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Attracting Silicon Valley’s Top Talent: It’s More Than Compensation

A Perspective by Richard Lear, Managing Partner

The recent anti-trust hiring lawsuit dissolved all non-poaching gentlemen’s agreements that existed between technology giants such as Google, Facebook, eBay, Apple and Intel.These hiring barriers had kept the Valley’s compensation and hiring practices partially in check. Within a blink of an eye, demand for elite talent and the creativity to attract it has skyrocketed.

How will companies attract and bid for high-quality talent after the compensation floodgates have opened?

Savvy hiring teams recognize that compensation often ranks down the list as the pivotal factor for a candidate in ultimately making a career move. On the margin, career moves are meaningfully influenced by such other factors as career momentum, perceived value, work-place relationships and corporate culture.

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The Compensation Playing Field has already Leveled Out

A talent war has long been raging in Silicon Valley between small, high-growth, venture-backed companies and publicly traded behemoths. This battle drives out-sized financial packages on both sides. Winners often rely on creative packages, which lean heavily on incentives, long-term lock-ins, and selling the promise of future upside.

At one end of the spectrum stand public companies, which have long offered rich cash compensation. But now these corporate heavyweights are offering retention bonuses and almost certain equity payouts on RSU packages. More and more, there is a lock-in at the big guys, who seek to lock-up top talent over a 3-4-year horizon.

At the other end of the spectrum, venture-backed startups offer lower cash but promise to hook top talent with aggressive equity grants and rosy market projections. Ironically, the two approaches often net a similar outcome.

(See Is Compensation In Silicon Valley Being Turned Upside Down?)

So how do nifty, venture-backed startups win the talent war?

Implicit Selection Factors

Increasingly, candidates select their career path based upon their own model for career, interpersonal relationships and corporate culture preferences.
Savvy employers who understand this more-intangible model orchestrate an interview process that persuades the candidate’s head and heart early on. Positioning the wallet comes later.

Candidates selection are influenced by intangibles:
• Personal career model
• Interpersonal relationships
• Corporate culture

The Starting Point is the End Game

The primary driver for most candidates is, “What’s best for my career?” Every opportunity offers its own set of career differentiators. Fundamentally, candidates are looking for alignment on the key elements of career: immediate career impact; increased marketability; and long-term career momentum. Put simply, candidates are focused on their own marketability (value), and how that value can be leveraged for career advancement.

In response, smart hiring managers and interview teams carefully identify and evaluate the candidate’s core motivations, both near-term and longer term. They seek to ensure that the candidate’s career goals and personal objectives align with the company’s mission and goals. If the opportunity is truly differentiated, the candidate will be attracted to the position as it reflects upon their perceived self-worth (value) and projected career momentum.

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“What’s best for my career?”
is the biggest decision influencer to high-demand talent.

Connecting with The Boss

The relationship and synergy that a candidate builds in interaction with their prospective hiring manager is typically the second-most important influencer (factor) when selecting a career move. If candidate and future boss are totally in synch, the newly formed relationship can potentially sway the candidate’s career decision or help overcome a counter-offer.

One nifty interview technique that builds bonds involves having the candidate and the hiring manager work on a business plan or project together as part of the interviewing process. Few techniques offer greater insight into work styles, conflict resolution, creativity and the future dynamics of the potential working relationship.

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Experiencing working syles before making an offer helps the hiring manager and candidate understand future interactions and patterns.

Exposing the Vibe

The third factor is company culture. Recruiters and hiring managers feel confident that they can close a candidate who announces, “I really like the people here.” When candidates resonate with the corporate culture, they can imagine themselves being a part of the team. The interviewing team’s engagement around corporate culture is often under-addressed by employers. Yet, it is usually a key factor in the consideration-process for the candidate.

Corporate culture isn’t always palpable during round-robin interviews; especially if the focus is on intensively vetting the candidate. Both the interpersonal connection and the sense of the corporate culture develop organically with highly interactive engagement-style interviews. These types of interviews value exploration of personal situations, probing current job shortcomings and showing a genuine interest in hearing the candidate’s core career objectives.

Finally, orchestrating the interview process to include non-interview activities can promote bonding both with managers and the corporate culture. Teams who encourage the candidate to meet off-campus for coffee, lunch or dinner with the hiring manager or team find themselves building stronger relationships quickly.

In the final analysis, the absolute value of the compensation package can be neutralized if the candidate is sold on:

    1. Interpersonal synergy and working dynamics with the prospective manager
    2. Corporate culture fit and how it resonates
    3. Potential for immediate career impact; improved marketability and downstream career momentum

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Interviewing teams that key into the candidate’s core career drivers; plan the interviewing process well; and get the hiring manager and teams on the same page, win key battles in the talent war. Talent hunters who deploy a well-orchestrated approach with thoughtful interview questions and a credible engagement level can successfully neutralize competitive offers.

In the end, identifying and exploiting mutual alignment between candidate and hiring team can be a winning strategy in landing top talent.

At minimum, it can help us take the first constructive step away from the inevitable bidding war.

About Vantage Partners

Vantage Partners is a boutique executive search firm focused on ad-technology, consumer/ Internet, enterprise/ SaaS, social media, digital media/ marketing; and big data. We rank among the Silicon Valley leaders in retained executive search for high- growth companies. Our forte is building executive management teams for market leaders and venture-backed startups. Our successes span searches at the C-level and SVP/VP-level across go-to-market, operational and engineering disciplines.

For more information please visit us at vantagesf.wpengine.com.