How can your start-up compete with Big Tech when it comes to recruiting talent?

4 min

Talent in Boston and major tech hubs have options, so how do you compete when tech powerhouses have Big Data, funds, and brand reputation behind them? Let’s take a deep dive into how to make sure your start-up is as a desirable place to work as possible, so you secure the most sought-after professionals working in emerging tech and can scale up effectively.

Unsurprisingly, a recent graduate from MIT will often have a host of offers awaiting them when it comes to engineering, research, and scientist jobs. Those mid-level to senior also have an inbox full of headhunters trying to get their attention, so how do you cut through all the noise?

As a specialist tech recruiter we’re seeing what priorities are working post the start of the pandemic, and how start-ups are attracting great talent in the face of much larger competition.

There is, of course, an investment when it comes to time and resources when you’re already stretched for time, but the resultant pay-off when it comes to funding and achieving goals can be huge with the right ream in place who genuinely love working for you.

The bottom line isn’t everything

Firstly, it’s important to note that not every offer is just about salary (even though Big Tech has deep pockets), and with counter-offers from current employers increasingly commonplace in the market, the remuneration has to be part of your overall package. Gen Z and millennials fresh out of the best colleges are more discerning than ever when it comes to the offer they accept in this highly competitive marketplace.

Let’s break down what should be part of your strategy to attract the best tech talent:

1)     Give a clear impression of company culture (and what makes it special)

Often the reason people stay and move on elsewhere when we engage with tech professionals is a difference in work culture expectations in the interview process vs. reality. The pandemic (and resulting ‘Great Resignation – i.e. in August alone 4.3 million Americans resigned) has shed a light on ‘passion economy’ and checking in that your work is truly fulfilling you.

What does this mean? Your start-up must be transparent – how you market and share your company culture should be first, be representative, so talent doesn’t feel deceived, and secondly, celebrate your practices and benefits you offer. Tech talent wants to be part of a culture that drives innovation, and stats indicate some employees actually value workplace culture above healthcare benefits.

​"Nurturing your company culture is an ongoing project and weaved into your brand image and how you present yourself – from your website to hiring practices. The impact is huge when it comes to innovation, a workforce that enjoys working together, revenue, and more."

Nurturing your company culture is an ongoing project and weaved into your brand image and how you present yourself – from your website to hiring practices. The impact is huge when it comes to innovation, a workforce that enjoys working together, revenue, and more.

It’s vital to share what your values are with every prospective employee that you meet. Perks may seem old-school, but if your office has a casual dress code, food in the kitchen, an open-door policy to pets, celebrates its employees’ achievements and the team hang out socially, shout about this, as they may just be the difference between someone choosing your company over another.

The modern professional is also more socially conscious than ever, so if a certain commitment to the environment is integral to how you run your business, for example, let a candidate know in the recruitment process.


2)     Be flexible (and not just on paper)

 “Gen Z-ers are playing the game — it’s not about jumping up titles but moving into better work environments according to the New York Times. A recent survey of 6,500 business leaders and 11,000 workers, conducted by Harvard Business School and Boston Consulting Group, showed that the vast majority said employees’ expectations for flexible, autonomous work; better work-life balance; and remote working were what was most urgently affecting their businesses.

Professionals expect flexibility – for Gen Z and millennials it’s not so much a demand anymore but essential, and will leave or turn down a job if the in-office/work from home commitment doesn’t suit their preference and commitments. This has filtered into workplace standards everywhere, as professionals with care responsibilities have had a taste of increased flexibility in the pandemic and expect it now.

What can you do? If you’re a small set-up, a remote-friendly working environment and flexi-time, a healthy amount of vacation time (including for big life events), and time for things outside work, so work and life run in harmony, is essential for attracting talent. It’s also important to make clear what communication will look like and how projects are run when your employees are working remotely so a candidate has the clearest view of what working for you will be like.


3)     Refine your value proposition

As a start-up, it’s essential to use your size as an advantage, as this is a key part of your competitive advantage versus big names in tech. Large companies have training programs, internships, and automatic kudos, but teams are naturally larger so offering a more personal touch and greater responsibility (and therefore development) impacting exciting projects is what sets you apart.

Certain individuals thrive in a start-up environment, and you have a fantastic opportunity to highlight to them how you can offer someone work purpose, personal growth, and like-minded people, over a long list of perks. There’s room to ignite someone’s passion about what you do and/or are working towards by sharing your product vision, and how they can support making it a reality and change the future technological landscape. This, for some candidates, is more exciting than being part of a big team within a large company of over 100 employees, with less influence, where things usually take longer to happen.

With the world of emerging tech consistently evolving, the more learning and development offered within the role the better (both for your employee and your company to avoid the risk of technical debt). A recent Workplace Learning and Development Report from LinkedIn showed 94 percent of staff would stay at a company longer if it invested more in their career development.

The appetite for knowledge of working with the latest tech and upskilling is huge among candidates we engage with, so make sure your overall offering to your team includes the time and resources to support their development. As a small company, you can benefit from personalizing an employee’s development path and having regular first-hand meetings about their role (and future) in the company.


4)     Offer company equity

An industry-level salary, insurance, and 401(k) plans are a solid part of a company’s offering, but offering company equity can be both a great financial incentive and motivator. Large companies being unable to offer substantial vesting opportunities like smaller companies can mean it can be a key point of difference, and only strengthens the candidate’s commitment to what you’re building.


5)     Have a great hiring process in place


Your hiring process can be the difference between hiring ‘good’ and ‘great’ talent, especially in an extremely active hiring market. This involves having a strong network of the brightest talent, understanding how to approach them, and then conducting a professional, slick recruitment process with the necessary communication to secure the right hires.

How can you fit this around working on your product, trying to nail down the funding you hope for, and having a life outside of work? Well, simply put, sometimes you can’t.

Working with a recruitment partner can provide the professionalism and hiring expertise you need from the start of the process, and save you a lot of time that you can dedicate towards running your start-up.

"Working with a recruitment partner can provide the professionalism and hiring expertise you need from the start of the process, and save you a lot of time that you can dedicate towards running your start-up."

As tech recruiters working in the heart of Boston (with networks in New York and around the US), we know the market inside out when it comes to AI & machine learning, hardware acceleration, quantum computing, photonics, and other niche markets in emerging tech, and we know what talent looks like. Our wider recruitment group has been working in partnership with leading names in tech for over a decade, in the UK and US – read about our origins in machine learning recruitment.

Our expert team can take the stress out of competing with Big Tech for talent, find the right cultural and skill fit for your start-up, and support you whether you just need one engineer or a whole team of engineers, researchers, and scientists.

Final thoughts

In time you’ll find these factors will not just attract, but allow you to retain your tech talent, creating huge value for your start-up in the long-term as it goes from strength to strength when it comes to funding and your presence in your market.

Want to discuss your hiring needs? Get in touch with us to find out more about how Acceler8 Talent can propel your start-up and future growth.