The “Problem” with Startup Recruiting

Dec 4, 2012

If you’re a startup recruiter, before you set out to compete for world-class talent, ask your client, “why will the 20th talented person to join your startup join your startup?”

It’s a question that Peter Thiel, PayPal co-founder and venture capitalist, is notorious for asking entrepreneurs seeking his investment. Armed with the “right” answer, entrepreneurs win investors like Thiel (who was the first outside investor in Facebook) and recruiters win prized talent.

Now, before you run a mental checklist of possible answers, assume that:

  • Your candidate will make more money at Google (Apple, Facebook, Zynga, etc.)
  • Google, et al looks better on a resume
  • Many enterprises are now offering startup perks (catering, flexible hours, awesome culture, ping pong table, etc.)

So what’s the answer?

According to Thiel, “the 20th talented person will join your startup because your startup is working on an interesting and important problem.”

You see, startup talent want to move society forward. They are driven by feats with a lasting impact on the world. Yes, established companies affect millions with their innovations, but it’s startups — young and unencumbered — who attempt the impossible.

If you — on behalf of your client — can appeal to your candidates’ larger-than-life ambition by expressing the pains of a problem truly worth solving, the best and brightest will work with you. If nothing else, you will engage in conversation that transcends job requisitions, company culture, and compensation. As a recruiter, that’s not only your competitive advantage, it’s your contribution to an exclusive club of businesses that are changing the world.

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