An effects-based approach to operations is a central pillar of U.S. military strategy that orients planning around desired outcomes rather than specific capabilities. If you’re in the defense and aerospace industry or focused on the U.S. public sector as a strategic customer, you’re likely familiar with the concept—but it’s probably not a part of your hiring strategy.
In today’s market, that amounts to a huge missed opportunity.
Defense tech is in the middle of a hiring boom. The strength of the sector is generating interest. A recent survey showed that more than one-third of tech employees are seeking opportunities in the defense sector. This pivotal moment calls for a competitive and outcomes-focused approach to building teams that BreakLine calls effects-based hiring. By embracing this approach, defense tech startups can more efficiently and reliably identify, evaluate and select candidates with the potential to drive business growth and contribute to the team’s mission.
Successful effects-based hiring prioritizes expanding your immediate hiring network and taking a holistic approach to the entire hiring journey to increase talent retention. It’s an approach that ensures startups find candidates who provide immediate value while also fueling long-term business success.
By implementing an effects-based approach to hiring, defense tech startups can build exceptional teams at scale and accelerate growth amid a highly competitive landscape.
Focus on outcomes, not a checklist of specific requirements
Like effects-based operations, effects-based hiring prioritizes the desired end-state, avoiding a focus on highly specific capabilities. It appreciates that problems are complex and outcomes can’t always be achieved with a checklist approach. Rather than seek someone with a rigid set of skills for a role, defense tech startups should consider candidates with transferable skills and traits that make them well-rounded team players, such as the desire and aptitude to pitch in beyond the strict definition of their job description.
We often see hiring managers seeking candidates with a fixed set of skills to fit an urgent need. But these unicorn candidates might not be best for your long-term growth strategy. Adaptability is key in a startup’s early stages, and highly specialized talent may have a harder time flexing with the needs and growth of your company.
BreakLine alum Kalan Snyder is a prime example: A U.S. Army veteran with a technical background, Kalan might have been overlooked by Rigetti Computing because he lacked traditional software engineering experience. But Rigetti prioritized the outcome—hiring an exceptional software engineer to build and lead teams. Kalan’s technical experience he’d cultivated, coupled with the mission focus and leadership skills he developed in the Army, gave him the ability to thrive in the new environment. Kalan ended up outperforming Rigetti’s expectations. After just eight months, the team promoted Kalan to Director of Software Engineering to lead the team that hired him.
Expand beyond your network to find the right candidates
If you’re an early-stage defense tech team, you are likely targeting experienced talent with relevant expertise to enhance your organization. Looking to your network might fill positions quickly, but your available talent pool may also be small and homogenous. Expanding beyond your network is a way to operationalize effects-based hiring and achieve the outcomes you want. To do this, you need the right channels in place.
Broadening your hiring network unlocks the opportunity for startups to build a diverse, high-performing team from the start. Ample research shows company diversity corresponds to faster growth, more engaged team members, and higher profits. Having a diverse team from your company’s earliest days enables you to have a 360 degree view of your addressable market, more opportunities to broaden and connect with your customer base, and the best chance of surfacing multiple innovative solutions to complex problems that pop up for all companies, from organizational elements to product issues, to your go-to-market strategy.
Take Vannevar Labs, a defense tech company we began partnering with in 2020. At the time, Vannevar was an early-stage startup with fewer than 10 employees. They primarily sourced candidates from the existing team’s network. Our goal was to expand its talent pool and help the company reinforce and scale its position in the market.
Shortly after our partnership began, we introduced Vannevar to Erin Biggers. A military veteran, Erin wanted a job in defense tech but didn’t have access to industry networks. Erin expressed interest in Vannevar during her search, and BreakLine supported her through the hiring process. Ultimately, Vannevar hired Erin as Mission Lead to build out its customer success team. Within two months, Erin was interviewing candidates to grow her team, and within six months, Vannevar promoted Erin to Director of Mission Success.
Erin’s been with the company for over two years now, and has hired six fellow BreakLiners who are still at the company today. Several are in leadership roles. By branching outside of its network from the start, Vannevar landed a professional who made an immediate impact and has been vital in long-term growth.
Adopt a human-based approach to attract and retain talent
Successful effects-based hiring also prioritizes attracting and retaining top talent by taking a human-based, transparent approach to the recruiting process.
For many defense tech companies we work with, the industry’s persistent lack of diversity can prove to be a barrier. We work to bridge the gap. With one particular startup specializing in autonomous tech, we helped the company organize and host recruiting events focused on women and people of color. During these events, executives discussed the company’s unique mission, compelling culture, and efforts to build a diverse team—directly and transparently engaging with the talent network they were cultivating. This partner saw an immediate ROI from this approach: candidate interest in working at the company rose from 30% pre-event to more than 90% post-event.
Startups can further differentiate themselves to top-performing candidates by extending this human-based approach to the interview process. BreakLine surveyed our talent network and found that top-performers seek out companies that prioritize professional development and offer impactful missions. Hiring managers at defense tech startups should view interviews as a powerful tool to showcase what makes their team’s mission unique and provide specific examples of professional development opportunities across the company.
Establish a holistic hiring strategy with a knowledgeable partner
Looking beyond specialized skills, branching outside of your network, and taking a transparent approach to interviewing are three pillars of effects-based hiring. But if you’re a founder or hiring manager at an early-stage startup, you may lack the bandwidth, expertise or network to build this kind of hiring practice.
Partnering with a specialized hiring network like BreakLine can help diversify channels with pre-vetted, top-tier candidates. We pride ourselves on not only sourcing exceptional talent, but helping you hire and retain outstanding teammates who can help you scale over many years to come. We help you operationalize an effects-based approach to hiring so that you can reliably attract and retain steady flow of exceptional, diverse talent.
We’ve applied our effects-based hiring strategy with over 175 companies in the defense tech sector, including Vannevar Labs, Pryon, True Anomaly, and others. Connect with us to learn more about how we can uplevel your hiring pipeline and grow your business with top-tier talent.