How to Attract Ambitious Employees to Your Company

Today was my last official day at SmartDraw – I’ve worked for this great company for two years and saying all of my goodbyes was bittersweet.

Were it not for the fact that my new employer graciously dropped an irresistible opportunity at my feet[footnote:I'll make a public announcement about it after I start, which is soon.] I would have been happy putting in another couple of years there and I would have loved to watch it continue to grow into the large company that it will be some day.

You don’t expect to get trophies for leaving a company and moving onto a different job, but oddly enough that’s what literally happened today. My boss took it upon himself to host a happy hour at a local chain restaurant to wish me farewell along with my co-workers. Thirty minutes into the celebration he stood up next to myself and the CEO, gave a quick speech where he rolled off a list of things I had accomplished during my time, and handed me a glass trophy. Good times ensued.

A Culture of Achievement

My next job will plunge me neck-deep into the startup community, although I will not actually be working directly for one. My co-workers know this, so naturally they spent the next hour or so sharing stories with me about the startups they’ve worked for in the past: ProFlowers, Level 3, ADN, and the list goes on.

Not once during the course of these conversations did anybody brag about the money they brought home from the bank as a result of an IPO or an acquisition – what everyone talked about was the thrill of sharing success, of feeling like they’d helped leave some organization in a better shape than they found it.

Everybody who goes to work for a small, young company is an entrepreneur to some extent (the range is debatable, but not in the slightest bit relevant) – you have to be in order to tolerate the risks and lack of security that come with a firm of that size. And why do people do it?

The trophy is just an object and certainly not an ends in and of itself. What it represents, however, is that my peers and co-workers recognize that I left SmartDraw a better place than when I found it. The external validation and praise from my peers is more than welcome too, but it’s not something you can or should expect – SmartDraw just happens to be a truly exceptional place to work with exceptional people.

The reason why people with talent and ambition work for anybody else is this – because we want to be needed as much as we need the job, and we want to have the opportunity to make something better than we found it even if that something wasn’t an idea born of our own imaginations. Creative control doesn’t matter half as much as the knowledge that we can and will make a difference.

For every blog post I read like this one,[footnote:Props to the author, however, for starting a company successfully while raising a family. That takes balls.] where the author basically states that if you recognize your own talent then it’s time for you to become your own boss, I would like to answer it with this:

Being involved with a startup isn’t about a glorious exit, getting rich quick, or being your own boss. It’s about accomplishment, and doing it with a group of people who are really fun to work with. If you start something yourself, then more power to you.

I’m going to work for a great employer, and I couldn’t be happier about it. And one day I’m going to decide to start my own company and I’ll venture off to do that. But ultimately I want the same thing from both opportunities: I want to accomplish things of significance.

If you’re running a company and ever want to attract ambitious people like me, make a case for why you need us, not the other way around.

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I'm the CTO and co-founder of Petabridge, where I'm making distributed programming for .NET developers easy by working on Akka.NET and Helios.

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