How startups and non-tech firms can better attract laid-off Big Tech talent

Startups and non-tech firms are desperate to attract laid-off Big Tech employees.

Chief People Officer of Gem, Heather Dunn

Chief people officer of Gem, Heather Dunn Courtesy of Gem

Good morning!

Subscribe to unlock this article and get full access to

Good morning!

Mass layoffs in Big Tech have disillusioned workers who, for years, found solace in the sector’s perceived stability. Now, tech workers are seeking opportunities outside of the industry and at smaller tech firms and startups.

That’s good news for employers who’ve found it difficult to compete with Big Tech in wooing top talent. But attracting them still won’t be easy.

Laid-off tech workers bring different expectations to the workplace, says Heather Dunn, chief people officer at recruiting platform Gem, who’s observed a surge in applications from former Big Tech employees. Dunn spoke with Fortune about how companies can better attract and engage this workforce.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Fortune: How has the job candidate pool changed since the onset of mass layoffs at large tech firms?

Heather Dunn: There’s definitely more talent supply, and candidates are coming in a flood. But they’re also really interested in learning about the business’s stability, culture, and flexibility. There’s a bit more skepticism among candidates coming [from Big Tech]. 

How do smaller or non-tech employers catch the eye of these job candidates?

There’s been a reset in terms of what candidates expect. A couple of years ago, everything was about compensation, benefits, and perks. My perception of the market right now is that folks are looking for more stability and a place that’s going to give them career growth in a way that’s a bit more sustainable. 

Non-tech companies should ensure they have a strong talent brand. What does your careers page look like? Can folks envision innovating at the company? Can they envision career development at the company? Can they understand a bit more transparently how the business is doing? That transparency has been a leading force at tech companies, with CEOs sharing the good, the bad, and the ugly. So for non-tech industries, how do they continue to lead with some of that information to give confidence to candidates, alongside some of the other factors that we know are essential in making an industry switch?

Many job seekers are entering new industries with different expectations for flexibility and perks. How can employers appease them?

Tech has definitely leaned more into flexibility, and I would say folks will be looking to hear more about what’s offered. But I have been pleasantly surprised to see folks looking for more community. 

I’d also recommend identifying what perks actually encourage learning and development, collaboration, and career development. 

I hope that tech will have learned a few things from this macro environment. I don’t think every non-tech company must come up with the fanciest perks overnight. People are looking for stability, transparency, and development.

What tactics are you using to engage fresh tech talent entering the job market?

It starts with the hiring and the interview process. Tech industry interviews usually move with a lot of speed, overcommunication, and personalization. So there’s an opportunity for companies to take a look at their processes, the length of time it takes for candidates to go through it, and figure out how they are getting people excited going through the process, knowing that it is going to be a little bit more of a sell industry-wise.

The second thing comes back to the talent brand. Tech candidates are really savvy at doing deep research on companies, so companies should take a deep look at what the candidates will see firsthand. And the third thing, in terms of recruiting these folks, is to keep harping on career development. Big tech companies have had this reputation of letting employees scale their careers as the company scales. So what is your company’s pitch on learning and growth? Nail down what that looks like for individual candidates.

As you said, people have become less enamored with flashy benefits. What tried and true benefits do you see being more popular right now? 

This might be controversial, but 401(k)s. These benefits aren’t a part of the package offered at many early-stage companies, so employers who can show they’re invested in you today and your longer-term retirement will do well. 

There’s also a lot of traction in tech around fertility benefits and supporting parents. I would encourage leaders who might not be thinking about those broad benefits to give them a closer look, especially from a diversity, equity, and inclusion perspective and the types of candidates you can attract.

Amber Burton

Reporter’s Notebook

The most compelling data, quotes, and insights from the field.

The economy grew 1.1% in the first quarter, down from 2.6% in late 2022, according to early data from the Commerce Department on Thursday. The continued growth is attributed to a still-strong labor market. 

“Consumers have been buoyed by a strong job market and rising wages, which have helped offset high prices. After-tax income rose at an 8 percent annual rate in the first quarter, adjusted for inflation, though that was partly because of a cost-of-living adjustment that led to a big increase in Social Security payments in January.” —New York Times

Around the Table

A round-up of the most important HR headlines, studies, podcasts, and long-reads.

– Americans’ confidence in the job market fell to the lowest level since July, according to data from The Conference Board. CNN

– Tyson Foods will lay off 10% of its corporate employees, including 15% of senior leaders, most of whom are at the VP and SVP levels. Reuters

– A.I. may permanently replace some tech positions eliminated during the industry’s mass layoffs, a Morgan Stanley analyst says. Insider

– The average raise workers received when switching jobs dropped from 8.4% in August to 7.3% last month. Wall Street Journal

– Gap will lay off about 1,800 employees after laying off 500 in September. CNBC


Everything you need to know from Fortune.

Winning offer. An employer sent a job candidate who turned the company down such a thoughtful email that she reconsidered and accepted the offer. —Orianna Rosa Royle

The new VC. The majority of employees at the Oklahoma-based venture capital firm Atento Capital are either women or people of color, making it unusually diverse compared to the rest of the industry. —Jessica Matthews 

Twin pandemics. COVID-19 exacerbated a dormant mental health pandemic in which “the worst still may be to come,” according to Nina Vasan, founder of The Stanford Lab for Mental Health Innovation. —Ashley Lutz

This is the web version of CHRO Daily, a newsletter focusing on helping HR executives navigate the needs of the workplace. Today’s edition was curated by Paolo Confino. Sign up to get it delivered free to your inbox.