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Ernest Shackleton inspired thousands of people to want to join him on a treacherous journey to reach the South Pole. How did he do it?

This is an introduction to the VentureKit series on startup recruiting. Upcoming episodes will cover topics such as how to track recruiting metrics, design an employee referral program, and create a culture attracts great people.

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In the year 1900, a British explorer named Ernest Shackleton reportedly posted one of the most famous recruiting ads in history. It was a call to join a team that wanted to reach the South Pole in Antarctica. The ad read:

“Men wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful, honor and recognition in case of success.”

An artist’s rendition of the ad

Over 5,000 men and women applied to join Shackleton. In 1907, he led a team of four that walked through 1,400 miles of polar ice for eighteen months in sub-zero conditions.

Left to right: Frank Wild, Ernest Shackleton, Eric Marshall, Jameson Adams

After eating their ponies to survive, his team came within 97 miles of the South Pole, the closest then to date.

January 9th, 1909: Shackleton’s team near the South Pole

Shackleton’s team discovered routes and created methods adopted by Roald Amundsen, the Norwegian explorer who became the first to reach the Pole four years later.

Roald Amundsen, first to reach the South Pole

Shackleton was knighted when he returned home. Though historians have not confirmed the original ad, he did recruit remarkable people for a nearly impossible task.

Shackleton at Parliament, where he was knighted
Shackleton overseeing a team

Startups today aren’t traversing the arctic or eating ponies, but they do need to find exceptional people for a hard journey. That’s what the upcoming series on startup recruiting will be about.

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