Intentional Recruiting Strategies for Early-Stage Climate Startups
As a small, early stage climate tech startup, attracting top talent is one of your biggest and most important challenges. But with little experience in building teams from scratch, how can you compete in hot employment markets? What’s the right approach to compete with large, established tech companies that pay the big bucks and offer lavish benefits? How can you recruit candidates who may not believe they have the right skills to work in climate? The questions are endless and the answers are often lacking.
Have no fear! To help you recruit exceptional and dedicated people for your climate startup or small business, we sat down with Yin Lu, Partner at MCJ Collective. Yin is a seasoned operator, board member, and investor.
Show candidates their value
Talented candidates in other tech industries often believe that they lack the skills and knowledge required to transition to climate. As a founder, it's your job to show them that the opposite is true. Their experience in sales, HR or accounting is more strategic to the future growth of a business than their current lack of domain knowledge. If they care about what you are doing, they will learn the ins and outs of climate tech quickly, especially with a variety of resources out there from the likes of WoCL, Climatebase, Climate Draft, Terra.do, MCJ, and others.
Put candidates' fears at ease by making it clear that your team will work with them to build all of the foundational climate context they’ll need. Show them you value their past experience and how it will translate to immediate value for your business. This should be done in the language and framing of the JD/posting, as well as throughout the interview process.
Look for real talent, not unicorns
Don’t over rotate on perfection, especially for most non-technical roles. Relevant experience is always going to be a plus but your sales team needs to know how to sell to an end customer; they don't need to have sold cleantech products before. Your chief of staff needs to be an operations multi-tool. They can come from consulting, emergency response work, working on the Hill – no previous climate experience necessary. They will learn about your product and the industry on the job. Don’t filter out talented, passionate and mission-aligned people because you are rainbow-gazing for unicorns. Craft recruiting materials to encourage a broad array of qualified applicants.
Sell your mission
As CEO, you are also the Chief Recruitment Officer. If you’re early, you probably don’t have big salaries or flashy benefits to offer. Focus on what you’ve got: a chance to align work with values while building a future unicorn. So, put your social mission front and center, and be specific. Don’t just say you’re “solving the climate crisis” (their reply: “you and everyone else”); instead, say: “Within climate, we are doing X. X is important because of Y. Your role is important because it will help us achieve xyz outcome.” Show the candidate that their skillset is crucial to getting your company to its next stage of growth.
Personalize the sh*# out of the recruitment process
Just like a cold email has a hit rate of zero, so will cold recruitment. If your job descriptions, interview questions, etc. are cookie-cutter templates, the process won’t feel unique and exciting to prospects. Spend the extra energy to (a) make the posting stand out and (b) make the process feel tailored for each candidate (after the initial screening, of course). Include as much information about your mission, your values, and your operating model.
Some concrete tactics that resonate well:
- Sending voice notes/looms instead of a follow up or outreach email - it takes less time than typing out an email and makes a deeper impression.
- Sharing feedback with a candidate post interview, especially if it’s a rejection. Candidates oftentimes feel ghosted/left in a blackhole when an interview process ends with a “no”. By following up, you are signaling that your organization has strong throughput and may increase the likelihood of candidates making future referrals.
- Speak openly about the challenges you face and how a prospective candidate might address them in their role – showing vulnerability earns you credibility and signals you are a mature founder who is willing to leave ego at the door and build a strong team to scale faster.
- Use your network to close candidates - for example, put your investors to work, it’s all about hiring to build great teams and a smart way to engage your investors is by bringing them into the selling process for key hires, makes them more bought in, in the process.
Remember your ABRs
Always be recruiting. You’re not just selling your brand to customers and investors. You’re also selling your mission and company culture to potential employees. You represent your company and its mission everywhere you go, whether talking on a podcast or tweeting. Make sure to discuss important questions about hiring, team growth, your mission, and how talented people can contribute to it. Remember, potential hires are always listening: create a digestible narrative about who you are, how you’re unique, and the kind of impact you hope to achieve. Every moment is an opportunity for recruitment, especially when you are small and early stage.
Be candid and transparent about tradeoffs, shortcomings, and reality
You can’t pay the same as the big companies, so don’t sugarcoat it. The last thing you want is to spend time and resources recruiting someone who doesn’t actually want to work for you. Be transparent about what a candidate is signing up for. Though working for a startup is risky, the pay off can be huge. Everyone you hire should come in eyes open; give them all the facts so that they can decide what is most important to them. Some of the best candidates will diligence you like a VC might; be transparent and forthright. The trust you build during the interview process will pay a ton of dividends.
Yin Lu is a partner at MCJ collective, an entrepreneurial commons that enables the flow of information, ideas, and capital necessary to advance collaboration and solutions to make a dent in the climate crisis. Yin previously worked on DEI efforts at Sheryl Sandberg & Dave Goldberg Family Foundation and was GM of Khan Academy’s international business, where she and her team scaled Khan Academy’s content into 30 languages and launched offices in Mexico, Brazil, Peru and India. Yin also built up the first community, international and marketing teams at Coursera. She began her tech career at Google and Microsoft.
As the parent of 2 young children, Yin is deeply committed to helping ensure climate solutions scale responsibly in making multi-generational impact. Outside of family and work, Yin enjoys mountain biking, skiing and singing. She feels grateful to be able to split her time between the Bay Area and Vancouver, BC.