How Startups Can Combat the Hiring Slump

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How's this for a double whammy? Even though unemployment has been rising again, many companies are still struggling to fill openings, according to Challenger, Gray & Christmas. So, for startups, that means it has to be even tougher to attract new talent, since those companies can usually only offer the whiff of a giant payday and salary.

And that's not exactly all that enticing, or realistic, in these tough economic times.

What some startups are doing is leaning back on something that's always been intrinsic to and appealing about startups: offering unusual perks.

Ian Aronovich, the CEO of, says his company does everything from daily trivia contests that pay out between $10 and $100, free weekly movie tickets, free gym memberships and even free bagels and cream cheese. Offering stock is another thing I heard from a couple different places.

Personally, I'm not convinced. Recently, I was approached by a young, hopeful iPad magazine to basically do a lot of work for very little pay and a few odds and ends perks and stock. While it's flattering to be offered that, doing a lot of freelance work for very little money eats up time I could spend on doing more lucrative things that will actually pay my bills and mortgage. But, hey, that's me, and I'm not just getting started out as a writer and can afford to be a little more selective. Not everyone will feel the way I do about it.

Some, like Tom Armour, the co-founder of High Return Selection, say "it's actually a great time for startups to hire people… [it's just that] finding great people has changed. There is a shift away from traditional advertising methods toward social recruiting." So, LinkedIn, Twitter and possibly even Facebook could come in handy here. I know I've found work through two of these -- I'm not on Facebook -- so surely people are also landing full-time gigs through them as well.

If you're looking to free up money so you can pay higher salaries, one route to go might just be letting all your trusted employees to work from home. That's what Ken Tola, CEO of IP Ghoster, did. "My current startup… is completely virtual with all people working from their homes," said Tola. "I do not pay for office space, equipment – nothing… I have found that the workforce has to be senior in order to maintain focus but not all-star senior… just not fresh-out-of-college types." Coordinating bigger picture things and such can be done via Skype, which is free if you're doing Skype-to-Skype calls.

On the other hand, of course, some say you should hire recent students. Kristen Bacorn of Green Consulting is one such proponent. "I highly recommend hiring students instead of strangers whom one has interviewed for an hour or two," Bacorn said. But, it should be noted, Bacorn uses her environmental real-estate business to find teaching opportunities at local colleges, real-estate schools, trade associations and the like. That allows her to interact with many potential candidates simultaneously – it's not like she's just hiring anyone wearing a mortarboard off the street. 

David Wolinsky is a freelance writer and a lifelong Chicagoan. In addition to currently serving as an interviewer-writer for Adult Swim, he's also a comedy-writing instructor for Second City. He was the Chicago city editor for The Onion A.V. Club where he provided in-depth daily coverage of this city's bustling arts/entertainment scene for half a decade. When not playing video games for work he's thinking of dashing out to Chicago Diner, Pizano's, or Yummy Yummy. His first career aspirations were to be a game-show host.

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