Want to Know How to Retain Talent? Ask the Talent

Matt O'Hagan and Christian Pelaez-Espinosa are two Florida State University students heavily involved with TechNole at FSU, HackFSU and now Florida Hackers, three student groups focused on building a culture around technology in Florida.

Talent retention is on the mind of many local entrepreneurs seeking technical hires. So in the midst of my Startup Capital interview with the duo, I had to ask:

“What can local companies do to be more attractive to students?”

Below are condensed answers to that very question.

Culture is key

One of the reasons that HackFSU and other hackathons have become so popular is an emphasis on culture. Culture is the one thing that separates a boring old corporation from a sexy, nimble startup. Many millennials and students, says O’Hagan, aren’t interested in working in a traditional 9–5 office environment.

If your business wants to attract the best and the brightest, you might have to think about a culture shift. For established companies, this can be difficult, even impossible to do. That goes beyond just “buying a couple ping pong tables to fit in” (I’ll talk more about the importance of being genuine below). It’s something fundamental to how your company gets work done.

Whether you’re a year-old startup or a monolithic enterprise, there’s always room for modernization. What that means in reality will depend on the company. For more advice, WSJ has a fascinating guide to shifting company culture here.

Build people up

Reciprocity is key. If you want individuals to get excited about working for your company, you need to find a way to make your relationship with them valuable, to both of you. If you’re just looking for some coders to build your startup’s app for free, you probably won’t have much success recruiting.

But, if you can find a way to frame your internship as a learning experience that will help them get a job in the industry they’re looking for, you might find yourself flooded with applicants. Develop a program that has students or new grads developing real-world skills with a clear path to growth. Make yourself a stepping stone to a career in the tech industry, and you’ll be surprised to see who comes knocking.

Make sure it’s genuine

Like I mentioned above, culture is huge for hiring millennials. Nobody under the age of 25 is going to be excited about working in an Office Space environment. But, we can also smell a fake a mile away. If you’re trying to appeal to millennials, you may be trying too hard. Make sure that as you build your company culture, you’re taking the time to verify that people are happy, and excited to work for you.

How do you do that? It’s tricky, but you’ve got to believe in what you’re doing. If you’re doing something solely for the purpose of attracting youngsters, stop. Just focusing on keeping your people happy and providing value. That’s what attracts talented people, not cheesy memes or forced “startup culture” things like nerf gun wars and cat posters all over the place (ok, the occasional cat picture is totally fine, just don’t over do it).

Last words

In general, appealing to millennials can be difficult. It’s hard to pin down exactly what local students are looking for and even harder to mold your company into something desirable. But working to provide a better experience for your employees, both intern and long-term, can make all the difference. If all else fails, get boots on the ground. Go to career fairs and other hiring events to talk to young talent in your area to find out what they’re looking for. Face-to-face networking and recruiting always helps, even in the days of LinkedIn.

To read the full interview with O’Hagan and Pelaez-Espinosa, visit Startup Capital online, and make sure to check out Cuttlesoft blog for more advice on startups and the business of software and technology.

Article originally published at StartupSoutherner.com