We’ve recently made some new hires at Personera, and the process made me aware of a couple of key “go/no-go” markers that show themselves again and again. So what are some of the strikingly common as well as more nuanced factors when deciding if a candidate is a good fit?
This is my litmus test:
Positive Markers (“Go”)
- Smart and motivated: This is needs to be determined right at the starting gate. Any good team member is going to need to be smart because of the fast pace of a learning that takes place in a startup, and their motivation level will influence their ability to persist through the oftentimes tough three to six month beginning period to see what comes next, not to mention giving them an important sense of pride in their work.
- Extremely keen to join company: This is more important that people think. When a candidate is genuinely excited about a company’s product, or people, or both, that passion leads to much a better fit and sense of stickability with the startup over time.
- Has something to prove: The best startup team members always have a deep desire to prove something (either to themselves or to others), build something amazing, or leave a special mark on the world. They want to stand out from the crowd and escape business as usual. Over time, this defining characteristic is often the difference between a goodoutcome versus a great outcome when choosing a new team member.
- Likes working in small teams: Small teams allow for open and fast communication, lots of independence and responsibility (i.e. no handholding), and no office politics. The candidate should light up at the mention of that!
- Handles stress well: Startups can become very stressful at times. I’m not an advocate of keeping things insane all the time (or else people will go insane), but from time to time teams need to work weekends, weeknights, and deal with highly stressed out managers or (worse) customers. This can easily push somebody who has an anxious personality over the edge, so I think it’s important to bring people into a startup who are of a generally calm demeanor and don’t allow undue stress to shut down their nervous systems, so to speak.
Negative Markers (“No-go”)
- Focuses on shiny qualifications: There’s nothing worse than an interview where a candidate who wants to talk more about their degrees, course qualifications, and previous titles than what they actually do, or have accomplished with their work. This can also be a telling clue as to where their sense of professional pride stems from, and while not necessarily a bad thing for the person, this is definitely not a good thing for the startup.
- Debates contract minutiae: When a candidate wants to get into detail about contractual stipulations around things like office hours, leave, overtime (seriously?) and performance management policy (etc), I see red flags going up all over the place. Startup attorneys often write up employment contracts to favor that favor the company in the event of a labour dispute. If the candidate is truly ready to join the company, they will probably realize that (a) none of those things are likely to be managed and tracked to the letter of the contract anyway, (b) they will work as hard as they need to be a valuable member of the team and pursue the vision, and (c) a startup is not a big corporation.
- No private projects to speak of: A candidate who has no side “pet” projects (past or present) to discuss is a concern, because that may show a certain lack of curiosity and personal passion in the candidate’s work. This mentality is needed for team members to think of innovative ideas to contribute to their area of the business, as opposed to just doing the work set out before them.
- Believes age equals entitlement: I am all about experience, capability, and delivery- and this is completely independent of a person’s age. Age can of course naturally lead to or correlate with these things (for most people maturity and experience takes time to develop), but when age alone is seen to be guarantee of seniority or entitlement, it’s cause for instant disqualification in my book.
- Existing staff feel uneasy: The social IQ of a team far exceeds that of the CEO or manager in charge. When a team member (or members) feels a little uneasy about bringing a new candidate on board, it’s best to take their concerns very seriously and reconsider the decision to hire. More often than not, the team will be right. This can very hard to do in situations where the hiring manager likes the candidate, and the person really wants to join the company. Hiring isn’t always easy.
I hope that this list of markers helps you to hire better. And remember, even with the best of checklists, there’s just no substitute for trusting your gut.
Good luck and good team building!