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Ambition and alignment: Where the battle for talent is won and lost

Attracting and retaining high-calibre talent is a fundamental part of building any successful business. However, at a time when competition is fiercer than ever before within the Dutch tech ecosystem, the recruitment process has become a growing challenge for founders to navigate.

According to the most recent Atomico State of European Tech report, tech talent shortages continue to be an issue in the Netherlands—a trend amplified by both the pandemic and Brexit—with 36% of founders believing the size of the country’s talent pool had decreased.

To discuss the battle for talent, and to shed light on what businesses should be doing to strengthen their recruitment process, we invited Michiel Roodenburg (CFO, Crisp), Ingeborg van Harten (Founder, 7people & ex-Head of People and Places, Mollie) and Gwem Burbidge (CHRO, WeTransfer) to share some of their own experiences on the subject. 

Branding is half the battle

Much of the recruitment process—particularly in the case of startups—is spent explaining who and what your brand actually is. If you’re able to build a strong, distinct identity ahead of time, you streamline the process significantly as candidates will already be at least somewhat familiar with your mission statement. 

Making use of relevant brand ambassadors is an incredibly effective way of forming this identity, reducing your reliance on recruiters to convey this vital messaging. Great leadership also goes a long way in attracting strong talent, and don’t undervalue the impact of speaking at conferences to help boost your brand recognition within your desired talent pool.

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Work with what you have

Each and every member of your existing team has their own potentially priceless network of contacts that could lead to your next key hire. 

Introduce incentives and reward schemes for valuable recommendations that lead to hires. Ask your team where the talent is, what events they go to, what podcasts they listen to—it’s only logical that you make use of what is right in front of you, particularly when budgets are tight. 

There is one caveat with this, however. Hiring this way can limit diversity as your search is usually confined to people with values similar to your existing workforce, so make sure your recruitment approach strikes a good balance. Scaleups must be aware that hiring diverse talent means you should be open to hire for a ‘culture-add’ not just a ‘culture-fit’.

Optimisation meets ambition

Recruiting is a time to be ambitious, and definitely isn’t a time to cut corners. You need to think 2-4 years ahead, hire people who are more senior than they need to be at present so they can help you grow. 

Look for below-executive level top employees from your competitors who want to make the step up to executive level, and use your advisory board to convince more senior talent to join in cases where you can’t match their current salary.

Flaunt your values

A crucial part of cementing that concrete brand identity is wearing your values proudly on your sleeve for all potential candidates to see. From there, they’ll have a much clearer idea whether these values are in line with their own, saving your business a huge amount of both time and money.

Younger generations now look for a greater sense of purpose when it comes to work, meaning while it can be trickier to find the perfect match, once you do, they are vastly driven and loyal if that alignment is present.

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It’s the little things

At WeTransfer, every new employee gets a drawn picture of themselves, while at Crisp candidates get food during the interview to emphasise its importance to the business’ culture—these personal touches are fairly straightforward, but can be the difference in a candidate choosing you over a competitor. 

The last couple of years have vastly changed our relationship with, and attitudes towards, work. As founders face up to a shrinking talent pool, Brexit red tape and the pandemic aftermath, a fresh, more personal approach to recruitment is necessary if you’re to gain an edge in the ecosystem.


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