Recruiting senior technical talent for your climate startup
The senior technical talent you recruit to your climate startup will shape the future direction of your company, so finding the right person is critical. But - especially if you’re building frontier technology, or you’re searching for someone with a very specific set of expertise - hiring can be a daunting and difficult task. How do you make sure you’re casting a wide enough net? How can you make the interview process fair to both parties? And how can you guarantee your offer will meet senior talents’ expectations?
Brendan Anderson is the founder of Climate People, a search firm that specializes in helping early stage climate tech companies hire senior level talent. We sat down with him to unpack every element of the hiring process, from writing effective job descriptions to making attractive offers.
Tips for and attracting senior talent
1. Don’t try to find a unicorn
Founders’ job descriptions are often a far-reaching list of everything they could possibly want in a candidate. But it’s highly unrealistic that you’ll actually find someone who checks all the boxes, and when a potential applicant sees a skill they don’t have on your idealistic wishlist, they’ll often self-screen out of the process. Women and other diverse candidates, in particular, often decline to apply for jobs where they don’t meet 100% of the criteria.
By setting the bar too high, you’re shrinking your application pool from the outset, and reducing your chance of actually finding the perfect fit. Instead, spend some time evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of your business, and narrow your job description to the skills and experience you absolutely need from a new team member.
Rather than trying to find a unicorn, you should plan to invest time in nurturing your new hire’s skills and responsibilities so they can continue to add new value to your organization over time. By doing so, you’ll be far more likely to retain senior talent, rather than losing them from your team when they outgrow the role.
2. Look outside your network
Founders often don’t want to stray beyond the familiar when it comes to hiring, preferring to take on someone they’ve worked with in the past, went to school with, or who was recommended by an investor or other partner. This might make the recruitment process easier in the short term, but in the long term you’ll miss out on the unique skills and experience of talent who exist beyond your narrow field of vision - which can often mean diverse candidates are sidelined.
To make sure you’re not limiting yourself, be intentional about prioritizing diversity and looking beyond your existing network. This is especially true when you’re hiring for technical and engineering roles - the diverse talent pool tends to be much smaller, so you’ll have to make a concerted effort to seek people out.
Scoping out talent from outside your existing network can mean creating a public job posting, but doesn’t need to. You can also communicate to people you know from diverse communities that you’re committed to prioritizing diversity in your organization and ask for help finding leads, as well as look into organizations in climate that are committed to combating a lack of diversity in the sector.
3. Make sure the hiring process is a two-way street
Top talent won’t lack options, so you need to make sure the hiring process centers their needs as well as the company’s - otherwise, you risk them walking away. The process should place equal importance on making sure the candidate is qualified, and selling them the opportunity to move your company forward.
Most importantly, don’t waste their time. Hiring C-suite talent should be your number one priority - if you don’t have the capacity to do it properly and efficiently, don’t do it at all. That means making sure hiring isn’t an overly prolonged process, that each step of the process serves a distinct purpose, and that you respond quickly and respectfully to the candidate.
4. Make your offer on a sliding scale
If you’re hiring top talent from other industries, they’ll probably have to take a pay cut, especially if they’re moving to an early stage climate startup. Be transparent about the compensation you can offer, and begin having the conversation early.
Over the course of the hiring process, find out what’s important to that specific person so you can tailor your offer accordingly. In your initial interview, don’t lead with asking why they’re a fit for your company - instead, ask what they’re looking for.
When you’re executing the offer itself, don’t lowball - make your first offer the best offer. By now, you should know whether the candidate values a higher base salary or equity, so take their preference into account when creating your offer. To have the best chance of satisfying the candidate, make an offer on a sliding scale - give them three different options, each with X amount of salary and X amount of equity.
People are conditioned to negotiate and will typically expect that there’s some wiggle room for higher compensation. You can make it clear from the outset that you aren’t going to go higher than your initial number, but this is also where a sliding scale is helpful - if the candidate wants a higher salary, the equity can be brought down, and vice versa.
If you’re giving the candidate a choice of offers, don’t send them in an email - have a full conversation either in person or over video call. Roll out the red carpet - this person will play a pivotal role in the future of your business, so give them every reason to say yes.
Brendan Andersen is the Founder of Climate People, a climate recruitment agency focused on delivering top talent for transformational climate companies. Prior to founding Climate People, Brendan spent over 20 years leading boutique and national tech staffing firms. Growing up in Vermont as an outdoors enthusiast, he was looking for a way to combine his professional experience in recruiting with his passion for protecting the planet. Mobilizing a workforce transition to work on climate has become his dream job. He lives in the suburbs of Boston, MA with his wife and business partner, Gina and their two kids. Outside of his climate work he is passionate about fitness and youth sports. He was a Founding Board member for Framingham Youth Basketball and has coached basketball, baseball and softball for over 8 years.