10/25/2017 12:00:00 AM
Egypt’s Startup Race For Talent
Hiring the right talent is hard, but hiring the right talent for a startup is even harder. This is especially true in a small ecosystem like Egypt. From my experience working with a number of startups in Egypt, acquiring and retaining talent is a challenge that most startups’ founders face. As a young company with limited resources, one team member can make a huge difference not just in the growth of the startup but also in attracting other talent and investors.
There are a number of both direct and indirect ways of attracting talent. Most of them are about how you approach and engage talent and some are about highlighting what you have to offer as a startup.
Get to know the talent
The fact that you will at some point need to hire smart and talented young people for your startup should come as no surprise. You should always be working to build a strong network of these smart and talented young people. When you talk to them make sure you can help them visualize working as part of your team, even if you’re not hiring right now. When you attend events, don’t miss an opportunity to speak about your company and how cool it is and how cool it is working with your team.
Always be ready to build that network. Invest time in people you might want to hire and build long-lasting relationships with them.
Know who you’re looking for
So the time has come to hire. As a first step, it is essential to identify who exactly you are looking for. To do that, a good first step is always to write out in great detail your dream job description for the position you wish to fill.
This will help you understand the far corners of the type of individual you are looking for or even if this kind of individual is available or possible to find. It will also help you understand how to compensate them appropriately and how to talk to them about what you need them to do when you first approach them for a position.
Additionally, during the initial search, you will need to spend long hours searching, screening and reviewing candidate profiles; so writing out that job description will help you identify the keywords you need to be looking for in their resumes or portfolios.
Look for versatility and a spectrum of experience
When you’re hiring for a corporate role you typically look for stability and core experience. Someone who has been doing a very specific job and getting better at it for a certain period of time. If you find someone who has been jumping around quite a bit that’s usually a red flag.
When you’re hiring for a startup, it’s a little different. Be careful though, you don’t want someone who has been jumping around aimlessly. You want someone who has been jumping around with purpose as they acquire new sets of skills and add more to their arsenal. Someone who moves once they’ve achieved something material. Focus on the quality of their time at an organization rather than the “quantity” or amount of time they spend at an organization.
No more interviews; test real skills
The classic interview of asking a candidate to tell you about their accomplishments is long dead. You need to ask more specific and probing questions that help you identify key traits and skills that you have previously determined in the job description are required for the role.
More importantly, you really need to test a candidates’ real skills and the best way to do that is to give them a standard assignment or project that is directly related to the day-to-day of the job they are going to be doing. These projects set a helpful baseline for skills and weed out applicants unwilling to put in the time to complete them.
Let the team meet ”the new guy”
For small teams, every new employee has a profound effect on team culture and norms. As a result, a buy-in from your team is imperative for every hire.
There aren’t too many ways to do this without making it too awkward. An option is that during the final selection process you can have every potential hire meet with the team and have them work together on a quick assignment or group task. This gives you a chance to test how well the new hire will work with the team. If things are going well and there seems to be cultural fit, maybe you can then take the group out to see how they interact socially.
Flaunt what you’ve got because you’ve got a lot
We all have these images about wearing what you want, bean bags, meditation sessions and cool team bonding activities as well as the holy grail of flexible working hours and flexible working locations – a huge attraction for young talent is to be able to work home. If you’ve got these perks, definitely flash them but make sure they are very real and accessible before you do so. No one likes fake perks.
Employee share option pool! Don’t forget to speak volumes about how startups offer employees equity. Naturally this varies based on when an employee joins and their role (You can read more in another A15 blog post here). This can be a life changing opportunity. Don’t down play it. Also don’t over play it. Be honest about the inherent risks of being part of a startup and the fact that at the end of the day this equity could be worthless. More importantly, when you promise equity make sure the paperwork is ready when the employee signs the contract. No one likes to have to keep chasing around for a promise once made. Not cool.
As more and more young talent leaves Egypt for more lucrative opportunities abroad, and because of the increasing competition for talent; it will become more and more challenging to find the right talent. It will even be more challenging to retain them. It will also become a lot more expensive. As this materializes and it is inevitable (sadly), remember that there are other ways to attract talent. Do not be afraid to get creative and above all be genuine.