Many fast-growing Madison startups and tech companies are embracing the “cool workspace” trends of east and west coast companies, but they may not be as savvy in conveying those perks to potential employees, according to a local recruiting expert.
“Part of the reason that this whole culture revolution started is that (companies on the coasts) started having cereal bars and all kinds of creative things,” said Betsy Rowbottom, founder and chief culture officer at The Good Jobs, a Milwaukee company that helps businesses brand themselves to be more appealing to job seekers. “I would say that companies in the Midwest are doing those things, but they’re not as good at communicating those things. I think it’s still like, ‘Surprise! On day one, look at all this great stuff you get.’”
Rowbottom, who spoke at this week’s 1 Million Cups event at the Madison Public Library, launched The Good Jobs in January 2013, after participating in the inaugural class at gener8tor, a startup accelerator with offices in Madison and Milwaukee.
The Good Jobs’ goal is to help companies “convey their culture to engage candidates,” Rowbottom said, warning, “the ‘A’ players aren’t going to apply, because you haven’t told them why to apply.”
The Good Jobs has one-year contracts with companies ranging from large (Zappos, Kohl's) to small. Rowbottom and her team help companies revamp their hiring websites and offer use of The Good Jobs' "badges," which brand employers with easy-to-grasp perk categories like "Fun" (social activities, dogs at work), "Extreme Perks" (unlimited vacation time, paid sabbaticals) and "Green DNA" (bike culture, designated parking for hybrid/electric cars). Their only Madison client so far is World Council of Credit Unions, she said.
Rowbottom said the job market has changed in recent years, as the national unemployment rate has declined.
“There was a surplus of talent (during the recession),” she said. “That has changed — it is now a candidate market.”
But some Madison tech and startup companies said they aren’t having any trouble bringing in the talent they want and need.
“I don’t feel like we’ve had a problem recruiting the people we want,” said Emily Orner, director of team development and recruitment at EatStreet, a Madison tech company. “I’ve been very happy with the quality of applicants that we’ve been able to get.”
Orner said most of EatStreet’s hires (and there are many — the company has brought on 60 new employees in the past year, she said) come from the Madison area.
“Madison has a really strong talent pool coming out of (UW-Madison),” agreed Forrest Woolworth, chief operating officer of Madison gaming company PerBlue, and co-founder of local industry group Capital Entrepreneurs.
“I think we’re getting talent from all of the schools in the area,” said Shaina Peshkov, QA director at Filament Games, an educational gaming company that just moved to new, larger offices downtown. “We also get a lot of our talent from Epic — thank you to Epic for bringing people to Wisconsin!”
Some smaller Madison companies are looking to follow Epic’s lead and stretch outside the borders of Wisconsin to attract talent.
Woolworth said PerBlue has had some luck getting candidates to relocate to Madison from other states — about six of the 10 they’ve hired in the past year.
“I think we’re starting to hit an inflection point as far as Madison being an asset, a place that people are excited about relocating to, rather than just a 'flyover' place,” he said. “Madison’s profile in the tech and startup communities has gotten high enough where people are starting to view Madison as a really strong location to go work.”
Max Lynch, a Madison-based tech entrepreneur and co-founder of Ionic, said “you’ve got to have some guts" to ask someone to relocate their family for a job.
“I hope we’ll end up doing more of that,” he said.