How Can I Recruit the Absolute Best Talent for My Startup?



I’m frequently asked by some of NYC’s sharpest entrepreneurs how and where I find strong talent. The question is typically followed by the assertion that it is hard to find enough good engineers in NYC and considerations about the west coast. I do some light questioning about their current methods and their approach towards recruiting after which the truth of the matter becomes clear; the best talent is rarely found—the people asking these questions are usually focused on the wrong problem.

Engineers are simply not waiting for you at the nearby Starbucks. They will not come introduce themselves to you when you make an appearance at the proper watering hole. An entrepreneur should not “hope” to find great talent somewhere; hope is not a strategy. The question you should be asking is NOT “how can I make a half-assed attempt at recruiting and achieve awesome results?” The best talent must be identified, engaged and secured. Success in this endeavor is a full-time effort. My advice is always to focus your energy on the smarter question: “How can I recruit the absolute best talent?’ The proper analysis of the problem should result in massive improvements in process and focus.

In April of 2008, I led a training session with TheLadders in Japan. Tokyo was going through record level sushi consumption. Complaints about sky-high price of sushi and concerns that there weren’t enough tuna were at an all-time high, yet people seemed driven to consume even more sushi. One headline captured the sentiment: “Where will we find more tuna?”

At 4am in the Tsujiki fish market the circus-like spectacle was alive with all sorts of exotic sea creatures! Smiling fishmongers invited us to their stations. Workers in uniforms zipped around on forklifts and other motored equipment carrying barrels teeming with squirming sea life. After the tuna auction, we spoke briefly with a fisherman captain responsible for a whole new load of freshly caught yellowtail and blue-fin tuna that all seemed to be at least 40 pounds, the optimal proportion for restaurant distribution. With the help of our interpreter, the excitement of this captain was clear: “Many, many fish. Need more boats, need more people. We have good system. We know how to bring fish.” If these fishermen had more crew, more boats, and more men they explained – then they would be able to catch more fish! Our captain was a man on fire ignited with the know-how, focus and passion for catching fish. He was in complete command of his crew; a rugged team of fisherman with the weathered look of an all night adventure. These guys knew exactly where to go and how to get all the fish they could carry safely back to shore. They were professionals at play in a vast ocean full of life, limited only by the capacity of their ships to bring in as much tuna as they desired. They knew how to work the nets, the boats, and the navigation of the seas. Every day, they set out on a new adventure and night after night they delivered an abundance of fresh catch for their loyal clients. They were not at all encumbered by the cries of those concerned with tuna scarcity. They had the knowledge, the systems and the process for methodically delivering high quality results for their restaurateur clients. Revered by their clients, they represented the key to success and a supply chain that ended with high-priced consumption of sushi. They represented the actualization of Tokyo restaurateurs’ entrepreneurial dreams.

The perceived shortage of NYC engineering talent in 2012 is a lot like the market for tuna in Tokyo 2008. The savvy entrepreneurs in NYC are the ones that understand that a sushi restaurant cannot operate without a steady supply of high quality tuna. And while they can happily ask their friends, neighbors, and bankers to put a line in the water and help them bring in a big fish, the most successful founders of high-growth startups will find a way to win by leveraging industrial grade systems and methodical process approach to identifying, targeting, approaching, screening and selecting the absolute best people, repeatedly.


Startups are about maximizing scarce resources and making big things happen. You can get this process started yourself. So, when you put on your recruiter hat, here is a plan of attack, which you must pursue aggressively (because the market is hot and many people are pursuing them):

  • Reach out to your network
  • Post on a job board
  • Reach out to your past employers alumni network and college alumni network
  • Reach out to the network of your executives, staff and investors
  • Reach out to newly acquired companies and competitive companies in your space

If you are serious about becoming a professionally run company that scales and about securing the absolute best talent, then hire the best-trained recruiting professionals you can afford. They will have developed strong processes and methodologies for delivering a steady pipeline of the best available talent. Further, they will give you access to people who would otherwise seem unavailable, happily employed elsewhere. They will maximize the efficient use of your time so that you are only meeting with a high quality pipeline of talent. And they will help you secure the closing of the best candidates. This way you can focus on the bigger question of “how can I serve the greatest number of people dealing with the problem of X and build the most awesome business?”




Reprinted by Permission

Image credit: CC by Steven Depolo

About the author: Dave Carvajal

Dave Carvajal built HotJobs (650 employees, IPO & $1.2B market cap then sold to Yahoo!) as Co-founder & TheLadders (400 employees, $80M revs) where he focused on attracting, retaining and developing all employees. These days he’s asked by top VCs and CEOs of high-growth startups to build their Boards and leadership teams with the top 1% of A+ executive talent. He is an Ironman and lives in NJ with his wife where he is co-founder of twin boys and a pup named Clover.

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