Skip to content

Hiring Niche Roles in Scale-up Companies: 9 Tips from Talent Lead

With the growing talent shortage, scale-up companies hiring for niche roles can face lots of challenges. Julie Brown, the Head of Talent Acquisition at ASML in Berlin, a leading supplier to the semiconductor industry, shares invaluable tips on the intricacies of hiring such roles.

In this concise exploration, Julie touches on strategic clarity, market understanding, and the importance of streamlined recruitment processes. Join her as she delves into insights on overcoming STEM talent challenges, cultivating long-term strategies, and collaborating with educational institutions.

Explore the art of crafting compelling narratives, fostering internal synergy, and retaining top talent in a dynamic job market. This brief journey offers insights into the most effective and tested talent acquisition strategies.

1. Understand the roles and the market before setting up a process

Scaling a company in a short time can be challenging, especially when it comes to niche industries. 

However, it’s nothing impossible if you know how to manage the process. In this context, Julie proposes her own 3-step formula for tackling the challenge. 

According to her, everything starts with being clear about what you need. “You first need to understand your needs at a meta level. So what growth are we expecting? What kind of volumes? And how does that break down across different roles? But you also need to understand that at the role level. To do this you obviously need to work very closely with the Business Leaders to determine the requirements of the roles and the type of profiles needed,” she notes. 

The second step, according to her, is understanding your market, specifically where to find the right talent, what they are looking for and what they find attractive in an employer. 

Finally, based on that information, Julie proposes to set a smooth and efficient recruiting process. “We all know recruiting processes: you can have a slow recruiting process or you can have a fast one. But the kind of market we're talking about - and if you want to scale up - you really need to have a fast-moving, stable recruitment process that can handle volumes without losing people along the way,” Julie notes. 

To sum up, the recruitment process can be successful only when all of those three puzzle pieces - the understanding of the role and market and setting up of an efficient recruitment process - are in place and work together.

2. Create the talent you need 

Since the situation with hiring talent from the STEM market is getting tougher, companies working in niche industries should also start thinking long-term. 

“Simply put, in the semiconductor market but also in the General STEM market there simply aren't enough people to cover the demand. There's so much investment going on in Germany and in the world in general, but there will not be enough talent to fill all of the roles that we need,” Julie stresses. 

Under such circumstances, the option of “buying” talent from the same industry also drops, bringing about the need to collaboratively build talent pools. One of the ways to do this is to collaborate with the educational institutions to create interest towards STEM. 

“We need to make sure that children are engaged and interested in STEM. We need to make sure that University students make the right choices. We need to make sure that people moving into apprenticeships and into vocational training are stimulated to take the right training that fits their abilities and their skill set. And we should make sure that technical professions are seen as interesting and everybody has access to that,” she adds. 

Creating talent is indeed one of the long-term hiring strategies a scale-up company should consider for a longer term.

3. Build a collaborative process with your internal stakeholders

The first step towards building a collaborative process inside the company is to make sure everyone takes full ownership of their role in the process. 

“Everybody needs clarity on what their role is - from the hiring manager through to interview panels, through to the talent acquisition advisors, the recruiters, through to employer branding specialists, communications, events management, etc. And then we all need to step up and do that role,” Julie notes. 

Next, it’s important to keep short lines of communication with one another, as well as review loops in order to adjust the process if it works slightly differently than expected. 

“So I would say you get the best results through really collaborating with one another but also reviewing and challenging the process and making sure it is actually working the way you put it out on paper. You need to ensure that everybody lives up to their role in it. I am very lucky that at ASML we have a great Talent Acquisition team and strong collaboration with our partners in HR and the business, this really enables us to reach such great results.” Julie concludes.

4. Improve the recruitment process 

Effective recruitment, according to Julie, should be short, fast, and efficient, resulting in the right candidates. 

