It is very common for students and new grads that lack relevant work experience to have a lot of anxiety and concern over finding that first position in their field. Reid Hoffman offers some “must view” advice on how to get your career going and managing it over the years. He offers some invaluable info on how to think about and approach things that can help accelerate your career development.
I have been fortunate to hang in some special environments for fostering and enabling innovation and the entrepreneurial process. This site is all about capturing thoughts, experiences, connections, impressions, epiphanies and/or learnings along the way.
The topic of unpaid internships comes up frequently in conversations that I have with companies looking to bring on young talent. It is an area where many people do not have a full grasp of the rules and regulations that exist (which can vary by state).
The team at WilmerHale has just brought a lot more clarity to the area through a recent webinar that they conducted (“Legal Issues for Startups: What You Need to Know About Unpaid Internships”). It is an EXCELLENT resource that clearly articulates the legal requirements and risks associated with unpaid internships and how to best structure a compliant program if this is a route your company wants to pursue.
According to WilmerHale, more often than not unpaid internships today are not structured in a legally compliant way. The penalties can be harsh if it is proven that your company is in noncompliance with the regulations. Therefore, know what you’re getting into before you proceed.
Everything starts with understanding the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), a general law that determines the employee-employer relationship and what types of wages employees should receive. The FLSA has an exception for what they call “trainees” (i.e., unpaid interns). Here is the six factor test that companies must meet in order to qualify for this exception:
- Internship must be similar to training provided in an educational environment
- Internship must be for the benefit of the intern
- Intern does not displace regular employees and works under close supervision
- Employer derives no immediate advantage from the internship; operations may actually be impeded
- Intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the end of the internship
- Intern must understand that he/she is not entitled to wages
In Massachusetts and California, employers just need to satisfy the FLSA six factor test. New York has an additional five criteria that companies must meet if operating in that state (which WilmerHale suggests is good advice to follow even if you are based elsewhere in order to really play it safe).
The above plus much more – best practices to follow, use of stipends, structuring paid internships as 1099’s, etc. – can be found at these links:
Everyone either currently using or contemplating unpaid interns should take 25 minutes and review this material if you are unfamiliar with the topic. The risks can be high if you don’t get it right and are found to be in noncompliance. For example, in Massachusetts, there are mandatory 3X damages if this is found to be the case.
Thanks to WilmerHale for pulling together such invaluable content as startups consider options for growing and scaling their teams.
In a world competing for the best talent world, a startup’s own website should be viewed as a critical communication component for attracting, wooing and securing potential employees. As a means of standing out and building excitement and interest in your company, it is particularly important when trying to compete against more established companies for candidates.
Don’t get me wrong, there are many variables in the mix that contribute to effective recruiting programs at startups. It’s a complex process/system and the best site in the world won’t fully compensate for poor sourcing, weak follow-up or just not having a compelling story.
That being said, a well-defined online presence tailored around recruiting can go a long way in attracting more candidate flow (direct and word-of-mouth) and generating interest in wanting to leave what they’re doing to join your company. It’s a great platform for selling your company & team, core values and culture, the benefits & perks that your offer, and why someone should be excited about selecting your company over other options. It also sends the message that hiring great people is a priority, you value the individual and that the company is investing in all aspects of the recruiting process to do so.
Many Jobs/Careers pages list little more than their current job openings. It’s a missed communication opportunity to play to a startup’s strength around offering the chance to work with amazing teams on exciting projects and technologies in an incredibly dynamic and rewarding environment.
Fortunately, there are some great examples of companies that are showing the way in this area. Here are some of my favorite Jobs/Career pages that I’ve encountered to date:
Bump Technologies - kicks off with a video tailored around working at Bump that provides a great sense of the team, followed up by a clear view of their benefits (including some pretty cool ones), their story and a visual sense of the workplace.
HubSpot - leads with their vision and offers one of the best custom videos on working there along with tailored individual recruiting pages for specific functional teams.
Hudl - this Lincoln, Nebraska based company shows that you don’t need to be a well-funded venture-backed startup to do this right. Very well designed down to even having a name of a person to contact (no generic jobs email that lacks a personal touch).
Inkling - starts off with employee stories to give you a sense of the team and workplace, plus all the great benefits that they offer.
Okta - no doubt about their big vision (right up front) followed by their core values, full visual on all of the team members, benefits and why they’re poised for success as an organization.
SoundCloud - no doubt about their core emphasis on “working harder”, how they work including audio messages from employees in different functional areas, the global nature of the company and what to expect in their hiring process.
Square - in addition to a custom video on working at Square, they have separate recruiting pages and videos for different functional areas at the company along with a clear sense of their story, mission, benefits, and office environment.
Wayfair - highlights a third-party endorsement as one of the best places to work, a separate focus on campus recruiting with specific video for attracting students, and accompanying info on why work there, company intro video and core values.
