5 Hiring Strategies Startups Could Learn From the NFL Draft

Hiring Strategies Startups

Hiring Strategies Startups

Recruiting top talent for startups is at its toughest point in 20 years. Between big companies like Google, Facebook and Apple, and the high volume of new and growing startups, competition for talent is fierce. Companies are fighting hard, and in many instances failing, to find and recruit the talent they need to survive, grow and become successful companies.

I’m a huge fan of the NFL, among other things. And as the NFL Draft approaches and fantasy chatter starts to creep up, I can’t help but notice several hiring lessons startups can learn from how NFL teams recruit their top talent. Here are 5 strategies from Draft Day that can help you build a better team:

1. Draft Players Based On Potential, Not Perfection

Many underclassmen are selected during the draft based on their potential and projected growth within the system. They may not even start until 3-4 years after being acquired, but they will receive mentoring from veteran players and learn the team’s playbook and system. Using this strategy, your startup should hire potential candidates based on where they can be in a few years as they discover their fit in your culture, with established employees mentoring them and bringing them up to speed.

2. Greatness In College Does Not Always Lead To Greatness In the Pros

How many times have you seen your favorite college player drafted in the 1st Round, only to become a bust in the pros? Just because a player wins the Heisman or a National Championship does not mean he will play well at the pro level. Tim Tebow comes to mind; an ideal player in college who not only won both the National Championship at Florida and the Heisman Trophy, but was a good guy off the field as well. Yet when he reached the NFL, his notoriety diminished quickly. Not even a change in positions could allow him to achieve the levels he reached while in college. Over the past decade, 1st Rounders have fallen short of Pro-Bowl caliber expectations over 60% of the time, and you’ll find it to be the same case when hiring for your startup. You may find ideal candidates from top schools with a great pedigree, but down the road they can just as easily end up being unreliable employees for you. I have met so many amazing and talented employees who didn’t go to Ivy League schools or top rated colleges (many didn’t even finish college), but they have the startup DNA, the natural talent and the passion to be successful. None of this means that you should ignore where candidates went to school or even their education level, but don’t dismiss talent out of hand simply because of their educational background. Hire someone that you can train, that fits your culture and has the skills, potential and passion that you need.

3. High Scores at The NFL Combine Do Not Make Studs

How many times have you heard about the guy that was drafted because he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.40, or achieved some other elite level stat at the Scouting Combine? Jerry Rice ran poor 40 times, but the Hall of Famer was uncatchable on game day. Don’t make the same mistakes in recruiting for your startup by overemphasizing how candidates score on IQ tests, personality quizzes or coding assessments. Base you hires on cultural fit and hire people who fit the team and your system. Dig into their past experiences, learn about their goals for the future and assess chemistry with everyone internally. Check their references and then find more on your own. Stats are a great foot in the door for many candidates, but they should not be the only way to get a seat at the table.

4. Don’t Overpay on Hype and Avoid Agent Traps

I’ve seen teams trade up on Draft day and overpay. I’ve seen high draft picks boycott where they didn’t want to play to avoid getting drafted by teams that pick early, only to play elsewhere. In recruiting, there is no reason to overpay because they worked for a big name or had a huge exit. That doesn’t mean you can pay under market for the people you need, but if they don’t fit your culture, find another solution and move on. Look for employees that want to be a part of your organization and focus on people with the right mindset, skillset and passion. Employees who believe in your mission and vision are the ones who will fight the battle with you on your journey. Find those people and pay what you must to recruit them, not because of a name on their resume, but because of their direct value and dedication to your company.

5. Find Franchise Players in Later Rounds

Many NFL Hall of Famers were not picked in the 1st Round. Joe Montana was a 3rd Round pick, Brett Favre was late in the 2nd Round, and future Hall of Famer Tom Brady was in the 7th Round. Warren Moon, Tony Romo, Adam Vinatieri, Kurt Warner and Wes Welker are among many undrafted players who went on to perform at superior levels in the NFL. It just goes to show that talent can come from anywhere, no matter what school they went to or background they come from. Keep your options open, do things you haven’t done before and take the right risks. Just as you do to become a successful business, your startup must think outside the box and go against standard practices to compete in hiring.

Learn from the strategies and mistakes at the NFL Draft. Think about how you’re going to find the right people for your team. Whether you get them in the 1st round or 7th, make sure they’re the right fit for you.

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