UHY Hacker Young | Chartered Accountants

The art and craft of attracting talent for startups

1 May 2019

If your recruitment strategy involves just quickly bashing out a job description to pass onto a recruiter or online recruitment platform, you might be missing out on exactly the right candidate for your business.

For most organisations, people are not only the biggest cost but also the most important influencing factor on the success of the business. So why reduce talent attraction and retention to merely a task on your to-do list?

In times when competition over top talent is ever-increasing, it’s crucial to invest both in your remuneration package and your communications.

Robert Collings, tech & high growth manager in our Cambridge office and Bram Vanoirbeek, Business Story Consultant at The Thing About Stories, discuss the perfect mix of an effective recruitment strategy.

Start with your story

One of the most important drivers of employee satisfaction and engagement is purpose. A study by Imperative showed that 85% of companies with a clearly articulated purpose showed growth, while 42% of companies without it showed negative growth.

Additionally, 73% of purpose-oriented members were satisfied in their jobs against 64% of the non-purpose oriented, and purpose-oriented employees were 47% more likely to promote their employer externally, without incentive.

The good news is that most businesses have a purpose. It’s the reason the founders started the business in the first place. But all too often, as the company grows, the people within it lose touch with why the business exists. What’s more, the majority of brands’ communications are solely focused on the features and benefits of the product or service, completely ignoring that what actually excites people: their story.

It’s hard to engage customers without a captivating narrative, let alone potential employees who’d spend the biggest part of their waking hours working to make your business a success. Find your story and put it at the centre of all your communications, from your website to your job specs.

Keep it short, simple and specific

Once you’ve pinpointed your business story, it’s time to think about your messaging strategy. Jobseekers will only give you a few seconds to a few minutes of their attention. So, work out a messaging journey that starts with the impact your product or service has on customers and your vision of how you’re planning to grow the company.

Talk about the values you prioritise within the organisation and give specific examples. Phrases like “customer-centricity”, “a dynamic team culture” and “a focus on quality” could be about any business in the world, from a market fruit stand to an online retailer.

Make it as specific as possible, as short as you can and only use words that your 12-year old cousin would understand.

Attract through incentives

Your narrative is of course only half of the story (pun not intended). Businesses are getting more and more creative with their remuneration packages and candidates are aware. The next step is to review what you’re offering those people that will be on your side to fulfilling your purpose.

This is a topic that could fill a whole book, so we’ll just cover a few techniques here that you can use to attract and retain talent within your business.

Get employees to participate in the company’s success

It can be difficult, especially for early-stage startups with limited funding, to offer a market rate salary. However, it’s possible to offer employees the option to buy shares in the company which they can subsequently sell at a, hopefully significant, gain. Having ownership in the company can also make individuals more driven to help the company become a success.

It’s called a share option scheme and it typically works by allowing the employee to purchase an incremental number of shares depending on how long they work there. The idea is that the longer an employee has worked there, the more shares they have and therefore the larger capital gain they’ll make when an exit event occurs.

Typically only a small amount of equity is allocated to these share schemes, but there are plenty of other employee incentive techniques available that don’t require the company to release equity to employees.

Design your remuneration package

Pay packages have never been straightforward due to benefits such as healthcare, bonus schemes, gym memberships etc. The cost of providing these benefits can soon stack up and startups often find themselves in the position of not being able to provide exciting benefits due to the overall cost.

Using a more tailored approach to benefits can help save costs for the startup, yet continue to engage employees. A great example of this is London based startup, GoSweat. They’re tackling the problem of costly, unused corporate gym memberships by offering a more tailored approach – instead of employers offering a standard gym membership which might never get used, they offer individual classes that employees can book at a time and place that suits them – often a cheaper option for the employer but simultaneously provides more engagement for the employee.

Another upcoming benefit is unlimited paid holiday. It’s popular not just because it’s a great benefit to put on a job advert, but also because research has found that employees will actually take less holiday when they have this option.

The key is to take a step back when designing the remuneration package and think “are we offering this because it really matters, or just because everyone else is?”

Make culture part of your HR strategy

Along with a clearly communicated purpose, it’s fundamental to have a well-maintained culture. Despite popular belief, culture shouldn’t be left to grow organically. It needs to be cultivated and managed, and both existing and potential future employees need to be evaluated against it.

Having a designated “Chief People Officer” is often an essential element to successfully growing a young company. This role isn’t just a new name for the HR manager, it’s the person that ensures people are happy, people are listened to and people are always at the heart of the business. Keep your employees happy, and your customers will follow suit.

Accept that people will move on

If someone turns out not to be the right fit with your purpose, culture or your ambitions, it’s often best for both parties to move on. Additionally, the job requirements of employees within a high-growth start-up often change as quickly as the business does. That’s why it’s important to continually assess your communications, your remunerations and the people themselves. Don’t let your business happen, spend time and effort in cultivating and nurturing your business and you’ll reap the results for years to come.


Bram Vanoirbeek
Business Story Consultant, The Thing About Stories

Robert Collings
Tech & High Growth Manager, UHY Hacker Young