February 21, 2016
4 Ways to Overcome Local Talent Shortages

A version of this post originally appeared on

Outside-the-box thinking and a keen business sense are traits synonymous with the kind of entrepreneurs who start and run successful companies. They identify market needs, find creative solutions for unsolved problems, and convincing customers that their product or service is worth buying.

Strangely, entrepreneurs don’t always apply this blend of creativity and pragmatism to recruiting in competitive talent markets.

In Boston’s tech scene, you’ll hear founders lament about the lack of high quality candidates. Sure, there'll be a fresh batch of college graduates in a few months, but you need more employees now. All of the “good” people already have jobs, and startups have limited resources to poach them, so what can you do?

There’s no doubt that startups in many cities across the U.S. are competing for the best and brightest. But taking a creative approach to circumventing local talent shortages will leave you in a better position to attract workers from places where competitors aren’t looking.

Here are a few of the less-explored tactics:

1. Expand your search to neighboring regions

It's easy to jump the gun and assume you need to kick off a national recruitment search, under the perception that there isn’t enough talent locally. But before you throw in the towel and head in this direction, make sure you’ve given your local area a thorough and complete effort.

After exhausting recruiting efforts in your startup’s city or state, consider attracting new employees from neighboring regions rather than across the country. If you’re a fashion startup in Boston, are you identifying great talent in the New York Metro area? If you’re running a tech startup in New York that sells into government, are you considering hiring people out of D.C.?

Looking for candidates in the neighboring regions cuts down on expenses when it comes to travel costs for interviews. It can also make the conversation around a candidate re-locating more reasonable, particularly for mid-career and well-established professionals. In some cases, they might decide to do a longer commute by train or plane a couple of times per week or month. Others might choose to relocate, seeing the move as an opportunity to explore a new city while remaining relatively close to the friends, family, and connections living in their current area.

2. Leverage remote work relationships

So many entrepreneurs often balk at the idea of full-time remote relationships, arguing that their team needs to be in the office to establish a unified, tight-knit culture. In a competitive recruiting market, though, this viewpoint is short-sighted and fails to consider the benefits that can come from hiring a remote worker.

Instead of looking at remote work as an obstacle, see it as an opportunity to expand your startup’s reach. If a remote hire loves being a part of the company and is well-connected in the area she’s living, there could be an opportunity to open an office in that location. Also, the costs of having that person visit your headquarters occasionally and video conference into meetings are pretty minimal - especially they're producing outstanding work.

3. Partner with colleges & universities that have an entrepreneurial focus

Looking for talent nationally and want new hires to relocate? Focus on reaching out to individuals who are predisposed to move. Students are one key demographic that fits this bill, from undergraduate seniors to second year MBA candidates. After graduation, these people are more likely to pick up and move than those who are already well-established in their careers.

When building relationships with colleges and universities, prioritize those that have great programs for the positions you’re looking to fill. A quick Google search will show you everything from the leading undergraduate engineering schools to well-regarded design and marketing programs. Focus on schools that rank high in their field of study, but are flying under the radar of large corporate recruiting efforts because of their remote location or less-recognizable school name. You’ll not only find high quality candidates, but you’ll also have less competition in getting them to join your startup.

4. Get involved in local & national startup training programs

A number of successful training programs have appeared in the last few years for people interested in learning the skills needed to succeed in a startup. General Assembly, Startup Institute, and are a few of the more popular ones in Boston, and similar organizations exist across the country. These programs are filled with people eager to become part of a startup. It’s worth your time to explore partnership opportunities with these training programs both locally and nationally.

Partnering means more than just posting open positions on their job boards, though. Look for ways to contribute to the curriculum and offer participants internships at your company. When traveling on a business trip, take a few minutes to research if there are any startup training programs in the area you’re visiting. Reach out to a director to see if you can come in and attend a class or give a workshop.

Keith Cline is the founder of VentureFizz. Follow him on Twitter: @kcline6 via Shutterstock.