the “coffee machine”: in the office, there is usually someplace that has become the “coffee machine,” the place where employees go to chat or rest. The priority is to have a channel for non-work issues or to let off steam. 

Encourage coaching: workers have many skills, so why not give them the opportunity to share them? The idea is to keep people engaged in learning and self-improvement to create a more positive company culture.

Main image: Adobe Stock.


You may also be interested in: Five questions to: Jüsto


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