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Making the right hire for your startup

Vinod Muthukrishnan
31st Jan 2017
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Who doesn’t remember this iconic verbal duel? And while Iron Man’s retort brought the roofs down at the cinemas, it probably won’t at your startup. In that sense, Loki was probably right. You need an army - a really good one - to turn your idea into a global success. No product can sell on its own, and no culture can thrive on its own. You need high-performing, enthusiastic employees who align with your startup’s vision, in a way that they produce impactful work consistently.

And finding this breed of employees can be painstaking. Most of the time, you wouldn’t even know if you’ve made the right hire till later on. And in high-risk environments like a startup, you wouldn’t want to leave something as crucial as hiring to chance.

So, how do you identify people who believe in your startup as much as you do? And what should you be looking for in your soldiers?

Visualise three concentric circles.

At the centre is Ability – their super power, the raw, pure skill to perform and execute what they are expected to. Say you are hiring a marketing campaign specialist. The assumption is that the person interviewed is really good at what he/she does – which is ideating, executing and managing marketing campaigns in this case - and every other assessment parameter is based on this very assumption.

The next circle is Culture. Now, no matter how different or unique your culture is (and no matter what brand of beer you serve!), there are three basic traits to determine if a prospective employee would be a cultural fit. Read my previous piece on Culture here.

  • Are they ultra-passionate? Do they exude passion for what they do, and confidently believe that they can bring their passion to your business?
  • Are they naturally curious? Curious people tend to push the limits - they innovate, invent and are willing to experiment. If you’ve got someone at an interview who hasn’t tried your product out, understood your service, scoured your website inside out, and can’t tell you something about you or your company, you’ve saved yourself a lot of interview time.
  • How diligent are they? Diligence is all about preparation. How well-prepared are they? How well do they know your company and how well can they demonstrate how they can add value to what you do?

Now, while cultural fit has its own significance, there can be nothing like hiring employees who have innate managerial skills. But how do you do that?

One way to go about it is to observe, when given a task, whether the person jumps directly into the fine print or whether they take a bird’s eye view of the whole problem first and foremost. In other words, is this person capable of planning ahead, assessing all the variables, and putting together a clear, constructed plan to tackle the issue at hand, as opposed to diving headfirst into it?

You might be tempted to ask whether startups need to look out for core managerial skill sets even when they are not hiring for managers. Well, employees who marry their core talent with managerial capability – the ability to look far and act close - can be moulded effortlessly into leaders down the line!

The final circle, the one that will truly result in game changing work, is the right Attitude. Being a brilliant narcissist is no good for a startup if you can’t be a team player! Let’s put it this way: Would you rather have Iron Man or Captain America on your side?

Great team players have a natural tendency to build high-performing teams, coach and mentor co-workers, earn respect rather than demanding it, and are happy to share credit with other employees.

Equally important is knowing whether the prospective employee is a fundamentally good human being. In fact, this is one of the top five traits of unicorn employees. The true achievers at work – the ones who make as little noise as possible - are usually extremely humble people.

And when these attitudinal traits sit on top of excellent core skills and a seamless cultural fit, you get the perfect hire!

An interesting caveat here for startup founders is that none of the above mentioned characteristics/traits, barring work skills, are reliant on work experience. You might end up interviewing a digital marketer who has eight years of experience, one whose resume makes your eyeballs pop, but who turns out to be an total a**.

The responsibility to take your startup to the level of a global phenomenon is to be shared by all employees. Set the bar high, and give every single one of them the opportunity to perform consistently, with impact. You need the ones that understand your culture, believe in your vision, and feed off your passion. Like Loki said, you need that army. But for your startup, what you need is an army of Hulks.

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)

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