Where Are You?

As the nearly famous Edgar Lee Phillips once remarked, you can go anywhere you want if you?re lost. Which is fine when it comes to directions but another thing entirely when it comes to recruiting for an Internet start-up. You simply can?t hire well if you don?t know what you?re looking for. This held true in the past days of classified ads, and it?s doubly true in today?s world of Internet-based recruiting. And determining what you?re looking for serves as only one piece of the puzzle, because you must also determine the ? brace yourself for a hundred dollar phrase ? organizational maturity of your company. ?Organizational maturity? is a mouthful, to be sure, but even if job seekers don?t use those exact words, the best candidates in today?s tight market consider it their right to know where your company is today, and will be tomorrow, in pursuit of its goals. Regardless of the exact words, one thing to count on is the inevitable question, where are you? That?s because today?s valuable job seekers use the Internet as one powerhouse of a tool, and as result they don?t just have availability to more information, they expect it. This means they?ll take advantage of a slew of online resources to find out as much as they can about your company ? from compensation to current openings to culture. You name it, they?ll expect to know the answer. Weird as it may sound, they?ll expect more concrete information on these issues from a start-up than they would from most any other prospective employer. Given that so much information is available online, you better be ready for a quick but sound answer on where your company is. In fact, you?ve got a vested interest in answering this question well. A different stage of organizational maturity means a different approach to the missions of finding and keeping a strong team, and keeping that team happy. No easy task. With this in mind, consider that there are 3 basic types of Internet start-ups:

  1. For companies who are seeking or have just received funding, they?re most likely in a managed growth phase. They?ve gotten where they are by moving carefully, trying to hire only what?s needed and being cautious with regards to salary and position. These companies may have 5 employees or 50, but they?ve got a core set of people. However, if anything they?re under-talented and most assuredly understaffed. Motivation?s not yet an issue ? there?s excitement in the air ? but finding the right help remains an ongoing challenge. Particularly since even if they?ve received money, these start-ups haven?t yet had time to spend much of it. The first mission is to hire good help rapidly, but to do it in a sensible manner. There?s time to locate the right help, although it?s rapidly becoming a burden.
  2. For those start-ups who?ve gotten their funding and now have a clear mandate to grow quickly, they?ve found themselves in a rapid growth phase. The staff has to grow faster than anyone originally thought possible. The projections shoot right off the Visio drawing board. There?s barely any time to interview or wade through resumes, but no time not to do it either. Interestingly enough, recruiters become an option because money?s not an issue, but this isn?t a perfect fix because most recruiters simply can?t find the right candidates ? particularly since in a rapid growth phase the fit of the individual is just as important as the talent. It?s hard enough to grow quickly without filling up an area with high maintenance employees who are intimidated by the growth itself. Also, talent is at a premium. Everyone who?s hired needs to have talent in spades.
  3. For those who?ve had a year or more since funding and/or have gone public, the heat?s not off by any means but they?ve probably moved to an extended growth phase. Sanity has returned, to some extent, and the hiring process can at least go from being frantic to being relentless. There?s time to find the right candidates, and in all likelihood the goal is placing plenty of Indians, since the chiefs should be on hand at this point. As in the previous phase, though, talent is of utmost importance. The focus isn?t on short-term staffing either, but much thought is (or should be) given to the next 12 to 24 months.

If using the above examples on growth phases help to answer this nagging ?where are you?? question, then knowing what to do with this information helps those lost souls like Edgar Lee Phillips find their way home. Start-ups must use the same care and strategy in attracting, retaining, and motivating employees that they invested on their business plans. This means spending equal time and energies on this trifecta, as if these were ingredients in a recipe. Case in point: these companies must have a plan of action for recruiting, retaining, and motivating their employees, and developing this plan means having answers to some of the questions that appear on the short list below:

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  • How are you recruiting candidates? (for example, classifieds ads, online ads, recruiters..)
  • What?s your main recruiting tool? (Opportunity to join a start-up, salary, stock options, bonus?)
  • How promptly are you responding to candidates? (same day, 1 to 2 weeks, depends?)
  • How many times do you typically interview candidates? (once, twice, three times, more?)
  • When you?ve identified a top candidate, how quickly do you offer a job?
  • What are your expectations when using a recruiter?
  • What creative measures have you taken to reward and retain excellent employees?
  • Do you have an organizational chart on hand to support twice the staff you have today?

In the end, recruiting for an Internet start-up may bear many similarities to recruiting elsewhere. However, life with a start-up is a highly condensed one, where the company?s evolution occurs so rapidly that continual planning becomes an absolute necessity. Having ready answers to where you are and what you need are essential if you plan to thrive in the fast lane of Internet start-ups.

Jack Williams (jack.williams@computerjobs.com) is the chief operating officer of ComputerJobs.com, the Internet's leading employment web site for Information Technology professionals and those who employ them. Jack has served ComputerJobs since 1998, and he's been working within IT throughout his career in a variety of technical and management roles. He claims to possess a deadly 20-foot jump shot.

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