Interview with Tom Oloughlin, Nicoll Curtin

Nicoll Curtin is a global award-winning FinTech recruitment consultancy, connecting Swiss startups with hard-to-find technology and change talent. Today, we talk with Tom Oloughlin, Executive Director at Nicoll Curtin, about recruiting for small businesses and searching for international talent.


  • What are the differences between recruiting for startups and traditional financial institutions?


With traditional financial institutions you find that, because they are a lot larger, they hire for specific skillsets and  specific projects. So they look for someone who is quite specialist within a narrow skillset. Whereas when you recruit for startups, you look for people with a broader skillset who are able to wear four or five different hats. Startups also they tend to hire more based upon personality and cultural fit, rather than purely skills and competence.


  • What skill sets are most in demand for Swiss start-ups?


The most common skills that we’re asked to find for FinTech startups centre around product management – people who can develop an application or idea and bring it to market (from both a conceptual and technology perspective). So it’s a mixture of technical expertise as well as other valuable skills such as analytics and marketing. There are also heavy requirements for development resources, especially around the mobile and web space, as well as project management.


  • Why is there a staff shortage in the Swiss market and can this be supplemented with international talent?


There’s definitely a shortage of talent with experience in startups. The amount of startups in Switzerland has grown significantly over the last few years, and more and more people are entering the industry. But the demand is outstripping the supply. Many people want to move into this sector but they don’t necessarily have the right mindset or experience to do it. So we tend to look both locally and internationally, depending on the client’s requirements, to find people who have that experience and can add value from day one.


  • What is your experience of the relocation and Visa process?


In our experience if the candidate is from an EU country it’s fairly straightforward. We employ someone within Nicoll Curtin who is responsible for helping with the relocation and acquiring the visas for our new candidates in Switzerland. They also attend a meeting at the local Kreis Buro with the candidate to help them find accommodation and get to know the processes for moving out here and settling in. It’s a big step to move to a new job, in a new country so we try to make it as easy as possible.


  • What differentiates the Swiss FinTech market from other global FinTech hubs?


Switzerland benefits from having fantastic technical educational institutions such as ETH and EPFL, and they incubate and support a lot of FinTech startups. The people coming out of these educational organisations are typically more open to entering the market through a startup, as opposed to the traditional employment route. So what you have in Switzerland is a fantastic talent pool of young talent that’s hungry to make a difference in the market. Switzerland, as a Fintech hub, isn’t necessarily as established as London, Berlin or New York, but it’s definitely up there when it comes to innovation and talent. Switzerland has actually been ranked number one globally for innovation.


  • What are the benefits for a startup of using an external recruitment agency as opposed to going in-house?


A startup will typically post an advert on their website, social media and maybe one specialist job board, which can be costly and sometimes yield little results. As an agency, we have access to every single major avenue for sourcing talent in Switzerland and internationally. We have an established network of candidates with the skills that our clients are looking for. So we tend to find that we’re able to provide a wider and more highly skilled talent pool from an international base. We can also go out and actually headhunt, rather than relying on whoever happens to apply. Over 80% of talent in the market is passive (i.e. not looking) so you need to specifically approach these people in order for them to even consider your organisation.


  • Nicoll Curtin supports #CodingAllowed, what are your goals with this initiative?


The gender gap in FinTech is startling. There simply aren’t enough women opting for tech careers. And retention of female tech talent is dismally low. That’s why we run #CodingAllowed – to help women crack the industry and shatter glass ceilings. To level the playing field and give everyone a fair shot. We hold annual events with senior technologists, as well as quarterly workshops with our consultants and mentors to provide practical help. Our last event asked what we can do to inspire the next generation, with a panel of senior technologists from Barclays, Deutsche Bank, EY, Ada’s List and VersaStyle.


  • How do you try to stand out from other recruitment consultancies in the Swiss market?


The recruitment industry often scores lower on customer experience than other industries. So we’ve made that a real focus for us. We get to know our clients and understand their needs. We spend time with them and make sure we find a solution to enhance their business or solve a problem, rather than just a skillset for a position.

If you’re looking to find a new member of your team, you can contact Tom Oloughlin at [email protected] or give him a call at +41 (0) 44 5785 322

SFS Member Startups benefit from a special recruiting offer, please have a look at Nicoll Curtin’s Partner Offering (member login required, check your latest newsletter).