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April 3, 2024

Nvidia's $2 Trillion Recruiting Playbook

John Kim
Co-founder @ Paraform

In this article, we share insights about talent from chip giant Nvidia, and its CEO, Jensen Huang. As a massive manufacturing company, Nvidia can only afford to use recruiting processes that scale. All of the strategies in this article can be regressed into guerilla-style tactics suitable for a startup.

Searching for character

Huang is a graduate from the school of hard knocks, and sometimes it shows:

Unfortunately, resilience matters in success. I don’t know how to teach it to you except for I hope suffering happens to you.

Greatness is not intelligence. Greatness comes from character. And character isn’t formed out of smart people, it’s formed out of people who suffered.

Suffer is a strong word – maybe overkill – but there’s a reason it’s used. It draws attention to an important trait that every hire at Nvidia should have. The ability to not be discouraged after setbacks.

Momentum is everything in business. Especially if you’re trying to cross the chasm from early adopters to a larger market. Staffing your startup with people that “just don’t quit” is key. There will always be obstacles. In 1996, Nvidia had to lay off more than half of its staff to avoid bankruptcy.

The entire company suffered. But that built character. Nvidia is now worth more than $2 trillion.

Growing a talent garden

Collaborating with educational institutions is a major component of Nvidia’s hiring strategy. Huang gives talks at universities, the company runs internship programs, and partners with schools to develop curriculums that align with industry needs.

Open collaboration and partnership are the keys to driving progress and innovation.

While this branch of Nvidia’s recruiting strategy sounds like a long-term one, there are immediate benefits. Universities are hubs for tech talent. Simply being active and connected to schools goes a long way. Attending job fairs, hosting talks, sponsoring small panels, running hackathons, assisting faculty with research, etc.

This plants the seeds for future expansion. Fostering a symbiotic relationship with the education system is a way to create a massive, targeted pipeline. A lot of companies wait until talent is on the market – which is usually after graduation. But you can learn technical skills and concepts on the job.

Getting into university isn’t always easy – especially in technical fields. Having a network of students can help you scout character before your competitors.

Plus, a rising tide lifts all boats. If your startup begins working with school, others will too. Students will get a better education. They might end up helping your suppliers make better products. Think big.

Trusting the word on the street

Over 39% of Nvidia’s new hires come from referrals. The company offers bonuses to employees who refer successful candidates. This simple incentive system basically transforms the entire corporation into a part-time recruiting agency.

Great ideas can come from anyone, anywhere. It's about creating an environment where those ideas can flourish.

Nvidia arms its employees with soft recruiting tools. Everyone has a sense of the kind of person that would be valuable – someone with that character we mentioned. Technical skills are also important to assess. Which is why this strategy shines.

Employees have a much better understanding of what’s needed to do their jobs than recruiters do. Ultimately, it’s workers and managers who will determine if someone is a fit in the long run. So why not include them in the recruiting process earlier?

A wealth of quotes from Huang really does make it easier to spot the right people:

The world needs more dreamers and doers, not just talkers.

Which is another thing to take note of. If you’re a startup CEO, try to manufacture these lines. They’re sticky and help others play matchmaker for you. If you can build an army of recruiters, you’re going to have a good time.

Taking risks

Huang didn’t take his company from a garage to the world stage by always sticking to his playbook. The three strategies mentioned earlier are very principled, but the CEO also underlines the importance of rolling the dice sometimes:

Embrace the unknown and embrace change. That's where true breakthroughs happen.

True innovation requires taking risks and being willing to fail.

This applies to recruiting, too. Sometimes it’s worth taking a gamble on a candidate. Or trying a new headhunter. The advantage of being principled 90% of the time? It gives you a bigger risk-taking budget.

Again, here is a good place to take note of how Nvidia operates. The company hires extremely experienced leadership, but takes more liberties when recruiting entry-level staff. Too risky to hire an untried CFO, for example – but hiring an authentically strange backend developer? The downside is limited, and the upside is immense.

Nvidia hires a ton of interns, who basically have zero experience. If your middle management and executive talent pipeline is a traditional bank, your entry-level hiring is a venture capital portfolio. A solid core business can, and should, support a bold talent strategy.

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