recruiter startup

Corporate companies, start paying attention to startup talent

FOR MANY YEARS, CORPORATE COMPANIES HAVE BEEN AGGRESSIVELY COMPETING WITH EACH OTHER TO RECRUIT THE BEST TALENT. BUT A NEW COMPETITOR HAS EMERGED, AND QUALITY OF STARTUP TALENT SHOWS HOW THE PRIORITIES OF THE TALENTED ARE SLOWLY EVOLVING.


Last week I had a really good chat with Michael (not his real name) who works at a large respectable corporate company, and naturally the conversation was about the talent market in Malaysia. Michael has been struggling to recruit quality talent, despite the fact that the company he works for is well known and can offer a bright career path to people who join them.

Michael: “Derek, where are all the talented young people hiding? It was hard before, but it seems harder now.”

Me: “There’s a big group of them that are very curious about the startup scene. Not everyone wants to work in a startup, but I’ve seen some really bright young people choosing startups, and many would have at least flirted with the idea. I think corporate companies should really start thinking about how they want to attract this group of entrepreneurial talent if they want to stay competitive.”

Michael: “Really? But there’s no stability in a startup, and no one knows what kind of long term career you will have.”

Me: “That might have been true a couple of years ago, but that’s changing. With many well funded and successful startups, stability becomes less of an issue, in fact if you look at corporate companies now, many of them are laying people off. There really isn’t a safe job anymore anyway, so many young people just decide to go ahead to do what gives them the most satisfaction.”

Many startup talent would have landed a role in large prestigious companies, yet they decide to work in  early stage startups

The conversation ended with me promising to see if I can help them think about how they can stay relevant when it comes to recruiting young talent in Malaysia. And to get these answers, I actually didn’t have to look very far.

WOBB.CO has actually been very fortunate to have hired some really bright people. These guys would have landed a role in large prestigious companies, yet they decided to work in an early stage startup. I did sometimes wonder in slight disbelief that they chose to join me, but I was always very grateful and never really asked them “why”.

Now that some of them have moved on to different things in their life, I decided I can start having candid conversations with them about why they decided to work at WOBB.CO in the first place.

Meet Rou Jun

The first time I met Rou Jun, she had just recently graduated and was in the middle of interviews with some prestigious corporate companies. She knew very little about WOBB.CO at the time we met because we had not launched the app yet.

rou jun tanRou Jun was a first class marketing graduate from HELP University College, and was valedictorian for her graduation ceremony. She’s been actively involved in social work in the fight against human trafficking, and was also a state and national level swimmer for Malaysia.

I thought to myself, “Seems like quite the super star candidate, she’s probably not going to join me. But let’s do coffee and see what happens.”

She did join us. And did an amazing job while she was with us too, almost single handedly helping us build the foundations for our marketing work. She has since moved on to embark on her next adventure in Europe.

She promised to be honest when I asked her these questions, which I hope will you some insights into the mind of our young talent today.

Me: Why did you choose to work at a startup when you could have worked at a big, prestigious corporation?

RJ: Because I have heard many interesting stories from fellow friends who have worked in startups about the experiences startup companies have to offer compared to big companies. For example, many people/articles told me that startup companies offer more hands-on and practical experiences I would need if I plan to start my own business in the future. It is also more exciting to work at a startup because the company is still at the starting stage and I get to be really passionate and excited about the product. Working at a startup also makes me feel like I am contributing to the company’s vision as I can see the impact of my work pretty quick.

Me: How would you rank the importance of these five things: company brand; impact of your job; work culture; salary; and self-development opportunities.

From high to low: Self-development opportunities, work culture, impact of my job, salary, company brand.

Working at a startup also makes me feel like I am contributing to the company’s vision as I can see the impact of my work pretty quick.

– Rou Jun

Me: If you were offered a job in a corporate company, what would you need to know about the company or job, for you to choose them instead of going to work at a startup?

