May 16, 2023

4 steps to attracting and keeping the best talent in business (even if you're not Google)

hero image for blog post

We recently brought on three new faculty members to Section – Mita Mallick, the head of diversity and inclusion at Carta; Peter Wang, the former CTO at BuzzFeed; and Robbie Kellman Baxter, author and retention marketing expert.

All three of these instructors embody our ideal professor: smart, charming, forward-thinking executives who represent the diversity of our student body and the world at large.

You probably have some similar “ideal traits” when it comes to hiring talent for your business. But you may be thinking, “Yeah, easier said than done. I’d love to hire a top coder with amazing interpersonal skills from a historically marginalized community, but they don’t apply here.”

Don’t worry – we’ve been there. Here’s our four step framework for finding, attracting, and retaining top talent.

Talent identification

AKA: You can’t have everything, so pick what really matters

Unless you’re a top tech firm, you probably won’t be beset with candidates who meet every single criteria for excellence.

So start by asking yourself: Who are you looking for, and which traits are negotiable vs. non-negotiable?

We call this developing your talent archetype.

Your talent archetype is a persona. It’s a character you create that has a set of common attributes that make that person well-suited to lead your team, engage your students and get them excited to get to work, or model culture for a new team.

To develop your archetype, start by listing the ideal qualities of your top candidate.

At Section, we look for high-caliber instructors that embody a mix of the following criteria:

  • They know their stuff - They’ve worked on the frontlines in a senior role for a winning company that’s relevant in today’s economy.
  • They’ve done this before - They have an existing framework, workshop, lecture series, podcast, best-selling book, or are on the cover of a breakfast cereal box.
  • They’ve taught before. Maybe at a business school, maybe at TedX, or maybe via life lessons at all-hands every week. They understand pedagogy in practice.
  • They have stage presence - They get jazzed about their content, they interact with their audience, they use their hands to speak, their voice holds a room. They’re charming and not dull.
  • They bring a diverse viewpoint with a distinct perspective - Their background is reflective of your global customer base or student body.

Then, choose the 2-3 qualities that you absolutely cannot live without.

Note: When faced with a short list, many executives decide that maybe diversity isn’t quite as important as they thought. This is a mistake.

"Inclusion is a driver of the business. The multicultural consumer has over $3.2 trillion in spending power in the U.S. alone. If you aren't focused on diversity of representation when hiring, and ensuring the voices you want to serve have a seat at the table and are heard, you will be left behind by your competition." - Mita Mallick, DEI lead at Carta and Section professor

At Section, our 3 “can’t live without” qualities are:

  • They know their stuff
  • They have stage presence
  • They bring a diverse viewpoint

Outside of your main archetype criteria, there may be other elements that you need to consider before making a hiring call.

Time as a resource

Will an acting CMO or VP at a tech firm be able to commit to plugging in to course creation over a certain number of hours, or will you be better suited to a former employee who now moonlights as a consultant?

Cash money

Do you have a Jeff Bezos’ superyacht-sized budget? Good for you! For the rest of us, consider what it looks like to bring on someone with Netflix experience, vs. someone with the same role at a smaller company.

You’ll need to create a compensation model that scales parallel to your plan, is competitive in your industry, and is equitable across your org. Said otherwise: You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em, and know when to fold ‘em.

Talent attraction

AKA: Establish why the heck someone would want to work for you

Now that you know who you want, the second pill is about what you bring to the table as an org.

This is your employer brand: your company mission, vision, values, culture – your value proposition to would-be employees. Why would someone want to work for you? What makes you you – and the best out there for it?

Google is renowned for their campus and benefits, Salesforce holds “family reunion” offsites, Starbucks covers undergrad tuition at 100 percent, Patagonia provides onsite childcare, HP offers 24 weeks of paid parental leave for primary and secondary caregivers, Section is a remote-forever, WFH company …

Employees today need more from a company than one that just “makes cool shit” and isn’t an overtly toxic workplace. They need to know their values align with the brand.

Defining your employer brand is a crucial first step in creating a talent strategy. We could make this a 10,000 word blog post about only that, but your time is better served reading on. HBR lays out the building blocks of employer branding here.

Talent acquisition

AKA: Get them to sign on the dotted line

To recap: You have what it takes for people to come work for you, and you’ve identified what top-tier, must-have talent looks like to you. So how do you find and match with those needles in a LinkedIn haystack?

Let’s talk talent sourcing, selection, and socialization. Let’s not talk applicant tracking systems, recruiting agencies, and 47-round interview processes (because we know you’re scrappy like us and can’t stomach that madness).

For illustration purposes, we’ll using dating as a vehicle. So many fish in the sea, but which fish are eligible for dinner? There are a billion dating sites, so you’ll need to narrow them down by figuring out what’s most important to you. Here’s a non-exhaustive chart on candidate sourcing.

Once you’ve cast a net, reel them in. Spoiler alert: There’s a process for that too. Our sourcing process for faculty talent looks like this.

Be sure to include stakeholders in your vetting process that will work both alongside your new talent and across functions. Having a diverse panel leads to diverse hires.

“Teams are better with diversity of everything – gender and race, of course, but also thought and experience. We're wired to hire ourselves, but diversifying your hiring team helps you diversify your hires.” - Michael Bungay Stanier, author and professor of Section’s The Complete Manager Sprint.

Once you’ve signed your new hire, proclaim it from on high. Share the good news with your company, leverage the news for a marketing campaign, post it on social, etc.

Talent development

Congrats on your new hire! But wait, there’s more! Your work’s not over yet.

As with your customers, onboarding is an essential part of making your talent feel welcome and useful. Be sure to set a clear course for what this looks like, being especially prescriptive when working in a virtual environment.

“Onboarding is one of the most overlooked and undervalued tools in building engagement. Just after they join your organization, people are at their most interested and optimistic about the potential of this new relationship, and it’s the perfect time to establish good habits that will lead to a great relationship." - Robbie Kellman Baxter, retention expert, author, and Section instructor

Onboarding doesn’t just apply to new hires; it’s a key part of the ongoing development process. Every time you roll out a new strategy, benefit, or structural change, this should be communicated through the channels you established early on.

Support builds engagement, engagement builds performance, performance builds a successful business. Develop good habits early and keep them going throughout your relationship. Check in regularly. Schedule 1:1s. Share feedback freely and liberally. Set worthy goals – those that are thrilling, important, and daunting – and offer rewards when they’re hit (cash bonuses and equity, sure, but also DoorDash credits, paid self care days, and an all-expenses paid vacation).

This is a relationship. It requires effort on both sides.

Ultimately, your talent is a reflection of your brand and your customer. Your people are your product. They’re your community. They’re the ones giving you a knowing head nod on the street. The ones you text back immediately.

Attract and retain the right people and you’ll improve company culture, elicit big ideas that drive big business, and catapult the careers of the hard working, generous and lifelong learners like you.


Want to get to know our amazing faculty? Check out our full course catalog >

Greg Shove
Mary Fenton