Ways to Recruit Superstar Talent to Your New Company

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Ways to Recruit Superstar Talent to Your New Company

Recruiting in today’s ultra-competitive job market is tough and success can often hinge on the team that you already have in place. Some sources suggest that in the start-up world the team is second only to timing when it comes to recruiting. The team is more important than the idea, the business model, and funding. The same can be said for established companies. Without great people, and continuously attracting new top talent, you’re sooner or later bound to fail. So whether you’re a founder of a startup, a young CEO, or a veteran leader, if you have big plans, you have one job: Put together the strongest team possible.

When I started building WATTx, an innovation lab for smart climate solutions in the Internet of Things (IoT) space six months ago, I quickly came to this exact realization. Without great talent, our moonshot aspirations and ambition to help Viessmann — a soon-to-be 100-year-old family business and industrial heavyweight in the heating and cooling industry — master its transition to the digital era would never be more than pretty words on paper.

Less than three months into the WATTx journey, we had hired a team of 20 amazing people with impressive resumes and personalities across four main domains: data science and software engineering, IoT engineering, digital marketing and sales, and business development. Our team consists of 15 nationalities and includes software engineers from Google, a data scientist from the CERN Institute, top talent from two of the hottest fintech startups in the world, and a few startup founders from ecommerce, legal tech, or IoT.

How did we attract these rock stars when we had little other than our idea to entice them with? While many people are drawn to a “change the world” aspiration, it takes a lot more than that to pull them away from “change the world” work they’re already doing. Here are six concrete recruiting principles we used to help us build a top team:

Master the art of storytelling.You are trying to sell complete strangers on your idea and get them to leave well-paid, attractive jobs for something completely unknown. In order for the recruits to trust you, you have to master telling your story. Others will only follow you if you really leave them with the impression that you yourself are completely captivated by the opportunity you’re presenting. To some people, storytelling comes naturally. If you don’t belong to the lucky few, there’s still hope — practice. Start with reflecting on what ignited that fire in you and what drew you to start your business. Tell that story to yourself, friends, and colleagues. Take your refined pitch and refine it some more with a lot of different recruits. Be less picky in the beginning about who you interview as the main goal is to hone your skill to be at your best when Grade A candidates comes your way.

In case you’re wondering: Money and the Silicon Valley style perks (Airbnb has a guy driving ice cream around the office every Friday) were not part of our story. We were able to offer competitive salaries, but not being able to offer equity or those sometimes outrageous perks actually put us at a disadvantage. The only way to overcome that is by giving people a chance to work on something meaningful, in a unique setting, which is driven home by a story well told.

Don’t be a one trick pony.Every potential employee is different and therefore the way you best get your message across will vary. Applying two lenses to a candidate will give you good insight into how you should deliver your messages: the background and the personality of the candidate. From my personal experience, people interviewing for technical roles were less receptive to highly aspirational sales pitches and instead were looking for sound and rational arguments. Candidates with an affinity to more emotional topics were looking to be inspired and were less interested in the exact details. Understanding that generalizations can doom your interviews, you have to get a feel for the person and their values as early as possible.

A way that I found to work well was to ask open questions and then probe a specific part of their answer. For example, asking a candidate about what is important to them in their new position and then immediately drilling deeper into the answers provided. Details and personal experience will tell you right away that there is truth beyond the original claim, which should guide your interview approach. For example, if atmosphere within the team is important to the candidate, let her know what great people you have managed to hire already and how excited you are about how well they will all mesh.

Find your mix.Not all the recruiting channels are equally effective and not all recruiting channels will reach your specific audience. Pick the combination channels where you have the highest chance to reach the people you’re truly after and not because they are standard practice. In our case, the headhunters specializing in recruiting digital talent had a success rate of 0%. Instead, almost three quarters of our team was recruited via AngelList, a platform for people with high affinity for startups. The second best channels were personal networks. If you have a good network and you’ve made some good hires early on, their recommendations are usually a pretty reliable assessment. Lastly, LinkedIn was good for exactly one hire. Note that we didn’t spend a single dollar on advertising or promoting our job openings. And you don’t have to either. Instead, start with a few more (free) channels and see where you get traction quickest. Focus your time and effort on those.



Leaving a Stable Job to Create Your Dream Career

The great thing about careers in the 21st century is that you get to decide what you want to do. And if you don’t like what you’re doing, you can change. While this is liberating, it’s also scary and confusing. The complexity of today’s employment landscape is overwhelming. Managing your career requires coping with ambiguity and uncertainty and learning some basic navigation skills. After years of research and coaching people on career transitions, here’s what I recommend:

Follow your energy and interest.This is the most fundamental part of your strategy. Energy and interest are to your career path what the North Star is to celestial navigators. Paying attention to what engages and excites you, what lights you up, and what stimulates your intellect points you toward the tasks and situations that enable you to be your best self. That’s where you will thrive.

Take Noah Tannen, who used to work as a copywriter and creative director at an advertising and design firm. Over time, he grew bored and unhappy at his job, which required less creativity than he’d expected from a job with the word “creative” in its title. One evening while talking with a friend, an experienced account planner and strategist, he asked the question that initiated his career shift: “What is an account planner?” His friend explained that it was about understanding the audience, who they are and what really matters to them, doing research, and then distilling it into a brief that articulates the underlying strategy for the creative team to design from. “After that conversation, I was so excited I couldn’t sleep,” says Noah.

Or consider Chris Anderson, who was tiring of his job as a political science professor when his wife gave him a copy of the book Moneyball. He was fascinated by its account of using statistics to build a winning baseball team by identifying high-potential players that other teams overlooked. As a quantitative social scientist who’d played semi-professional soccer in his native Germany, the ideas in the book brought together two of his major interests. Chris was captivated by the idea of applying analytic methods to soccer.




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