Hiring for happy startups
Working in tech recruitment (IT and engineering) gave me the chance to interview over 1,500 people. That’s one a day for 5 years. Ask any person who has done this, and they’ll tell you how they’ve learnt to read certain things in people (during interviews) and the questions they use to ask them to determine what we call “opportunity fit”.
But during those interviews and while asking those questions, what do we look for? Naturally, filling a vacancy for a call centre agent is different to hiring a new CTO for an ailing development services business. But for startup hiring, there are three main rules or traits to follow and look for.
And part of the reason I managed to build a company and sell it was the luck that I had an excellent recruitment background. Other players in the same industry struggled to choose the right talent (Groupon still does).
I often hear other entrepreneurs or founders telling me: “If only there were two of me.” There is nothing more valuable than finding someone who can do all you can, but the main trait that an entrepreneur has is initiative. That’s what got you off your butt in the first place to act on your idea, that’s what gets you going every single day while others slave away for larger salaries in larger corporations.
If you hire someone in a startup that doesn’t have initiative, even a content writing or admin person, then you increase your chance of your company failing. The closest you will get to finding a clone of your best skills, is to find someone with maximum initiative. Check it on the phone, ask around it in the interview, dig into it in your references. You need to give the person a 9 or 10 out of 10 in this one.
The second most important trait in a new employee in a startup is their ability to own their work. What I mean is that when you aren’t there, aren’t looking, or simply don’t have a micro-managing style, that they are getting it done. It’s different to initiative – it’s being mature and responsible.
Another way to explain this is by quoting the recent and highly-rated Netflix manifesto. It’s about their work culture and is titled Freedom and Responsibility. For example, employees at Netflix can take as much leave as they like. There is no leave policy. Only freedom to do what you as an employee know is best for your work and the company, and the responsibility to enact upon it.
In startup hiring, make sure your new hires, regardless of age and experience, all have a strong sense of accountability. If they do, you can give them independence as well, and you’ll have a high-achieving asset in no time.
Have you ever desperately needed a certain skill or someone to solve a need your company has? Sure. But did you manage to wait until you found the perfect candidate for the job, or did you hire a second-rate person and regret it later? Almost all of us have done this. But why? You wouldn’t buy an engagement ring or a new house if everything about it wasn’t perfect.
Don’t settle. Startup hiring requires you only hire when you find that gem you were looking for.
Hiring someone with good coding skills or good sales abilities isn’t enough anymore. Both the big established business you compete with and the small startup in your same industry have top skills working for them. Having employees that are able to think for themselves is not a luxury. It is mandatory.
A side note is that no matter how you hire and what your methods are, you will make hiring mistakes, which are in my opinion the worst mistake for any company. Employees are human, and humans are ever-changing. I’ve made my fair share of errors, and every time it has been due to the urgency of the position I needed to fill. In other words, I didn’t obey the most important rule: Don’t settle.