One of the biggest challenge that startups face in the early stages as well as while scaling up is building up a great team. Hiring right is a very important part of building a startup, and there are several factors to consider before hiring your next employee. While there are some well established practices for hiring and traits that you need to look for in employees, I think hiring in India has some interesting challenges. This is especially true because of the way India's educational system trains its students, and the sometimes lop-sided values that schools and colleges place on education. I've found it useful to pay particular attention to the following three characteristics while considering whether to hire somebody:
1) Learning to learn
One of the biggest short-comings of the Indian educational system is that it fails to teach its students how to learn. Students coming from the Indian educational system are very good at cramming up and memorizing things, but don't have a sense for how to learn about a new topic. Asking a typical Indian engineer to learn about renaissance art is likely to cause far more fear than excitement. Learning how to learn is an absolutely important skill that students have to unfortunately pick up outside of the formal education system. Irrespective of who's to blame for the lack of this skill among employees, you need to make sure that the people you're hiring have this very important skillset. Employees, especially in a startup, need to learn about lots of new areas - Legal, Marketing your product, User Interaction, Patents and tons of other areas - on a regular basis, and they should not get stumped by a new task that they have to learn everything about.
For some reason, becoming an expert in a field is not something that people place a premium on. Becoming an expert in a field - any field - demonstrates a real commitment to learning, and is the ultimate result of focus and dedication. Mediocrity is a big barrier to innovation and creativity that you need to protect your startup's culture against.
Another hugely positive thing that comes from becoming an expert in an area is confidence. The confidence that comes from knowing that you can learn everything there is to know about a topic is invaluable. It gives sufficient confidence for a person to know that they can tackle new and unknown challenges, and learn everything there is to know about a problem. I'm not particularly worried when a candidate doesn't have the expertise in exactly the field we want, but that they be an expert at something - anything. Becoming an expert in one field is hard - but once you've done it, using that to gain expertise in related fields is significantly easier.
3) A Sense of Ownership
A sense of ownership is very important in any prospective candidate you are interviewing. A big red flag in some interviews is when the candidate declares that "I didn't work on that" or "I wasn't responsible for that feature" in response to a question slightly outside their CV. Working in a startup usually means that everyone has to wear different hats at different times, and you can't risk having your employees say that "It's not in my job description". A strong sense of ownership over work is an essential personality trait that you must test for before hiring anyone. I don't know what it is, but I see that this sense of ownership is mysteriously missing in a large majority of candidates that I've interviewed. There is this annoying tendency to do just what they're told, and blame the lack of instructions for not completing a task. This tendency is probably cultural, but it doesn't work very well in a work environment, where we need people to think through what is needed to get the job done and then follow up and do it.
Of course, you also need to ensure the usual traits - Smartness, culture fit, soft skills etc... match, but I think startups need to pay particular attention to the above three criteria to ensure that employees who come in will fit in well with the culture and succeed at your company.
These are the Top 3 things you should look at while developing a technical team and why building a startup team is equal to reaching Nirvana. If you are an entrepreneur looking to hire the best for your startup, use our Startup Job Board.
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