IR Search Anton van Rossum

Anton van Rossum 

17 November 2021

S.L. asks:

As the CEO of a deep-tech startup, I’m faced with the challenge of expanding our team from ten to thirty engineers within six months: senior software and firmware engineers, digital designers and, to top it off, senior RF analog mixed-signal designers. A seemingly impossible task, but we desperately need the people to realize our goals.

That’s why we’re now developing strategies and scenarios within the team to attract human talent. One of the topics that could play a role in the promotion campaign is working from home (WFH). Another item is the pay – both the amount and the compensation structure including employee share ownership (ESOP).

WFH has been the subject of extensive discussion. While most people currently work from home for most of the week, development teams often need to be together to more effectively solve complicated technical issues. In our view, the solution doesn’t purely depend on individuals but on the commitment of the entire team. And a team doesn’t pop up just like that: the team members have to get to know each other and that’s done most effectively when they’re together.

Remuneration and ESOP were also discussed extensively because we have the impression that our current model doesn’t suffice to attract senior engineers. What’s your opinion about this? What should we do to get our recruitment up and running?

The headhunter answers:

You’re absolutely right to think that the expansion of your team is a major challenge. The current labor market for highly skilled technical personnel is heavily overstretched. Still, I see good opportunities for a successful recruitment campaign if you have a few things in order. You mentioned two important points yourself: WFH and rewards. I’d like to add one more: a well-oiled and thorough selection procedure.

If you don’t want to leave vacancies open for years, you’ll have to make decisions about WFH. Groq, a US AI startup, has expanded its team by nearly 300 percent in the past year using a “geo-agnostic” hiring policy, meaning employees anywhere in North America can work remotely. By adopting this policy, you change the proposition for your employees. You offer them the chance to find a better balance between what they need in their personal life or what their family needs on the one hand and working for a cool, challenging, exciting company on the other.

You have to realize that the old model no longer works in today’s world where both partners in a family have careers. All too often I see a chip engineer turn down a job because his partner is a doctor in a hospital. Other reasons such as informal care or school-age children can also prevent someone from accepting a job that requires them to move. Happy employees are the basis of a successful recruitment policy and a powerful retention model. You achieve this by letting your staff make the decisions that best suit their lives and lifestyles.

Of course, working remotely comes with challenges. R&D is based on teamwork and team members must get to know each other well and become attuned to one another. Despite all the modern communication and collaboration tools, face-to-face meetings at the coffee machine and whiteboard aren’t easily replaced digitally. You’ll have to actively support your engineers in this. For example, by organizing weekly events where team members can meet, virtually or in real life. You need to make a budget available for this.

Regarding remuneration, your competitor on the labor market probably will take that extra step to bring in scarce specialists. So you need to make sure you get the engineers you want. There are national and also international standards for remuneration policies. At startups, ESOP is standard to attract and retain qualified engineers.