In this context, she underscores the importance of the candidate experience: “We believe in high-tech and human touch to ensure the right candidate experience. As Talent Acquisition it’s easy to focus on what the company needs from the process, but it's a two-way process. The candidate should get the information they need, know what's going on, what they can expect and where they are in the process.”

This, Julie notes, is what can help a candidate make a decision on whether they want to join the company or not. 

Overall, the recruitment process should be transparent, swift and streamlined, prioritizing both efficiency and the candidate experience. 

5. Find ways to attract your people 

Attracting the right talent in niche industries can be really challenging. But still there are ways to make the niche industry look cool for the younger generation. 

Referring to this, Julie notes that the first step towards attracting talent to your company is to know about them, i.e. what type of people are successful in working for you as an organization, where they can be found and what they are interested in.  

“And then it's all about knowing who you are [as a company] and knowing how those two things match and then getting your message across,” she adds.  

According to her, the main problem with attracting talent to niche industries like semiconductor is the availability of many other attractive options for them. “Some of the people that come to work for us could go and work in automotive or medical industries where they're working for big consumer brands and where it's perhaps easier for them to understand their impact on the society.”

So she thinks one of the important steps is to make sure that people understand how they can impact society by working in a niche industry and why it’s interesting to work in that particular field. 

“If you come and work for us, the machines that you work on are more complex than getting a rocket in space. And it's the most complex machine potentially that's been built on the planet. It's also the machine that's driving all of the change, if you talk about what's coming in AI and in different technologies. It's the machine that's used to manufacture high end chips and therefore makes all of the different new technologies possible. So it's getting that message across to attract talent to STEM.”

Overall, helping people to see what the big picture is and what their influence can be is one of the effective ways to attract the right talent. Whether you're hands-on with a machine, delving into calculations as a physicist, or unraveling software intricacies as a mathematician, it's crucial to step back and grasp the bigger picture—the ripple effect on our planet.

6. Give more value to your mission and vision than your benefits 

One of the major shifts in the labor market is that the younger generation prioritizes a lot the mission and vision of the company they work for. 

What is your purpose? How do you contribute to the world? What role do you play and what responsibility do you take in society? What role do you play in terms of some of the challenges that we have on the planet at the moment? It's part of the conversation - something that you need to be open to talk about and be clear on,” Julie notes. 

Thus, according to her, much more weight should be put on the mission and vision, the balance between these and the benefits like perks and packages being 60/40.

Referring to the challenges of communicating the company's mission and vision, Julie notes that originally ASML was the largest tech company you hadn’t heard of and it was not until they started to scale that they realized they needed to talk to their future employees. To help talk to the right audience and convey the right message they rely heavily on data. 

“One of the advantages we have as a larger company is that we can analyze the data on how people respond, what people are asking for, how people are interacting with our website or with our communications. People want to know what it's like to work for us, who our people are, what it looks like inside, what they are going to be doing particularly for the younger generation, what they can do if they studied physics or math, etc.” 

Another way to communicate the company’s mission and vision is to organize family and friends days. 

“We've had recently some family and friends days - something we've done longer term in our global headquarters - where we've opened up the premises and invited our neighbors in because we're a big site. We've also started to do it in our smaller office in Berlin because our employees are so enthusiastic and want to share with their friends and family what they're working on,” Julie notes. 

These kinds of events allow the employees to proudly showcase to their family and friends where they are and what difference they make. This is something that helps a lot to get the message across and attract the right talent. Not surprisingly, last year ASML managed to recruit around 10,000 people globally.

7. Cooperate with universities 

The evolving landscape of education necessitates a bridge between academic preparation and real-world workplace responsibilities. While universities and schools focus on imparting planning, prioritization, and presentation skills, the transition from lecture halls to professional roles requires a practical touch. 

That's where Julie advises cooperating with universities through internships: “I think we need to continue with things like internships, which is an in-house collaboration between schools and industry so that people actually get some industry experience before they land full-time into the industry.”

