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Stop hunting unicorns, and other tips for hiring and keeping tech talent

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on March 17, 2023
Stop hunting unicorns, and other tips for hiring and keeping tech talent

It’s easy to get confused about the current state of the job market, and whether to feel happy or concerned. 

By some measures, things are great! Hiring is booming, with employers in the United States adding more than 311,000 jobs to their payrolls in February 2023. Even if this is a slight decline from the number of jobs added in January, the unemployment rate stateside is still hovering around its lowest point since 1969 at 3.6 percent. 

But when you take a closer look at the numbers—specifically as they relate to knowledge workers and the startup ecosystem—things become much less cut and dry. 

For starters, the role of the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) is broadening to encompass more responsibilities and skill sets. As with many corporate roles, technology is changing the day-to-day of the CFO, and budgeting for IT alone has become a major undertaking for startups and enterprises alike. 

As such, tenures for CFOs are shrinking—even as salaries rise—as two different responses to the “new CFO mandate” play out. On the one hand, business leaders are on the hunt for financial managers that may be a better fit for their immediate needs compared to legacy hires. On the other hand, CFOs themselves aren’t hesitating to switch companies when more lucrative or otherwise enriching opportunities come their way. 

Even for non-CFO financial expertise, employers are feeling a squeeze. Roughly 90% of the 6,000 accountants and auditors polled by Casewire in February reported that finding the right talent was their fastest-growing challenge today as they ramp up adoption of cloud services, data analytics and business intelligence to enhance their services.

This story aligns closely to the larger themes of the Great Reshuffle, where new ways of working are forcing employers to rethink their ideas about not just how and where work gets done, but by who. It’s also an arc that those working in the startup and tech sector have become all too familiar with over the past few years, as competition for talent has arguably never been higher.

How can startups find the right talent for their business in the current market?

Look within before reaching out

According to Boast AI’s Head of Talent and Development Anadri Chisolm-Noel, businesses often need to look within and really consider the talent they already have before opening the floor to applicants for critical roles. 

Chisolm-Noel explains. “But no one is perfect! It’s important to look at the potential that someone already on your team might have, and to really consider what it might take to get that person to be the perfect fit for a given position.”

Chisolm-Noel goes on to explain that there may be candidates on a given team that might have 75 percent of the skills needed to handle the tasks of a more senior position. With a little mentoring, for instance, or enrolling that employee in a course, they may become the perfect candidate sooner (and with less ultimate investment) than if teams looked for a new hire out of the gate. 

It also boils down to some companies only “looking for unicorns,” Chisolm-Noel adds, with employers often turning a blind eye to connections or relationships that could pay off with a little bit of nurturing. 

“We always look for the unicorn—especially when interviewing—but unicorns are extremely rare, just like when it comes to startups. I just don’t think we need to put that kind of pressure into the hiring process, and yet we often do,” Chisolm-Noel continues. 

When all else fails, expand your horizons

It’s also incumbent on founders to look beyond their traditional “talent banks” if they are struggling to find the best fits for their needs. For instance, many founders favor a local university or institution and will regularly pull from their networks in those circles to fill immediate jobs. While this is a great resource, it can also be limiting.

One of the great things about the ability to work remotely, however, is that expertise can come from virtually anywhere. Not only is geography much less of a factor for many roles, but even how individuals went about building their resumes no longer has to follow a traditional college or university track: almost anyone can access courses or trainings online to up-level their skills in today’s market. 

As for actually keeping talent in the face of shrinking tenure? As Chisolm-Noel explains, it comes down to delivering experiences for coworkers that make them really want to stay. 

“Making sure you’re investing in your talent, and providing opportunities for growth, is a constant desire for all workers, regardless of what generation they’re a part of. If you provide experiences that make people reluctant to leave, they’ll stick around.” 

On the other hand, with so many experiences out there for workers to take advantage of, folks are simply more fluid in the current market, Chisolm-Noel confirms. 

This only scratches the surface on where founders can start in ensuring they’re finding the right people for their team. There’s no single strategy—and every startup truly is different when it comes to the individuals who can help teams succeed.

To learn more about what it takes to find and retain top talent, join #InnovatorsLive on LinkedIn every Friday at 12pm ET/9 am PT, where we invite experts to share their hard-earned expertise in helping startups find the talent they need to thrive.


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