5 Tips To Attract Top Talent Away From Tech Giants


August 25, 2023


180 Engineering

As tech giants continue slashing their workforce in the midst of 2023’s economic upheaval and slowing revenue growth, startups and industries outside of the tech sector have a better chance of landing top tech talent than in the past. However, even as unprecedented layoffs continue, tech giants are still hiring. As of August 2023, Amazon’s career page states that they need to fill almost 800 software development jobs. Google’s website indicates that they have 900 jobs to fill, but those jobs are specific to only six of their numerous locations. And Microsoft has over 1600 job openings worldwide.

The perks and benefits that big tech is able to provide can be difficult for other companies to compete with. Microsoft, for instance, promises:

  • Competitive pay, bonuses, and stock awards;
  • Benefits packages that assist with health and well-being;
  • Flexible work schedules and generous vacation time;
  • Caregiver leave, discounted daycare, and backup care for adults and elders;
  • Tuition assistance and in-house professional development opportunities;
  • Financial programs to assist with saving, investing, and paying off student loans; and,
  • A commitment to fostering local and global communities of employees.

As well, big tech can offer numerous opportunities for internal mobility. The number two reason (after compensation) why employees choose to leave a company is the lack of opportunity for growth and change. Most people don’t want to be stuck in the same job forever. Big, global corporations definitely have an edge when it comes to internal job openings.

While it may seem daunting to compete with big tech, startups and those outside of the tech sector actually have a lot to offer candidates. The trick to attracting top talent is understanding what sets you apart from big tech, why that difference is appealing to candidates, and how to leverage that insight in your job postings.

Offer Equity Compensation

For startups and smaller companies that don’t have the cash reserves to pay market-value salaries or provide lucrative perks, equity compensation can be a valuable tool in recruiting top talent. When stock or equity options are provided in addition to a cash salary, employees gain partial ownership of the business. Candidates who believe in you and your company may find the idea of a big future payout tempting. And indeed, that’s how early employees of companies like Google and Meta became millionaires.

Employers who offer equity compensation often recruit exemplary employees who are committed to the company. After all, employees who have some ownership of the company are invested in its success. As a result, they will likely demonstrate higher productivity, lower absenteeism, and higher retention. As well, as employee-owners, they may be able to provide insightful and valuable direction to the company through shareholder voting.

All that said, offering equity compensation does require a lot of thought, planning, and work. There are complicated state and federal laws around equity reporting and taxation. As well, careful plans need to be developed for scenarios like employee resignations and terminations.

Equity compensation is something that big tech and other well-established companies don’t often offer and it can be highly appealing to top talent, especially those who are aligned with your company culture and who believe in you and your ideas. If you are struggling to fill open roles, consider offering equity compensation if you don’t already do so.

Consider Contract Work

Over the past few years, there have been several significant shifts in the workforce. One such shift has been the acceleration of the gig economy and the proliferation of gig – or contract – workers.

As unemployed workers struggled to make ends meet during the pandemic, and as white-collar workers became accustomed to the flexibility offered by remote work, they turned increasingly to contract work. However, contract labor is not new to the tech field. Independent contractors and project-based hires have long been valuable contributors to the tech workforce.

While some people prefer the stability of a full-time permanent position, many find contract work appealing. Contract work allows people to choose projects that they find more interesting and best suited to their skills, without any extraneous work. It also allows them to set their own schedules, take time away from work as needed, and achieve a better work/life balance.

Contract work is a terrific way to attract top talent who crave flexibility in their workdays. It also provides several benefits for employers, including:

  • Highly skilled workers who bring the tools you need for a specific project and who can be productive from day one;
  • Happier employees with better job performance;
  • The ability to adjust staffing levels to current project loads;
  • Costs associated with payroll, such as unemployment contributions employee benefits, workman’s compensation, and regulated employer taxes are usually covered by the contractor’; and
  • Lower overhead costs.

