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Technology industry executives talk talent: Part 1

How do I attract talent in the tech industry?

INSIGHT ARTICLE  | 

Our featured panelists

  • Arion Long, Founder and CEO, Femly
  • Shira Kramer, Founder and CEO, Sterilex
  • Smitha Gopal, CEO, Rendia
  • Kristen Valdes, Founder and CEO, b.well

A leading challenge for middle market technology companies continues to be attracting and retaining highly skilled talent. With overall unemployment at 4 percent as well as continued job growth—according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, nonfarm payroll employment increased by 304,000 jobs in January 2019—businesses, including those in the technology industry, must be vigilant and strategic in their search for top talent in an incredibly competitive marketplace.

RSM recently tackled this topic at TEDCO’s Entrepreneur Expo where we facilitated a panel discussion with technology company founders and CEOs. What follows is part 1 of their discussion summary covering their insights.

What are your companies facing regarding attracting and retaining talent?

Arion Long, Founder and CO, Femly: To be quite honest, I was the team for a while. I think that surprised people because so much was getting done and I’d won quite a few pitch competitions and people were shocked to find out that it was only me. Team building is something that’s very new. We have only really started in the last six months. Finding talent was pretty tough, but I found that the right people kind of found me, instead of me going out to look for them. For me that included just being present.

Shira Kramer, Founder and CEO, Sterilex: There are certain types and categories of talent, like sales professionals, that have continued to be a challenge to attract for us. The challenges of an early-stage company are very different from where we are today, where we have resources in our company and have much more of a stable, world organization. To address the issues today, I think the major factor that leads to success in our model is company culture. We have a very strong commitment to company culture where individuals in our company feel like they’re really part of the family, that their opinions are not only requested, but respected, that there is respect for one another and a comfort level.  We have a flexible model where certain employees are allowed to work either full or part-time remotely. We have a growing and very generous benefits package, including paid parental leave.

Smitha Gopal, CEO, Rendia: We have the challenges of being bootstrapped, but then also being of a size now where we’re figuring out whether we want a generalist or a specialist for certain roles. A few years ago we said, “Let’s just hire smart people and they’re going to do components of 11 different jobs,” like a jack-of-all-trades model. As we’ve grown, we’ve started to think about hiring more and more specialists for positions. I think it’s a challenge to find people that you think are going to be able to do that role if they haven’t done it in the past, necessarily. We hire many people that are either right out of college or have a couple of years’ experience. For them it’s a stretch job and they’re doing new things, which is awesome. But it’s also figuring out, are they going to be able to develop the skill set that we need? And, more important, are they going to be really as passionate about this job in six months as they are right now when they’re interviewing for it, given that they haven’t done it in the past? You have to build that trust between the employer and the employee that together you’re going to tread this course and you are going to do some job crafting and make it successful for both parties.

As any start-up that is moving into the growth phase and you’re expanding very rapidly, it’s not just about finding people who have the skill set to do the job. Rather, we recruit specifically on passion. If people can come in and articulate why they want to work for our company, why they feel like it is a mission for them, we find that they are significantly more likely to stay with us long-term.

- Kristen Valdes, Founder and CEO, b.well

Kristen Valdes, Founder and CEO, b.well: Our challenge in recruiting, hiring and building a team is very simple: it’s technology. We’re competing with the giants in the industry as well as everyone who’s trying to launch a business that’s in cloud-based computing. We also have a problem just in general because our colleges and universities aren’t training in the text apps that are being applied in the technology industry today. One of the strategies that we’ve taken is I’ve joined a number of university and college advisory boards to help them craft classes and create course curriculum that will become feeders into the (industry) landscape. As any start-up that is moving into the growth phase and you’re expanding very rapidly, it’s not just about finding people who have the skillset to do the job. Rather, we recruit specifically on passion. If people can come in and articulate why they want to work for our company, why they feel like it is a mission for them, we find that they are significantly more likely to stay with us long-term.

How are you identifying passionate people?

Long: One thing we’ve done is to include a multistep interview process. Before I was just going out, finding people or they were finding me. We had a conversation and we kind of started and hit the ground running. Now it’s three or four steps. When we meet, we talk about how we work as a team. You get acquainted with what it is we do. We provide a one-pager. You come in and visit us for a day in the office so you have an idea of the general landscape, all of the data and analytics, because as a subscription-based company with a young founder, a lot of people look at what we do and say, “Oh, how cute.” But they don’t realize there’s real data behind it and there’s a lot of development that goes on with the subscription industry managing who we have coming in. Not only that, I think I can definitely speak more to allowing people to put their passion in the forefront and craft their goals with the idea that they will be with us a long time if things work out. If you’re someone who comes in and you have experience in the marketing/communications sector in data analytics, that’s great, but I also want to know that you care.

Kramer: We also have a multistep interview process where a number of individuals from different divisions of our company interview the candidate at our offices after a series of screening interviews as well. We expect a candidate to express himself or herself. They really have to demonstrate to us that they have researched the company, that they understand what we do and why we do it, that they’re really interested in what our history is. I think you can tell after a day of conversation a great deal about a candidate. You can also look at their past history. Are they individuals who have a different job every single year? Do they really become committed to a particular company?

Gopal: I think passion is very hard to fake and in a good interview, you should not be doing most of the talking. You should be letting the candidate do most of the talking. The more you can be quiet and listen to them, the more their authentic self will shine through.

Are you leveraging social media and other strategies for recruiting?

Valdes: LinkedIn has been a great tool and asset for us. When we go to conferences and events like this and we see someone talking that really seems to have the points that align with what our mission is, I’m literally in the audience trying to connect with them saying, “I loved your point about this. I’d really love to buy you a coffee.” It’s amazing how many people are looking for that something new or that next step or wanting to be part of a mission where their experience can really lend that passion. We’ve been very fortunate to be able to connect with those people throughout the country and try to recruit them.

Gopal: As a founder, you have to always have that recruiter mindset, even if it isn’t about an open position. When you meet people or you form your relationships, considering them as either a future employee or as somebody who can make that introduction, you have to always have in the back of your head, could you work with me some day? Can I convince you? Maybe not today, but in six months, 12 months? Some of our best hires have been people out of that happenstance. They weren’t looking. I wasn’t looking, but we met, we connected. It seemed mutually beneficial and then from there a position evolved and it’s worked out really well in each of those cases.

For additional insights on this topic, check out the following. Also, for more information and assistance in your acquisition and retention efforts, contact our people and organization practice professionals.

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