Skip to main content


by Lucas Diederen

There is an increasing number of startups in the Swiss market, and especially in hubs like Zurich and Zug. In both 2017 and 2018, a record number of over 43,000 companies were founded. Many of those face issues related to various talent management areas. Some have difficulties with talent attraction, whereas other founders are kept up at night by talent retention problems.

Without descending into Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” in relation to the war for talents, it makes sense to distinguish between big sluggish corporates and small nimble startups. The latter only stand a chance if they deploy guerilla tactics. Publishing their few vacancies on classic job boards might not yield the required result as the job offers will be lost in a sea of corporate offers (thus far, no filter option is offered to search specifically for startup jobs). It makes more sense to publish on designated job boards for startups, university career sites (depending on the seniority sought) or even freelancer websites. You can also conduct an active search for freelancers in your area. This may help you to find a part-time or temporary solution – you might even be able to persuade some to come and work for you on a permanent basis. Go out there and network, participate to meetups, both virtual and personal, organize webinars, hackathons, create content for social media channels, etc., you might even land a client or two.

However, no matter how you go about your search, it is important to show the perks of working for your startup. Do not focus on a classic job description, but highlight the attractiveness of the project, the opportunity to be part of something innovative, perhaps even disruptive. Focus on the culture, equity options, the cool ambiance, anything to ensure positive, yet distinctive employer branding.

On the other hand, a lot of people are currently interested in working at a startup, looking to find a greater sense of fulfilment or to be part of something exciting. Hence, finding new staff is often not even the biggest worry for startup founders or, depending on their size, those responsible for all matters HR. Especially those with substantial funding or a highly innovative or disruptive product might find staff relatively easily if they use the press coverage to their advantage. The bigger issue numerous startups face, is keeping the talents they attract.

Therefore, one of the most important things to do before hiring is defining the new employee’s tasks and responsibilities. Make sure to take the future into consideration as well. This may sound redundant, but often these things are overly fluid and there is an ad-hoc approach to things. You may have solved a short-term problem by filling a critical vacancy, but what is next? Look beyond the filling of the vacancy, both in your as well as your future employee’s interest. What do you expect from them in the first 6 months, the 12 months after that? What is the long-term vision for their role or anyone’s in general? A degree of flexibility is necessary and employees in a startup should expect a certain level of ambiguity and be able to deal with this. There has to be a solid foundation to depart from though, and the job you offer should correspond to the actual job to the largest extent possible. Anyone leaving their job, especially a well-paid job at a bigger corporation, is taking a risk. Discovering after 1 or 2 weeks into it that tasks and responsibilities are not in line with what was discussed leaves them disgruntled, frustrated and quite likely keen to move on again. If things really are too fast moving, making it impossible to be sufficiently clear about the job description, offer candidates a good grasp of this during interviews. In such cases it may even make sense to ask candidates to take a personality assessment to determine their level of flexibility and their ability to deal with ambiguity.

Furthermore, when interviewing potential candidates openly discuss their aspirations, skills and competencies in order to define a career plan for the next few years. This will obviously not be set in stone, but it is better to adjust it to changing company or market situations than not having anything in place. Knowing your employees’ aspirations and defining potential career paths also enables you to fill roles internally and set hiring priorities. In addition, career paths are becoming less linear and many employees are interested in broadening their skillset. Use that to your and their advantage by enabling (part-time) job rotation. It provides for more variation in their professional lives, which increases your retention rate and helps filling future roles more quickly. You can further enhance this by encouraging and enabling staff to pursue further education or take part in workshops or courses.

Part two about strategic talent management in startups will follow next week and we will look at startup culture and talent retention. Meanwhile, should you have any questions about talent management in your startup, or wish to discuss how to optimize your talent acquisition processes, let me know. I would be happy to grab a coffee and have a conversation around this: