Group of casually dressed people in an office space looking at a computer
Kitty Harris
Wednesday, May 26, 2021
6 min read

How to attract top graduate talent to your startup

A common problem that faces many startups is how to attract great graduate talent in order to push their business to the next level. Before a certain level of success or visibility, a startup might seem like more of a risk to a first-time job seeker, compared to a large corporation. Top graduate talent can be particularly tricky to attract as grads often leave university with limited information about the world of startups and jobs outside of the big grad schemes. If, however, you can swoop in and convince a smart graduate that your company is headed for brilliant things, then you could end up with a bright employee that fits with your hiring budget and brings fresh perspectives. 

1. Create a company culture
Before you begin, you will need to develop your company’s culture in order to have something concrete that your potential employees can connect to. Work out what the long-term aims of your company are and how you mean to accomplish them. Decide on how your ideal team should work – would you like everyone working through lunch and weekends or would you prefer team nights out and a collaborative office space? If you can’t offer a competitive salary right off the bat, then you can offer different incentives centred around the actual way that you work, and often the small company/startup version of office work is far more personal and friendly than a large corporate.

People working in an open plan office space, on computers, chatting, playing catch etc.

2. Offer alternative incentives
While you don’t want to hire someone who is only in it for the extras, some incentives certainly don’t hurt. Share options for employees can generate a feeling of ownership over the company and makes everyone motivated to do well. It can also be a great perk to highlight during the interview phase. Gym memberships and free lunches every so often are by no means vital but can sweeten the deal if you are up against another company, vying for the same great candidate. Small extras that cost very little, like an extra day off on your birthday, may not seem like much but they do a great job of showing that your company cares about its employees – something many startups can genuinely boast.

3. Emphasise opportunities for professional development
Anything could happen in the first few years at a startup. Being part of a small team that is just starting out is perfect for someone looking to move upwards quickly and take on more responsibility. You might want to consider offering opportunities to develop skills through external accredited courses - this way graduate talent will be assured of coming out of the role you are offering with a bolstered CV. Many graduates leave university without a huge amount of experience to their name, so this can be a great chance for them to fill this skill gap as quickly as possible while earning at the same time.
Woman saying to colleague, 'You know what that is? Growth' 


4. Consider flexible working options
In one study it was found that 56% of workers felt an increase in their happiness levels since working from home. If you are a very early stage startup and are not able to pay for office space yet, then allowing employees to work from home (even if only initially) can kill two birds with one stone – attracting candidates for the role while allowing you more time to sort out a workplace. You could also consider a ‘flexitime’ approach by allowing employees to start and finish work within a certain parameter so long as they complete a set number of hours (for example, being able to start any time between 8 and 10 if they work 8 hours in total). This option can be attractive to graduates who dislike early starts and are just getting used to the world of full-time work. With lockdown making this format of working ever more normal, you may as well give it a go if you haven't already.

5. Provide motivational work
When considering the workload that you want to provide a new employee with, make a concerted effort to ensure that it is meaningful. Employees will be more motivated to succeed if they think that their work has an impact. Startups are often intriguing and alluring to entrepreneurial graduates who want to make their mark on the world and be part of something bigger. If you make it clear to them that their role would be beneficial and heavily influential to the success of the company, then you might just pique their interest. You should also be mindful of the way that you describe the role in person and via job descriptions – ensure you are clear and honest to the candidate and outline the exact duties that you would expect from them. If you're wanting an all-rounder that can divide their time between all departments, then say so! This could be a graduate's dream role.
woman handing a man a file and he smiles back, looking joyful, as he takes it 


6. Remember that attracting talent doesn’t stop after hiring someone
You might find the perfect graduate talent who loves your company and says yes to your job offer in a heartbeat. At this point, you probably think that you can relax – not quite. Retaining that graduate talent is just as important as finding them in the first place. Put strategies in place, such as regular review sessions and setting achievable goals, that will create an ongoing culture of growth and nurturing your new employee. Holding onto talented and productive people will not only help your startup succeed, but it will also attract more intelligent go-getters too – talent breeds talent, as bright employees are drawn to companies full of people like them.



BrighterBox helps place smart graduates into roles at entrepreneurial startups. 


*Editor's note: This blog was originally published in 2017 and has since been updated.

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