RJ: Working hours – meaning whether it would provide me with a healthy work-life balance or if I would have to work overtime most of the time. Opportunity to grow, both professionally and personally: If the job can provide me with a continuous learning curve. If the salary is decent. And the company reputation in terms of treatment of employees.

Meet Kai Yong

It was a busy day when I was pleasantly surprised to have received a message from a super enthusiastic undergrad student, emailing me from Manchester. Kai Yong found out about WOBB.CO through reading articles about the startup scene in Malaysia, and decided to approach me directly to see if we were hiring interns during his summer break.

kai yong kanI looked at his CV, and I was really impressed. First class grades in pursuing a Law degree in the University of Manchester. Had leadership roles in associations such as Enactus, Manchester Entrepreneurs and AIESEC. Interned at several reputable law firms. Another super star candidate.

Is this guy serious about working in a startup? I repeatedly told him about all the mundane stuff he will have to be involved in as an intern, and kept making sure that he will actually show up for work when he got back from Manchester.

And yes he did show up. He was a soldier, a business development machine, so involved with many bright ideas, and did his work with a lot of passion and drive. So now that he’s back in Manchester, I asked him these questions.

Me: Why did you choose to work at a startup when you could have worked at a big, prestigious corporation?

Ever since I learnt about the stories of successful startups, I changed my perception towards how business is operating now. Big corporations no longer enjoy huge competitive edge because technology has allowed startups to grow rapidly at a more cost-efficient way. Joining a startup gives me the opportunity to put myself in the front line of revolution and innovation as the work often involves introducing new ideas to the society and challenging the current social norms. As an aspiring entrepreneur, I believe a startup is the best avenue for me to learn how to grow a business by grasping the essentials of people-power, Internet of Things and branding. 

Me: Large corporations may argue that having a strong brand on your CV is important for your future career. How do you feel about this? Do you feel this is true, and how does that affect what you think about working in a large corporation vs a startup?

KY: It is true to a certain extent that having the names of those huge corporations on CV may indicate someone is a strong candidate as the competition for a placement or an internship at such corporations is intense. However, I do believe that good employers nowadays look for candidates who are all-rounders specializing in 1 or more areas. With that being said, specialisation is no longer the only skill that employers are looking for now.

Joining a startup gives me the opportunity to put myself in the front line of revolution and innovation as the work often involves introducing new ideas to the society and challenging the current social norms.

– Kai Yong

Working in the corporate world that are usually systematically departmentalised may not be able to offer an overall perspective of the company’s objectives to an employee as the layers of bureaucracy involved have made it almost impossible to happen. Employees may be put in charge of one specific area of expertise for a long period of time. This may not be beneficial to both parties in the long run as the employees will lose their ability to adapt to new environments or learning new skills. 

On the other hand, I believe that a startup offers an environment where you are constantly faced with challenges to complete tasks with limited resources and manpower. The best thing about the task is you get to decide how you want to solve the problem. The tasks are always well integrated as they involve various areas ranging from marketing, branding, technology to business development. This is where creativity and innovation start to become part of your day-to-day working life. 

Me: How would you rank the importance of these five things: company brand; impact of your job; work culture; salary; and self-development opportunities.

1: self-development opportunities

2: impact of your job

3: work culture 

4: salary 

5: company brand 

CONCLUSION – So what does all this mean?

It can mean nothing. After all, these are only two people out of a huge pool of talent out there. Or it can mean a lot. Because the fact is, they are two highly qualified young people, completely unrelated to each other, that many large corporate companies would love to hire. And if a little startup (which couldn’t even afford their own office, laptops or a proper table) managed to out-compete a large corporation to hire them, then it’s time to pay attention.

WOBB.CO is only a tiny blip in giant, fast growing startup ecosystem in Malaysia. I believe I’ve barely even scratched the surface when it comes to the quality of talent working in startup scene.

I hope this helps companies understand the evolving priorities of our young, talented workforce, and the need for companies who are serious about recruiting quality talent, to start adapting and rethinking their company culture.