The Most Successful Startup Founders Do This When Hiring
How to objectively hire for core competencies that will move your vision forward—and what to watch out for.
As a startup founder, your job consists of three main responsibilities: ensuring the company is capitalized well enough to execute, setting a clear vision, and recruiting a team. When you’re ready to start hiring, of course you need to recruit people with the functional skills necessary to achieve the mission of the company, but also the behavioral competencies required for small and scrappy teams. We see many founders put too much emphasis on someone’s ability to get the work done. Instead, they should be focusing on how that person is doing the work.
“How” employees are expected to work will change as your company grows, but we see employees who embody the following aptitudes have the most success at early stage startups: strong accountability to others, dedicated focus on the customer, and consistent comfort with ambiguity.
Here’s what we mean:
Accountability to others: Seek out people who are accountable to their word and take ownership of their work. Those with a “get it done” attitude who aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty are invaluable.
Focus on the customer: Be in love with your customer, not your product. You’re in danger of losing your competitive advantage if your team doesn’t have a strong connection to the target consumer.
Comfort with ambiguity: Adaptability may be a buzzword right now, but for good reason. It’s crucial for team members to make pivots with agility and grace.
You can test for how well candidates embody these values with interview questions like:
- Imagine you make a pretty big mistake at work and you come tell me about it. How would you approach the conversation with me and what steps would you take to rectify the mistake?
- Tell me about one of your most challenging clients or customers. How did you win them over and continue to build a positive relationship with them?
- Describe a challenging experience where you narrowly achieved success. Walk me through the situation and how you managed to overcome it.
A couple of things to listen for when you’re speaking to candidates:
- Look for people who readily acknowledge mistakes and can explain how they took steps to prevent similar issues in the future. Be sure to take note if a candidate asks more about the title and level of a role than the collaborative nature and work itself. Anyone who cares too much about the title and isn’t willing to be in the weeds likely isn’t joining your organization for the right reason.
- Observe if people reference customer-centric actions in their past roles and describe how consumer feedback has influenced their decision-making. Dedication to the customer will likely manifest in a candidate's storytelling about real-world scenarios.
- Watch for signs of enthusiasm when embracing new challenges, learning from them, and applying those lessons in subsequent situations.
Hiring your first team can be a big undertaking, so be sure to focus on the mindsets that matter. Using the resources above, you’ll be all set to build a team that is committed to scaling your organization.