Start-ups Putting “Human” Back Into Human Resources

Why do small, innovative companies seem to do better when recruiting today’s young top talent?

Some may point to the technologies being driven by smaller companies. Others may point to the adrenaline that comes with the competitive nature of a start-up. Start-up veterans may point to the collaborative, mentor-based working environments. And they may all be right.

However, the answer may be far simpler: recruiters at a start-up… are human.

Of course, ultimately every recruiting process ends up with one human talking with another. In a small team environment, though – which in addition to start-ups may include entrepreneur driven small business and grass roots non-profits – human resources is accomplished by hyper-motivated, goal-sharing, succeed-or-cease-to-exist humans.

Rarely do start-ups utilize Automatic Tracking Systems (ATS) designed to scan documents for keywords and buzzwords. There is no admin-turned-gatekeeper processing data. And there are no mid-level HR professionals serving as a giant filter while enforcing iron-clad requirements from a job description perhaps written a long time ago. In short: small team employers are infrequently burdened by a bureaucratic, one-dimensional hiring process.

Now, consider Gen Y’s penchant for working in a contributory, dynamic environment versus a generic mega-corporation – and we may start to wonder how most Fortune 500 companies can compete with an innovative organization 1/1,000th its size.

A Simple Perception: Start-up vs. Big Business

Let’s take a summary glance at the difference in hiring practices, comparing a (perhaps typical) start-up and (an admittedly stereotypical) larger corporation:

There are exceptions to this hypothetical example. Google has no trouble hiring innovative talent; same can be said for Apple (although in what be the best single compliment one could give them, many still consider Apple a “start-up” despite $50B in revenue).  Even Ford Motor Company – by stressing innovation and the common goal of competing – is doing an amazing job of recruiting top designers and engineers.

But what if you are an old-school General Electric? Or recruiting for the headquarters of WalMart? When is the last time you heard a 21 year-old proudly tell his friends, “Oooh, I got a job offer from Proctor & Gamble!”

Obviously, volume is a huge issue for already under-funded and under-staffed Human Resources departments. And there’s no doubt that with few exceptions HR is by definition not dynamic, nor innovative, and certainly lack a sense of urgency and passion. In fact, it seems  most Fortune 500 HR teams are content with engagement of filters not designed to hire the best talent – but to eliminate any “unsafe” contenders while selling middle-of-road talent that had the right keywords in their resume.

One Potential Solution

What if hiring became the responsibility of the small team hiring manager within the mega-corporations? What if we cut through the bureaucracy and challenged each department to attract innovative talent specific to their core mission?

Yes, marketing (recruiting ad campaigns) and HR (routing of resumes, background checks and onboarding) and legal (corporate policy for new hires; diversity) would remain involved.  However, the department manager, the one responsible for her P & L and the success of her mission, would ultimately engage, hire and retain talent through a strictly human approach – exactly like a CEO, founders and c-level executives of a start-up operate now, successfully.

Far-fetched? Yes, I suppose it is. Maybe even impossible.

Which is why ATS-driven, bureaucratic, generic corporations – may continue to fall farther behind their start-up competition when attempting to recruit young talent.

About the Author: CEO of YouTern and eJobbz, author Mark Babbitt is a passionate supporter of Gen Y entrepreneurs, a strong advocate of mentorship and co-founder of “Hired for the Holidays“. You can contact Mark directly at or on Twitter: @YouTernMark.

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