Out of necessity, entrepreneurs understand that they need to be able to do a little bit of everything. This is especially true when you’re launching a startup. However, at some point, a startup will need to expand beyond its founders to grow and flourish. Someone hired at this early stage may end up being a core part of your team’s success. On a small group, they will invariably exert an influence on others through daily interactions and the attitude they display towards their work.
There are some matters related to hiring that only you can settle, such as budget concerns or your competencies. These will play a part in determining how much you can afford to pay a new hire or the degree of responsibility you can relinquish in a particular area. But assuming those have been cleared, what are you looking for in your ideal candidate? These criteria can help you evaluate the talent pool and find that key contributor.
As a startup founder, you probably want someone who can tackle the stuff you’re not that good at. A complementary hire certainly has the potential to improve your business. They can do specific things you might not ever be able to master, while in turn allowing you to refocus on what you do best.
But complementary fit isn’t the only consideration when you try to evaluate a candidate’s skill set. Not all specializations bring equal value to a particular startup. Even if you’re not a marketing specialist, a self-made website, online survey programs, and other tools can be good enough to get the job done. Or you might be able to outsource specialized skill needs, such as accountancy or payroll services, at a fraction of the cost of an internal hire.
If a specialized, complementary hire doesn’t add enough value on top of what you already bring to the table, their potential to expand the role can be the X-factor instead. A marketer’s skill set could offer an upgrade in terms of designing a high-impact website or running campaigns, but what might put them over the top is their versatility. Someone who can successfully manage consumer relationships, manage events, write and deliver engaging content on social media will provide a lot of value both upfront and in the long term.
Of course, there’s a lot more to hiring the right candidate than matching ability with function. A person’s resume lists their qualifications and relevant experience, but there’s a human element to consider as well. This is why a good hiring process usually comes down to the interview. You want to hire someone you’re personally comfortable working with.
A face-to-face interview, however, provides only a limited opportunity to gauge an individual’s personality. Even if you come loaded with situational questions, applicants will also be prepared. They will know how important it is to put their best foot forward.
For this reason, many startups end up hiring referrals or people they already know. If that’s not an option, you need to define your comfort level and possible red flags when it comes to working with people. Are you willing to work long-term with someone who insists on clocking out after a 9-hour shift and not responding to emails or messages beyond those hours?
If it’s possible, get candidates to work on a short-term contract before deciding to hire them full-time. This way, you get the opinion of your co-founders or other team members. You expose them to real business situations. Over time, you get a better sense of whether or not they will work out for your team.
A question of passion
It’s the nature of a startup to have more work and long hours to go around for every team member. Employees who are accustomed to working in a traditional, well-defined hierarchy will probably experience some form of culture shock. They may be willing to work through the adjustment, but is this open attitude sustainable over the long haul?
It might not be reasonable for a founder to expect the rest of the team to match their level of commitment. And you can certainly get better results by managing everyone’s work hours and energy levels. But on some level, every member of your team must share the same passion.
Having a passion for your work will sustain you through challenges and long hours. It shifts your mindset from one of avoidance (“that’s not my responsibility”) to collaboration and problem-solving to accomplish a common goal. Knowing this, hiring someone for passion might be the most critical criterion you can select for in the whole process.