by Sarah K. White

Recruiting elusive unicorn digital talent

Sep 05, 2016

Finding the right talent in the tech industry can get competitive -- especially for ‘digital unicorns,’ who help companies leverage their business success.

You’ve probably heard of a “unicorn” in relation to the Silicon Valley. That is, the rare instance when a startup company is valued over $1 billion. But what about unicorn talent? They may not be worth $1 billion, but these are the candidates that tech companies fight over, and they seem just as rare as a high-valued startup.

But what makes these candidates so special? According to Jacqueline Breslin, director of Human Capital Services at TriNet, they’re the type of employees who will lead and take the initiative, often fitting right in with the company culture. Of course, every company wants to hire these above-and-beyond workers, which is exactly what makes them so difficult to find, hire and retain.

Talent for small businesses

Hiring the type of person who is willing to wear multiple hats in the company can be important to any growing company, but it’s especially important for startups and small businesses, says Breslin. Since smaller companies can’t hire to fill large departments, it’s crucial that every employee pitch in however they can to meet deadlines and move the business forward.

Small businesses also face different hiring challenges, says Breslin, as they often can’t compete with the benefits, perks and brand recognition offered by well-established companies. But small companies can woo talent with the ability to do more — these highly motivated workers won’t be boxed in like they might be at a larger company, where process and procedures are already well established.

That means you shouldn’t assume it isn’t worth even attempting to recruit these types of candidates. In fact, you might be surprised how many people will take a job where they can directly see the impact they have on the company, versus one at a tech company where they’ll just be another face.

[ Related story: How to get your network and security teams working together ]

Businesses are more complex

As technology gets more complex, so has the landscape of modern business, and that means workers need to be flexible. Things can change so quickly that it can affect their job description or duties as new business needs are discovered. That’s where these “unicorns” become the biggest asset — they won’t be phased by overnight changes or even if their job description looks a lot different by the end of their first year at the company.

“Attracting and hiring employees who are not only experts in their field, but are also adaptable and receptive to continuing educational opportunities is crucial to the future of workers. It’s important for workers to master their craft and remain open to growing their skillset,” Breslin says.

It’s also important to remember that the more complex the company, the more niche skills you’ll be looking for in potential hires. You’ll also want to hire people with a dedication to continuing education as technology continues to evolve. Breslin emphasizes the importance of hiring people committed to mastering their craft and “growing their skillset.”

[ Related story: Why it’s time to dump your outdated applicant tracking system ]

A different definition

Another thing to consider is that each company is searching for that one unique person who will fit into their environment — so what might account for a “unicorn talent” to one company might be completely different to another. It really all depends on your business’ unique needs. For example, Katharine Zaleski, president and co-founder of PowertoFly says that she feels the real unicorns, at least when it comes to tech talent, are women.

“The reality is that in tech, having a team with less than 20 percent women on it is considered normal. With more and more studies showing that diversity, let alone gender diversity, is the key to higher team performance, it’s a no brainer to invest in hiring more women,” she says.

Zaleski says at her company, part of their hiring strategy includes recruiting female engineers, coders, developers and other women working in technology to help increase diversity within the company. The more diverse the team leads to “more creativity and innovation in the workplace,” she says.

Think about how you recruit

If you’re looking for specific talent, you should keep that in mind when writing your job descriptions, says Zaleski. When her company wants to encourage diverse candidates to apply, they make sure to avoid any alienating language. For example, if you want more women in your company, avoid using language such as “we are looking for superman,” she says.

You may also consider keeping job requirements to a minimum — because plenty of applicants might consider these “must have’s” and opt not to apply to the job based off that one little list in the description. Or, the list of job requirements might even seem too stifling to someone interested in having a more flexible role in the company, and you don’t want to turn them off from applying either.

“Think about how that [job] posting is also creating a passive pipeline of talent beyond that single opening. For larger companies committed to diversity and inclusion, we work with them on employer branding and offer a concierge service that ensures they’re not just finding talent that’s a cultural fit, but that they’re communicating to the talent why they are a place that will welcome them,” she says.

Related Video