Wooga - beautifully designed layout with a fun video emphasizing the international nature of the company, 10 reasons, info on life in Berlin, pictorial office tour, and a separate call out for students/internships.
I’m sure there are dozens of other great examples. Send them my way if you know of one.
If your company is not in this category yet and hiring great talent is a priority, beyond the above examples here are some of the 10 quick takeaways to consider for your site:
1. Tell your story in a compelling way and how you’re changing the world
2. Articulate where candidates can have impact, make a difference and be part of something big
3. Provide a good sense of the culture, office environment and who they’ll be working with
4. Sell your benefits & perks
5. Cater messaging to specific functional areas or types of recruits (e.g., students) you’re pursuing
6. State why your company is well positioned for success
7. Lay out your Careers/Jobs landing page with a compelling design and framework
8. Use visuals to communicate, particularly videos and photos
9. Have fun and be transparent
10. And, of course, still list your job openings and how candidates can apply
As a startup, there is too much at stake to sell yourself short in your online recruiting efforts. You need to standout and deploy as many advantages as you can in competing for the best talent. Don’t miss the opportunity to communicate your culture and environment in an authentic way so that potential employees can get excited, interested and more comfortable with what you have to offer.
Other ideas and suggestions? Please pass them on. Thanks!
HubSpot has developed a very impressive list of shared beliefs, values and practices over the years that they operate the company by. Based on HubSpot’s growth and success to date both has a business and an organization, it has worked very well for them. Here are their tenants:
- We are maniacal about our metrics as our mission.
- We obsess over customers, not competitors.
- We are radically and uncomfortably transparent.
- We give ourselves the autonomy to be awesome.
- We are unreasonably selective about our peers.
- We invest in individual mastery and market value.
- We defy conventional “wisdom” as it’s often unwise.
- We speak the truth and face the facts.
- We believe in work+life, not work vs. life.
- We are a perpetual work in progress.
If you’re a young company looking to set a culture and tone for an empowered and transparent organization, there are plenty of terrific ideas here to learn from.
Matt Lauzon, founder and former CEO of Gemvara, has been invited to speak with the Councilors of both the City of Cambridge and the City of Boston about what can be done regarding talent retention and economic growth in the area. His call to the greater Boston entrepreneurial community for ideas has elicited a fascinating thread of comments and ideas. They can all be viewed here.
It’s an important topic as the region looks to continue to take it’s game to another level. Here are some of my thoughts that were shared:
1. Unite Under One Shared Strategy & Game Plan
The stakes seem to go up every day regarding what regions are doing around the world to make themselves more attractive & vibrant entrepreneurial hubs. Beyond Silicon Valley, on this front we’re competing against NY, Canada and a host of other places, some of which are centrally run and very well organized and funded.
Moving beyond parochial views/approaches and encouraging collaboration across cities and the State to unite under a shared vision and game plan would be a good thing. This is probably already happening, but if not, would suggest getting the Commonwealth involved with the local governments and other relevant organizations to co-develop a framework for advancing/nurturing the innovation economy across the state. Perhaps even coupling that with a “Council on Technology and Innovation” involving business and other leaders that have shown their passion and commitment to the community on a repeated basis makes sense (don’t turn it into a beauty contest involving names that can’t commit to getting their hands dirty with action).
I actually think there is a simple fast follower recipe here in terms of an effective game plan. Take a look at the comprehensive Bloomberg/NYC playbook that has been implemented by some very smart people over the last four years. Learn what has been effective, lift what makes sense for Boston/MA, incorporate initiatives that leverage our specific assets (like students), and go-to-market together and united.
2. Own Talent
Students come from around the world to universities across the region. Many will want to want to return home or elsewhere upon graduation. That said, we should take advantage of their time here and our incumbency status to do whatever we can to provide them with incredibly compelling reasons to stick around. Students are a renewable resource and we should absolutely own the opportunity to harness this unfair advantage to get more than our fair share of graduates. Here are some thoughts on ways to do this:
Most of the challenges facing startups have already been encountered, addressed and (possibly) already overcome by others that have already faced similar issues. Why not take advantage of these lessons learned?
Every once in a while I encounter (or am reminded of) invaluable advice that has been aggregated for entrepreneurs. Tom Eisenmann of Harvard Business School has pulled together such a seminal list. There is so much good stuff here - and all in one place - that it can’t be shared enough.
Dan Portillo of Greylock has put together a great presentation titled “Owning Your Recruiting.” It is intended to help teach startup founders and hiring managers how to proactively build recruiting engines at their company. With too many startups just relying on the passive posting of job descriptions and/or outsourcing the entire function to external recruiters (and wondering why they’re not effectively competing for talent), it offers some terrific advice on developing an in-house culture and expertise around sustainable talent acquisition. Well worth the look.
