How to Hire at a Software Startup as You Scale

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Despite the buzz of excitement around entrepreneurship in Pakistan, it is not always easy to entice the brightest young engineers to work for new companies with unfamiliar names. The best coders in the United States often find their calling in an unfamiliar venture that sounds promising and choose it over the likes of Facebook, Microsoft and Google. But graduating software engineers in Pakistan are more likely to eye local behemoths like Techlogix, Netsol or Gameview Studios.

The truth is that younger, leaner software houses are mushrooming by the dozen in key cities, especially Lahore and Islamabad. They tend to have niche specializations in mobile applications or games, with founding teams composed of motivated, competent individuals who set the wheels in motion. But once it comes time to scale, it is necessary to recruit sharp young talent who can pick up new technology platforms rapidly and communicate and function in the stressful environment of a startup.

In my experience, it is still possible for startups to skim for talent at top institutions. Your approach simply needs to be very different from that of an established software house, which is likely to have a presence at most major career fairs. The truth is that these career fairs may not be the best way to target the best and brightest software engineers.

A savvy software startup would see the value in saving money by holding an official presentation on the campuses of the most promising institutions instead of buying a kiosk at a job fair. A presentation is virtually free to set up, and since few companies in Pakistan opt for such presentations, your enterprise will stand out. Ideally, you should set up the event well before the main career fairs for the year, in order to secure a first mover advantage.

Software startups looking to sell themselves to potential employees should also not wax lyrical about their formal achievements like a typical corporation. It’s more poignant to share your personal story of success and defeat or why you opted off the beaten path and tried something different in life. You need to communicate how your product vision and work environment set you apart from competitors. Chances are that the individuals in the audience who are most appropriate for working in a startup will sit up and take notice.

Such presentations are also an ideal place to get much needed face time with the most promising candidates. Larger corporations tend to have fairly mechanical recruitment processes involving a battery of bureaucratic interviews with a range of people in the same office. When recruiting for a startup, you are much better off personalizing the process. It’s wonderful if potential hires have at least one chance to immerse themselves in your work environment, but they would appreciate it if you mixed things up.

Perhaps arrange to meet some of your most promising candidates in coffee shops to have a candid discussion on the challenges and privileges of working at your company. Offer to talk to their parents if that helps. Chances are you will be targeting fresh young individuals who will appreciate the role you might play in convincing their parents of the wisdom behind their decision.   

Ultimately, startups need to realize that the pool of applicants they are going after is much more select and exclusive than that which is prized by traditional companies. The process of identifying the right candidates need not be expensive but it requires a little extra effort to make the process meaningful. 

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