It takes a unique kind of job candidate to work at a startup. Rather than staying on task in a cubicle in corporate America, startup team members must juggle endless responsibilities and pass through multiple company positions each day. And when you’re putting a team together for the first time, job descriptions don’t even exist yet. So how do you decide who to hire?
To find out what single quality is most necessary for a startup’s first hires, we asked a panel of eight successful young entrepreneurs from the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) for their take. Turns out the most important attributes of a startup job candidate are all about personality and working style, not skill sets.
1. Humility Hits the Spot
Startups, entrepreneurs and young people aren’t short on ego, so I keep an eye out for humility. New hires have to be smart enough to know what they don’t know, and not have such an ego that they aren’t willing to do what it takes to learn the business. It’s not to say they shouldn’t have confidence or speak up and disagree, but successful businesses don’t have room or time for a battle of egos that takes focus away from the issues or decisions at hand. Additionally, lack of humility often means that employees are afraid to admit when they’re wrong or ask for help. That won’t work in the early days of a startup. Humility is especially important in new hires who need to be willing to pitch in at any level and be able to move forward with decisions that are made, even if they disagree. - Susan Strayer, Exaqueo
2. Connection Is Key
I view everything like a film casting session, where oftentimes, the deciding factor on whether or not someone is a good fit for a role is the level of connection they have to the material. An Oscar on a previous film does not mean someone is right for my project, and your potential employees are no different. In order to determine if the connection is there, you must clearly illustrate the vision of your company and the guiding principles that will take you there. If you haven’t outlined that yet, it’s probably not time to hire people. If you have, it will become very clear, through conversation and targeted questions, whether or not you’ve got the right person on your hands. Don’t be fooled by an outstanding CV or cover letter - let the connection be your guide. - Pete Chatmon, Double7 Images
3. Look for Like-Mindedness
We have a small, tight-knit team and having a strong personality fit is key for us. Skills can be taught and experience can be built, but having someone who “gets” our company vision and fits into the company culture is the most important factor for us in hiring. Our process for finding those ideal personality fits is having a really unique and slightly over-the-top job description. We know that anyone who responds to us with what we ask for (and makes us laugh in the process), is worth an in-person interview. - Lauren Fairbanks, Stunt & Gimmick’s
4. Persistence Is Most Important
I like when people are persistent with me, because that usually means they will be persistent with the task at hand to get it done. Too many employers are chasing down employees and hoping they will work for them, and the employer ends up pushing them rather than the employee wanting to work for that employer. When the employee is the one who is pushing for the job, it is more likely that they will do whatever it takes to be successful on that job. I also like when I don’t even have a job opening and someone is persistent about showing my why I should hire them even when the opportunity does not exist. They make a job for themselves. - Louis Lautman, Young Entrepreneur Society
5. Creativity Carries the Day
I always look for someone who questions, redefines assumptions and thinks outside the box. Startups are inherently creative environments, given that they are new entities requiring new teams and infrastructure. In many cases, they’re formed to develop something entirely from scratch. With anything new, you’re bound to hit road blocks. No matter what the role, it’s important that every individual at a startup be a source of innovation to be able to overcome those obstacles. At my company, we run through a variety of simulations. For instance, we’ll ask about your favorite dish from a recent dining experience and then have you recreate it. Though it’s difficult to measure creativity, we look for responses that utilize available resources to find a viable solution. - Michael Tolkin, Merchant Exchange
6. Work History Works
I find that you can teach a hardworking, dedicated person almost anything. The first thing I look for is committed work history. I’d like to see that they have stuck with previous employers for extended periods of time. Individuals that jump for job to job usually don’t know what they are looking for and, therefore, they never find it. Don’t waste your time and resources on job jumpers, no matter how good their resume looks. - Roger Bryan, RCBryan & Associates
7. Trustworthiness Is Tried and True
When I hire someone, I want to be able to trust them to do what I ask them to do, complete it on time and come to me if they get stuck. If I can’t trust that someone will get both routine work and larger projects done in a prompt, professional manner, then much of the benefit of hiring someone in the first place is lost. - Elizabeth Saunders, Real Life E®
8. Passion Is Pivotal
The single quality I look for is passion. Everything else can be taught - skills and knowledge - but having an employee or an intern who is passionate about your brand and what you do is of the utmost benefit and importance. - Steven Le Vine, grapevine pr
The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only nonprofit organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. The YEC recently published #FixYoungAmerica: How to Rebuild Our Economy and Put Young Americans Back to Work (for Good), a book of 30+ proven solutions to help end youth unemployment.