The above link is a pretty fascinating read about the education revolution that is happening in China. It is being spurred on by the $250 billion-a-year investment being made by the country as it looks to completely revamp their educational system to better educate and prepare their population for today’s (and tomorrow’s) global economy.
Of note, China is not just broadly investing this money in generally improving their overall system. Focus is a key part of the plan as well as they look to educate students in fields that will continue to grow in importance in the context of the world’s economy. Their seven areas for national development are: alternative energy, energy efficiency, environmental protection, biotechnology, advanced information technologies, high-end equipment manufacturing and new energy vehicles. Smart.
While still relatively early in their plan, the sheer numbers and growth rates are staggering. China has quadrupled its output of college graduates in the past decade, now producing 8 million university/community grads a year compared to 3 million in the U.S. In addition to that, there also continues to be high growth in the number of Chinese undergraduate or graduate students at American universities. Last academic year there were 194,000 students versus 67,000 from five years earlier. By 2020, China is expected to have 195 million college grads compared with approximately 120 million in the U.S. Pretty incredible.
Numbers are only one part of the equation though. The quality of education delivered and ability to move the needle in producing grads (at scale) with world-class creativity, applicable knowledge & skills, and innovative mindset that modern/future economies will require, is another. As the article highlights, there are a lot of hurdles to overcome to get there and it will take years to do so. However, China appears to have a good strategy in place. Just as important (if not more so), they continue to take action and move forward with a plan. Only time will tell, but if the initiative is only above-average successful, the impact on the global workforce could be profound.
It is not a totally uncommon view that venture capital firms are slow to innovate their value proposition and/or do not thinking creatively enough around new ways to generate quality deal flow. That may be the case for some, but hardly for all. It’s tough to sit pat on current ways of doing business and compete on just capital, especially for the best companies. Plus, with more transparency in the industry through things like AngelList and viral/social ways of amplifying word-of-mouth, reputation alone no longer suffices unless it is backed and substantiated by real and impactful activities.
Some firms have competed for years along these dimensions, launching initiatives aimed at delivering more value to their portfolio companies or developing proprietary programs to engage with entrepreneurs and the community in creative ways. Perhaps as a result of the more recent investment by firms like Andreessen Horowitz in rethinking the whole VC-startup service model, the pace and extent of these efforts have stepped up considerably over the last year.
As 2012 wraps up, here are seven new initiatives from the last three months alone that are interesting to note and/or worth watching:
- Common Application (First Round Capital) – a single, one stop application form for students to apply for internships and permanent positions at 170 First Round portfolio companies. If you’re a company that has the ability to sort through the volume of candidates that this will generate, you’re going to love seeing the additional flow.
- Cyber Monday Deals (First Round Capital) – an aggregation of all the Cyber Monday deals being offered by the 25 eCommerce companies in First Round’s portfolio. What a great way to use your brand to bring attention to these offerings, build further buzz around them across the community and actually help drive sales/revenue at the companies.
- Dorm Room Fund (First Round Capital) – piloted in Philadelphia, First Round has allocated $500K to be invested in current students or recent grads from Philadelphia-based universities. The additional twist is that it will be a student-run fund, where actual students make the investment decisions. This will be fun to watch develop, particularly around its ability to surface and fund cool new companies.
- GreylockU (Greylock) – similar to First Round’s initiative, a portal for students to send their resume for consideration at 50 Greylock portfolio companies. Again, if you’re a company that can process the additional volume this could be an important additional channel for more candidates.
- Hack/reduce (Atlas Venture) – a “big data” initiative aimed at establishing a nexus in Boston for bringing together experienced technologists from the private sector with young technical talent coming out of local universities to explore and pursue new data-related technologies. Residents receive free space and access to data tools, storage and sets. Setup as a nonprofit (it has raised $1 million to date to fund its operations), hack/reduce will not take equity in companies that emerge from it.
- Rough Draft Ventures (General Catalyst) – like First Round’s Dorm Room Fund, this student-led fund is backed with capital from General Catalyst to invest in student initiatives/startups in the Greater Boston area. They’re looking to make 10-20 investments per year, ranging from a few hundred dollars to up to $20K.
- University Hacker Olympics (General Catalyst) – involving 25 of the top engineering schools in the U.S., the five highest scoring students at each university are invited to participate in an all-expenses-paid, three-day “finals” event in San Francisco. It’s an exceptionally smart move to cast a wide net and get exposure into some of the top technical talent in the country.
First, hats off to First Round Capital for being the driver behind so many of these initiatives (with General Catalyst right behind). It is also interesting to note that many of them are university-focused as firms step up their efforts to get closer to what is happening on campuses from both an entrepreneurial and talent perspective.
I suspect we’ll see more novel programs launched in 2013 as the leaders continue to innovate, the bar around value-add continues to rise in the competition for the best deals, and other firms look to match or establish unique differentiation themselves.