Competing for top notch talent at a startup organization

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Challenges and potential solutions to recruiting top talent against large organizations

Recruiting in the supply chain industry for a startup company

There are many benefits to joining a small organization with high upside: smaller team / family feel, high growth potential as an individual and company, free snacks, and all the fun of taking pics inside your highly modernized office to show off to friends and family.

But there are also challenges this presents, especially within a niche space that combines data analytics, AI, machine learning, with supply chain knowledge.

I have learned a great deal over the years coming from recruiting cyber security engineers that worked in Department of Defense programs, requiring the highest level of clearances in the US, all the way to the other side of the spectrum where immigration is a much trickier subject as it relates to recruiting and business needs.

There are a few main challenges within this space I would like to highlight, all with suggested and tried solutions, some that remain to be seen if it is a true long-term solution.


Competing for hard to obtain talent at a startup organization.

Why is this a challenge?

Well, it is simple, really. When you are a start up organization, you have little to no room to take chances on new hires. In reality, you truly don’t have much “back up” if you make a bad hire. So what does that mean? Every hire you make has to be the best hire you’ve made.

When it comes to this domain, that means you have to find someone who can sell themselves, while combining supply chain domain knowledge with programming languages such as SQL, R, and Python, and understanding how you can apply this knowledge to a solution for a customer.

In reality, it is very difficult to find these individuals, especially for a more junior role, where most students have had much less work experience.


There are a couple solutions to this problem that have been tested and true.


Invest in University Recruiting

University Recruiting is particularly important for a few different reasons.

First, if you attend events such as career fairs, guest lectures, case competitions, etc not only are you beginning your journey of recruiting these young minds, but you are giving your brand exposure it desperately needs. A good way to differentiate yourself from the big players in your respective area is to make personal touches and build relationships with the directors, corporate relations, and professors. Discussing how you can help their students in a much more personal manner than say, just attending a career fair, goes a long way with these folks. Also, these are the individuals who know the best talent of the class, and if the connection is strong enough, hopefully will be able to recommend students to the recruiter.

Second, building a strong university presence exposes students to what makes your organization different than the rest they have seen. For example, if you have a technical consultant attend a guest lecture, the students are essentially getting a one on one experience with only your brand and what makes your organization great. These differentiators, whether it is the culture, product, cool work environment, are not so easily expressed if you don’t get that personal experience with the students.

Last, this is an opportunity to build a steady pipeline for your organization. Especially for companies who are not as well known, establishing a consistent presence, and talent pipeline, is crucial. In this sense, you are planning for the future of your organization. You want to build a talent pipeline so you can be proactive in your recruiting, have students already know your brand, and therefore have more qualified applicants in your pool, without all the heavy lifting. Obviously, you would not want to attend every career event one year, and then none the next, the consistent branding is going to be what drives students to your site / into your talent pool for the coming years. Also, once you bring in a few good students who have a good experience, this begins a trickle effect, as they will tell their friends, and boost your company awareness as well.



Depending on the company, sourcing is either a challenge they have had for several years now, or this challenge could be completely new to them. Sourcing has been popular with proactive companies for some time now, while others have not adapted well to the proactive recruiting lifestyle.

I started my recruiting career as a pure sourcer in support of full life cycle recruiters, and I cannot stress the value of this role enough.

As more and more companies continue to compete over the same talent, especially within niche technical areas, sourcing has gone to the top of recruiting priority lists. It operates much like a sales role – going out into the market to pursue top level candidates, who, most times, are passive candidates not even looking for a job.  

There are multiple ways to distinguish yourself in sourcing, with my area of expertise within the technical arena / engineering, I found having multiple areas of attack, combined with unique messaging / marketing, and of course, the tale as old as time, a consistent reach out at least 3-4 times before anyone responds for most. If your messages even turn back above 10% response rates, you are doing better than a majority of the recruiters on LinkedIn (according to their information).

LinkedIn is the most critical area for hiring professionals, as it is home to everyone from intern level employees / students, to CEOs who have been in their respective industries for a long time. I would consider this my #1 area of attack, as you can use unique messaging, creative touch points, and of course, see areas of work and expertise, making finding candidates easier than ever before.

Besides LinkedIn, there are other ways to attack as well. I have had success pursuing technical candidates on Reddit, different niche forum websites, GitHub, and even hosting some online competitions. These strategies are certainly not the limit on what is possible – I am sure there are many more creative ways to source, but these have been successful for myself.

As I stated before, sourcing is similar to sales. It is a numbers game – the more qualified candidates you reach out to, the better chance you find someone interested. But you must come armed with a message that expresses what is unique about your organization and that will stand out from the100 other inmails they receive a day. YouTube links, a personalized touch (maybe with company name, some experience in their profile – doesn’t make you sound like a bot), aspects of culture, and any other links that sell your organization to a candidate are very helpful in messaging. The candidate should be able to identify why they want to be there within 5-10 seconds of reading your message – or at least have something that pulls them in for more.

With some large organizations having large sourcing teams at their disposal, this can be a real challenge for small organizations to compete. Using above methods, smaller companies can compete.


With recruiting taking a new turn it seems every year in what can find and attract the best talent, it is hard to keep up with all the new methodologies. But the good news is, finding and retaining talent has never been more important to successful organizations, meaning the sky is the limit and recruiting is going to be at the forefront of priorities for many companies (after COVID, I hope)! The bounds will be pushed and new technologies found - an area that will be fun to explore.