10 ways Pakistani startups can attract (& retain) the right talent

By Mariam Shoaib on
August 3, 2015
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Hiring challenges in the Startup space in Pakistan

The most exciting export coming out of Pakistan in the last five years are the products and services being offered by the local startups. Startups are making their mark in industries as diverse as educational technology(SMAC Factory), inventive photo-sharing (Groopic), alternative transportation (Savaree) to music streaming (Patari), to name a few.

While Pakistan has the right conditions to cultivate the ideal startup employees, there is still an immense void when it comes time to recruit them. The reason behind this could be the allure of off-shore careers in more economically stable nations. A second wave of brain drain is apparent and to call it anything different would be denial. This phenomenon is particularly troublesome for startup founders looking for team members within the country. Startup employees are a rare breed, those willing to take ownership of the vision at hand and work tirelessly, beyond the standard 9-5 workday and often be paid at an under-market rate until funding is acquired. The hiring problem in the technology sector is, in fact universal, as startups have to contend with limited time and resources with which to attract the right people.

Despite this reality, there are hundreds of thousands of women and men actively searching for work within Pakistan’s borders. The challenge here is to discover and cultivate that latent talent.

Before the recruitment drive can begin, it is best to go beyond the usual suspects. This means to be proactive and advertise positions widely, both on-line and off-line rather than relying on referrals from the community. Consider non-traditional applicants for the ever-changing, disrupting technology scene – unconventional minds are more likely to be resourceful in the challenging terrain of early business. The overall hiring mindset needs to change for the hiring process to be smooth and efficient. Finding talented people for a startup is nothing short of an expedition for a lost treasure; that is the level of ingenuity, flexibility and dedication is required to build a strong team.

The following are 11 sure-fire ways that Pakistani Startups can attract and retain Startup talent:

1. Think beyond the beanbags – share the vision with candidates

Startups should think beyond littering the office with beanbags and motivational posters; the prospective candidate will be evaluating the organization for much more substantial markers of success and longevity. Job seekers look at the company’s potential when looking for their next employer. Is there a culture fit? Startups should act like, sound like, talk like the businesses they intend to grow into. Work to communicate your vision and origin story, essentially market to your prospective employee – that is best way to find people who will want to join your project.

2. Sponsor/attend local university-level entrepreneurial and design competitions

First-off, founders need to evaluate their startups’ existing outreach efforts. The founding team should always be on the lookout for talent. A solid way to interact with upcoming university graduates is to sponsor or attend local university-level entrepreneurial and design competitions.

3. Use job boards like on TechJuice.pk to reach the under-networked

Pakistani startups need to diversify hiring practices to tap the unlimited potential available in the job marketplace. Founders should utilize job boards, like the one available on Techjuice.pk here, so they are less likely to miss out on talent that is too inexperienced or under-networked to reach the startup organically.

4. Test soft-skills of Job applicant on-the-spot

For those skeptical about putting out an open ‘Wanted’ advertisement, the use on-the-spot testing eliminates the need for referral-only practice. Especially for technical positions, testing soft skills during an interview session is the best way to go.

5. ‘Hire potential, train talent’: Seek out non-traditional applicants

Another recommendation is to seek out non-traditional applicants, passionate than the average job-seeker but with the right attitude, and a willingness to learn on-the-job. Like the wise saying goes, ‘hire potential, train talent’; grab the person with the right attitude and aptitude for the vacant position.

6. Ensure support in the Human Resources Department

Startups, by definition, have a dynamic environment which requires a well-defined HR strategy, with an intention for a dedicated team once the organization graduates to the next stage of business. As an early-stage company, most startups will have one or two people fulfilling the HR responsibilities rather than a dedicated resource for the position. Regardless, the focus of the startup should be to provide complete support for prospective and current employees in the Human Resources department. HR practices are a crucial part of any organization’s impact on employee satisfaction.

7. Be principle-driven, Not personality-driven

Being principle-driven will boost employee confidence that all decisions are made at the company with rationale and reason, not on the whim of a diva-posing-as-a-startup founder. This recommendation should be shared with all company leaders, time to time, as a reminder of authentic leadership.

8. Understand the No. 1 concern of All Startup Employees: Job Security

Start-ups, by definition, are part-experiment, part-educated guess-work, so the prospect of losing funding, failing spectacularly is ever-looming. Due to the large number of mergers and acquisitions that occur in the lifespan of a startup, a startup employee’s biggest concern is job loss. After the fear of the startup’s life-span, the second most significant concern is the lack of brand recognition in comparison to other more traditional firms in the marketplace.

Perhaps the most vital change Startup employers can make is to share the real scenario of the organization; in particular, the financial health of the startup before signing on new talent. Potential employees are banking their future on the startup and are often trading more secure career opportunities for their belief in the startup’s potential.

9. Hire for shorter contracts – 3 months to 6 months at-a-time

Along with being upfront about the direction the organisation is taking, it would be prudent if Startup founders would hire employees for shorter, more realistic time-frames. This would mean hiring employees on 3 months to 6 months contracts rather than the traditional 2 years when the startup has yet to procure additional funding or sell enough product to support itself for the upcoming financial year.

10. Keep team updated about possible mergers & deals

This game-changing transparency extends beyond the hiring process; it’s highly recommended that startup founders keep employees informed of possible deals and mergers as they occur. Unlike regular companies, most startup employees have abandoned money and other perks for the sole satisfaction of believing in the vision and passion of the founding team. Sure, no other company in Pakistan would dare do that, but you aren’t any other company, are you? Giving your team-members a heads-up when the company is in flux is truly disruptive!

Bonus Tip: Go for employer of the year – offer coaching & mentorship opportunities

What is the number one way to retain a star employee? Surprisingly, according to surveys, the provision of coaching and mentorship opportunities can be more of a sticking factor than even a raise in salary. Pakistani startups should seriously invest in advanced educational programs for all employees, technical and non-technical, as way to show their commitment towards on-the-job growth opportunities. Millennials will remain with an organisation, even through turbulent times, if they believe they are growing professionally and skills-wise.

May the Force Be With You

For all who have ever set out on a recruitment drive, it is no secret that it is a daunting task. If the startup scene is considered, the hiring marketplace is even more challenging. Challenge, however, is startup-speak for the opportunity. There are great things expected of Pakistan’s fledgling startups and hiring the right talent is the first crucial step. As long as Startup founders remember to award the potential and the credentials of a prospective candidate when making an offer, there are no limits to what Pakistan’s entrepreneurial minds can achieve.

TechJuice Job Board is an effort to drive the Pakistani entrepreneurial ecosystem towards sustainable startups. To connect talent and startups in the most innovative way possible.

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