Startup Founders Spill: What I Look for in New Hires
All employers know that there’s a difference between a good hire and an excellent one.
At startups, though, that difference is rarely about someone’s resume, education, or experience. What really distinguishes the standout candidates from the rest are those intangible qualities—like passion, enthusiasm, and drive to be the absolute best.
To learn more—and to know what successful executives are really looking for in potential hires—we asked a panel of 10 founders from the Young Entrepreneur Council to think of the last person they hired. What one thing made that person stand out as the best for the job? Here’s what they had to say.
My most recent hires have been innovation drivers—those folks who are prepared to take necessary risks to make things happen. I’m not seeking out thoughtless daredevils. Rather, I’m looking for fearless innovators who can identify and calculate risks, who know how far they can take the company, and who are prepared to test, push, and adapt as necessary to accelerate our growth.
Working in a startup is not easy—plain and simple. The people who excel in this environment are cut from a different cloth. They have flexible schedules and can burn the midnight oil in order to build something great. Our hires need to have the grit and toughness to realize that working in a startup is a lifestyle, not a job.
3. A CEO Mindset
The last person I hired was a low-level engineer who was tasked to work on front-end development. What made this guy a rock star is that he didn't think only as an engineer—when he made engineering decisions that he knew would impact sales or professional services, he went out of his way to train these folks on the value proposition of what he was creating. What a standout!
4. Passion for Learning
The only guarantee in a startup is change. Market and startup changes mean many of today's skills will be irrelevant a year from now. Although I care if someone has what it takes to do the job today, I'm as interested in his or her passion and aptitude for learning what it will take when change requires transformation.
The last person we hired started as an intern. When his internship ended, he just continued showing up to work. We explained that we couldn't hire him at the time, but after a few months we were so impressed with his performance that we were able to create a permanent position for him. His determination demonstrated how firmly he believed in what we're doing, which translates into great work.
Hunger to learn and grow is something I don't think can be taught. I believe it's the difference between a good and a great employee. It also ensures that you'll have someone on your team who’s always on the top of his or her game.
The last person we hired told me a story about when he made a major mistake at a previous job (and also how he fixed it). Most candidates are hesitant to admit failures. But as a startup, we make mistakes and fail every day. Acknowledging your mistakes and moving forward is an important part of success, so I admired his honesty and humility.
8. Passion for the Product
Finding someone who was as passionate about the product as we were was critical for us. We didn't want people we hired to feel like they had a job. We wanted them to be excited that they were part of creating something special.
9. Desire to Be Part of the Team
Our most recent hire followed our company for more than a year and reached out from time to time to congratulate us on accomplishments and voice her interest in joining the team one day. After the fourth or fifth such outreach and two casual in-person meetings, we created a role for her. Passion can't be taught, and we knew her excitement would be a huge asset.
Accountability is one of the most important traits of any employee working at a startup. Put simply, accountability is the desire and willingness to be held to the deadlines, goals, and promises you make. As a startup, you have to have a team of people who can do what they say they are going to do. There's not a lot of time or money to make up for missed goals and deadlines.