Employees serve as the backbone of any and every organization — especially startups. Early-stage startup success depends on the skills and knowledge of its employees, which makes hiring the right person for the job (and company) more important than ever.
Startup owners don’t just need to find talented individuals, they need to find individuals who are willing to work extra hard for lower pay, who want to learn and grow with the company, who can become a “Jack of all trades,” and who will readily adopt the company mission, vision, and values as their own.
To help you hire the best talent for your startup team, here are six tips on how to interview for a growing startup from some of today’s most successful hiring professionals:
1. Think like a GPS.
I advise startups to think like a GPS when they hire. When you program a GPS, you need three things: your specific destination, your specific starting point, and your route preference (shortest route, fastest route, avoid tolls, avoid highways). Startups need to be clear about where they are, where they want to go, and what knowledge, skills, and personality traits their employees will need to get them there.
When you use a GPS and enter vague information, you can lose time, end up in a bad neighborhood, have to double back because you went in the wrong direction, or possibly end up somewhere you never intended. The same is true for hiring. When you are clear and specific about your destination, you get there faster and have better results.
2. Look for the right personality.
Evaluate their personality just as much as, if not more than, their skills and experience. Startups bring a lot of uncertainty, and the management structure is typically atypical. Can the person you’re interviewing deal with this? Can they handle the stress of having to wear multiple hats and juggle extra responsibilities?
Could you see yourself being this person’s friend? Not that you have to be (and not that you should be), but can you get along with them? Does the candidate have high emotional intelligence? Are they aware of themselves and how they appear to their peers? I try to hire for attitude. Does the candidate have a good attitude on life? Are they someone who solves problems or are they someone who just complains about them? A bad attitude can ruin even the most talented employee.
3. Sell candidates on your business.
Startups have to work a lot harder to get good people because they almost certainly will not have heard of your company before. More established companies will get candidates applying proactively, whereas at a startup, you need to sell the company and the vision back to the candidates. It’s almost like you’re being interviewed as well. Think of it as a two-way sell.
4. Test their abilities.
The best practice I have found for interviewing is to ask the candidate to call a number that is linked to an answering machine. The message asks the candidate to record a message explaining why they are a good candidate for the job. You can tell whether a candidate chooses to hang up and call back prepared or see what they have on the fly.
As a direct representation of your brand’s message, this initial interview process ensures that the candidate will have the ability to think on the fly when presented with one of the many challenges associated with working at a startup.
Brearin Land, Founder, Levi-Wolfe Financial
5. Treat the interview like a date.
Give them a reason to like you but set expectations. When interviewing a preferred candidate, try to figure out what motivates them, tie it into their roles and responsibilities, and demonstrate how the company can be the platform for them to excel.
At the same time, manage expectations by reminding them that most startups are trying to shift the business landscape and travel into a territory that no one has yet to reach. So, there is no prior wisdom or a recipe for success, until one fumbles through trial and errors before attaining it, which means they’re going to have come in with their eyes open!
6. Look for passion and drive.
Evaluate whether the candidate has the drive — or what I like to call “fire in the belly” — to work hard, be resourceful, and think creatively. He or she must also have the motivation to go above and beyond the call of duty and have the right balance of energy, confidence, and humility to fit in as a contributor to a small team culture.
To evaluate passion and drive, ask candidates to paint a picture of success in their role and what they would do to contribute in their first 30-60 days on the job. Is the response all about establishing business milestones, team success, stretching and learning? If so, then you’ve found
someone who understands how to flourish in the startup ecosystem.
What else do startup owners need to know when it comes to interviewing their first few employees? Share in the comments!