It's definitely who you know

May 1, 2001


For years now, the competition among high-tech companies for expert talent has been furiously intense-especially among startups struggling to distinguish themselves in a crowded and noisy marketplace. While human resource teams spend a good deal of time wracking their brains to dream up creative recruiting strategies, the fact is that most companies rely on inventive packages of benefits, perks, and to-die-for salaries to turn the heads of technology professionals. There's a good reason for that, of course: Money does talk.

Fortunately, your company is very likely surrounded by people who can say the right things-and, by doing so, tip the recruiting scales in your favor. These people include your financial backers, board members, and even current employees.

In addition to earning a good income, the very best and brightest technology professionals tend to seek out situations in which they can contribute directly to the success of an organization-situations in which they can collaborate with people they respect and admire. They also want to know that the company they're considering has a clear vision of where it's going, as well as the executive capacity to make that vision come true.

Getting the message across that your company can offer these things is not always easy, for the simple reason that prospective employees expect you to say so. This is particularly true for startup companies that have yet to prove themselves in competition-hence the value of calling for some third-party endorsement. And no one is better suited to sing the praises of your organization than your investors.

It's certainly been our experience that enlisting the help of some high-profile supporters can go a long way toward attracting talent to an organization-and that "help" can take virtually any form you want it to.

Like every other startup company with new corporate headquarters, we held an open house last year for potential investors, employees, and the just plain curious to come in person and find out what we do. We bounced around a number of ideas about how to promote the event. What could we say that would really make us stand out from the crowd?

Instead of saying anything at all, we decided to ask one of our investors to say something on our behalf. Antoine Paquin is a well-known business leader and the builder of such companies as Philsar Semiconductor and Skystone Systems. He agreed to give the keynote address at our open house-and recorded a radio ad encouraging people to attend the event.

His involvement was a big draw that strengthened our awareness-building efforts considerably, because people knew and respected him. Even though Tropic was still largely unfamiliar to candidates, there was standing-room only at our open house. Paquin's speech proved to be a real decision-maker for job candidates who had come to check us out-precisely because it offered a third-party perspective on our company.

Raising your profile and building confidence in your organization are not the only ways supporters can reinforce your recruiting efforts. Investors typically have networks of contacts and can put you in touch with some of the most talented and experienced players in your field. Make the most of these relationships. Solicit the input of your investors when looking for executive-level talent or for sharp minds to fill key positions on your board of directors.

While it's important to foster strong external relationships in the battle to win the best minds, it's equally important to cultivate strong relationships within your company walls. Technology professionals want to know that the company they're working for recognizes their efforts. They want the results of their work to be visible and have a clear impact on the success of the ultimate venture.

Again, you can promise these things to prospective employees, but they're likely to take your word with a grain of salt, because...well, it's your job to bring them aboard. However, if you're able to maintain an environment in which your current employees freely acknowledge that these benefits do in fact exist, the word will get out. We've discovered that one of the easiest ways to establish such an environment is to erase some of the divisions in the corporate hierarchy through open communication.

Employees are also continually encouraged to focus on building relationships-to make that an important part of their legacy at the company.

Every company invests considerable time and effort in winning the confidence and commitment of its investors, its board members, and its employees. If your supporters truly believe in your organization, they will be happy to wave your flag and help you reach out to the talent you seek.

Robert Shapiro is director of human resources at Tropic Networks Inc. (Kanata, Ontario). For more information, visit

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