Acknowledging the dual responsibility, she also highlights the need for business-initiated programs, such as early career initiatives, to support fresh graduates. These programs go beyond technical training, placing a significant emphasis on personal leadership, personal development, organizational skills, and well-being. 

“We have many initiatives focusing on wellbeing as well, making sure that our employees take care of themselves - both young starters but also experienced people,” she concludes. 

By addressing the holistic needs of employees at various career stages, organizations can effectively manage workloads and cultivate a culture of self-care.

8. Listen to what your employees say

To attract talent to your company you should know what your current employees like the most about their jobs. 

To do this many companies like ASML use various channels, including engagement surveys. “We have our engagement survey where we talk to our employees and they can give their feedback about what they think about their leaders, if they are living their values, what they think of their development opportunities, etc. So that's really an opportunity for employees of all nationalities, genders, and ages to say what they think and we take and use it to look at improvement measures,” Julie notes. 

ASML further cultivates communication through employee networks tailored to diverse groups like young talent, female talent, etc. 

“So to learn what young talents want we talk with our ASML Next Employee Network. We talk with them and understand what attracted them to ASML and what they find challenging. We engage them also in the onboarding process so that we learn continuously from one another and from them as a group,” Julie notes. 

Another source of feedback from employees is the external data collected through surveying the target audiences to get more insights from them. 

Listening attentively to employee voices and integrating internal and external data is the best way to understand what is working in the company and what could be improved both for the employees and the potential talent. 

9. Retain your best talent

In delving into the intricacies of employee retention, Julie Brown emphasizes the pivotal role of data analysis. Data, according to her, can provide lots of insights on what is happening in the company. 

One of the sources of useful data can be received from exit interviews so it becomes clear why people are leaving, not just who is leaving. “And again similar to our engagement series, that's this data that we act on. If we can see there's a peak of attrition in a specific area and we can see why that's happening, we will then take action,” notes Julie. 

In this context, she recounts a case during the COVID era where leadership's personalized approach remarkably stabilized attrition. Identifying such best practices becomes crucial—looking beyond red flags to discern areas where strategies are working effectively and sharing them with other leaders. 

Thus, according to her, one of the key things with retention is “knowing what’s happening and ideally anticipating issues rather than reacting too late. In this context, she notes that measuring just the attrition when one of the workers walked out the door means you are too late. 

This ties well into timely engagement surveys, which serve as a predictive tool, gauging the workforce's sentiments and revealing potential risks to attrition. In case of any negative signs, it’s necessary to take initiatives ahead of time, cultivating an environment where employees feel developed, valued, and presented with growth opportunities, including through internal mobility.  

In the latter case, the internal hiring process should be seen as an external one and include proper onboarding. “We certainly encourage that and we encourage what I would call cross sector moves rather than just going straight up in a particular discipline. Obviously it has to be relevant to your role and career path, and if you've moved around and seen other perspectives in the organization that enrich you as a person, that provides you great career opportunities, and also provides the company with people who have a broader view and who can bind together the different elements of the organization,” Julie concludes.

Final Thoughts 

As we conclude this exploration guided by Julie Brown's insights, we've delved into the nuanced world of hiring niche roles in scaleup companies. From strategic clarity to market dynamics and the intricate dance of recruitment processes, Julie's narrative lens has offered a panoramic view. The challenges of STEM talent acquisition, the need for collaborative long-term strategies, and the delicate balance of retaining top talent have all found their place in our brief journey. Julie's narrative invites us to navigate this dynamic landscape with intention and insight, leaving us with a richer understanding of effective talent acquisition strategies especially in niche industries. 


Workfully's mission is to create the most trusted recruitment experience in the world, aiming to give everyone their chance to build a better world. We are building a decentralized hiring ecosystem for the talent acquisition industry, where recruiters can independently grow, engage and monetize curated talent pools for the benefit of all.

Join our newsletter

Stay ahead in the ever-evolving world of HR with the latest insights, trends, and best practices delivered straight to your inbox.