6 Ways to Harness Local Talent for Your Startup

It’s a common assumption in startups these days: In order to find good talent, you have to look toward Silicon Valley or New York, even if you’re based in mid-America. The thought goes that if you want to grow faster, you need “experienced” startup talent from a larger market.

But this approach may not work for all companies. The high saturation of Silicon Valley businesses — all looking for the same talent — can make it nearly impossible to convince top workers to leave the area.

Other businesses might avoid this tactic for personality reasons, especially those with cultures that don’t mesh with the Silicon Valley mold. Northern Nevada natives built my company, with a ranch-raised central team based in humility, ingenuity, integrity, and accountability — not exactly the style major firms tend to crank out.

Bristlecone Holdings team members
The Bristlecone Holdings team members – source: Glassdoor

As a result of these issues, the best way to find talent for your business’s particular needs may just be looking close to home.

Recruiting from home has benefits for more than just your company. Local investments like these can have a strong positive impact on the community as well. Companies like Amazon, Clear Capital, and Zappos all became wildly successful flagship startups in secondary markets, and their cities benefited from that.

When handled with care, a locally focused approach to recruitment could be the best approach to making your company — and the neighborhood around it — the best it can be.

A Guide to Startup Recruiting at Home

Convincing local talent to take a risk on a startup can be challenging, but it’s not impossible. If you add in a few of these strategies, you can quickly become one of the best places to work in your market.

1. Build a strong employer brand

Use a company hashtag, and encourage employees to contribute to the company conversation online. Leverage not only your own social feeds, but also those of engaged and willing employees. This will serve as a window into your company and attract top talent.

One company that does this well is Buffer. The social sharing tool company has become well-known as a great place to work, mostly because employees blog and post about their great experiences on the job. As your employer brand grows, candidates will begin to trust you more and more.

2. Prioritize your employees

Your team members are your best asset, so treat them like that from day one. With only 13 percent of all employees worldwide feeling engaged in their work, there’s a lot still to be done in this regard.

There are a lot of ways to prioritize your employees, from flexible working hours to onsite breakfast to providing a membership to local gyms. One of the best strategies, though, is equity. Startups, especially in small markets, are likely to attract intrapreneurs — employees who get as much enjoyment from risk-taking and innovation as the founders do. Offering equity will not only attract like-minded people, but the ownership will also help them take those risks.’

3. Focus on work environment

Provide an office that is full of challenge, but also undeniably fun. A positive work environment can lead to employees who are 20 percent more productive and 90 percent more likely to stay with the company. Strengthen personal bonds with each employee as much as possible — fostered through the lens of mutual connection to your community — and help them see the bigger purpose you all have for coming to work.

A focus on positivity in the office can both attract potential employees and make vocal advocates out of your existing team. Engaged employees will not only work harder, but they will also become your biggest brand ambassadors. Provide an environment (as well as a product) they can be proud of.

Happy employees
photo credit: Nestle / Flickr

4. Groom talent

When possible, hire leaders who already have some collaboration with your company. They can be partners in business or in community involvement. This strategy allows you to have a better understanding about how the new hire will fit into your company.

Most of the time, if you get the right cultural fit, you can train employees in needed skill sets. A worker with a poor cultural fit, on the other hand, can lead to turnover — often costing businesses as much as 60 percent of that person’s salary in losses. Work alongside these leaders to get a feel for their work ethic and general ethos, and if they fit into your company, find them a spot fast!

5. Develop a strategy for assessing and evaluating candidates

Because you aren’t pulling from the Silicon Valley farm of candidates, you’ll need a more sophisticated HR system for screening any potential new hires. Search for clues toward a candidate’s potential with the company — not just education or direct experience.

My company integrates data-based decision-making into HR decisions as well. Candidates go through a series of self-assessments and interviews, which allow us to determine the right jobs and culture fits for them. This helps us weave in new team members who match with the core team already in place.

6. Be politically active

Help mold local and state legislation that will impact entrepreneurs, startups, and their employees. This not only helps the ecosystem, but it also increases your company’s visibility as a champion for business and employees.

Maintaining the effort to recruit locally requires some heavy lifting, but competing for top talent in big markets isn’t easy, either. If you’re building in a secondary market, consider looking close to home for your talent. You’ll be surprised at the rewards of hiring homegrown employees.

This article was co-authored by Kelsey Martin, director of people of culture.