Even among tech giants, the use of contract workers is rapidly becoming more prevalent. A piece at LinkedIn states that in January 2021, 5.7% of job listings on LinkedIn were for contracting roles; that number grew to 19.9% by October 2022. As both big tech and tech talent recognize the benefits of contract work, it would be savvy for smaller businesses and startups to embrace that trend as well.

Emphasize Non-Financial Incentives

As employee expectations continue to shift significantly, it’s important for businesses to adapt. The ping pong tables and free lunches that big tech is known for offering are no longer as appealing. Instead, many people are looking for positions where their ideal work/life balance can be maintained. And while remote and/or flexible work arrangements are definitely a piece of the work/life puzzle, many are looking for meaning in their work, especially those who are part of Gen Z.

Gen Z, of course, is the generation that was born between 1996 and 2010. Some may already be in the workforce, but most will complete their education and begin their careers within the next decade.

This generation is coming of age in a volatile world. As we discussed in a past blog:

Social justice movements, climate issues, pandemic lockdowns, and economic uncertainty have had a tremendous impact on this generation. [An] article at McKinsey & Company points out that while this generation struggles with an unprecedented amount of mental illness, it is also highly idealistic. Gen Z has big ideas about changing the world, taking action around climate change, valuing equality and diversity, and mobilizing themselves for other causes they believe in.

To appeal to this group of emerging talent, as well as to others who had their priorities shift during the pandemic, emphasize non-financial incentives like the following in your job postings:

  • Opportunities to do innovative, ground-breaking, impactful work;
  • Paid professional development and learning opportunities;
  • Personalized recognition of jobs well done;
  • A well-developed company culture;
  • Opportunities for research and publishing credit;
  • Volunteer time off, allowing employees to make a difference in their community; and
  • Your commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives.

While non-financial incentives are appealing to candidates, they also make good business sense. These types of incentives act as intrinsic motivators in the workplace and help employees feel happy and fulfilled. As a result, they contribute towards better job satisfaction, better job performance, and higher retention rates.

Build Your Employer Brand

As pointed out in a piece at Forbes.com, “If you have a good employer brand, you might not even need to post job openings – top talent will come to you.”

Your brand is a way to demonstrate your company’s values, particularly those around how you conduct business and take care of your employees and customers. Post-pandemic, people want more from their work than just a paycheque. They want to work in a supportive environment, where they perform impactful, meaningful work and where their employers are invested in their happiness and success. A strong, compelling brand identity provides information about your company that is typically not shown on a job posting – and that will help candidates understand why your company is great to work for.

To build your brand, define your company’s values and be open and transparent about those values, particularly in your online presence. You can certainly list those values on the About page of your website or weave them into your social media postings. However, everyone loves a good story. A compelling narrative, that creates an emotional reaction, is a terrific way to demonstrate your values. Stories should include threads about:

  • The company itself (for instance, why it was founded);
  • Your leaders, highlighting which values they embody; and
  • Your employees, to help candidates understand your values in action.

There is nothing better than letting your current employees tell their own stories. We live in a world where people research their smallest decisions online. We check product reviews to help us decide what to buy, hotel reviews to decide where to stay, and restaurant reviews to decide where to eat. Honest reviews by the people who know you best – your employees – will help candidates decide to work for you.

Don’t Forget To Network!

A cornerstone of advice to those seeking work is to network. But networking on your end is a terrific way to find top talent for your smaller business or startup. A piece by the Forbes Coaches Council advises companies to:

Join professional organizations that align with the talent you seek—attend their events, get to know the regulars and develop a positive relationship with them. When you need someone new, they typically know who is looking for work, so just reach out to them when there is a job opening; they become your informal headhunting team. Give them a finder’s fee if you hire someone they recommended.

Don’t focus solely on professional organizations either. Developing a strong relationship with career centres and alumni associations at colleges and universities with great STEM programs is a terrific way to tap into emerging talent.