When you’re first starting out in a new venture it can be thrilling. Adrenaline-filled. Nerve-wracking. Insomnia-inducing. And that’s if all goes well!
When you get to the point of needing to hire someone beyond your founding team, this process can be filled with anxiety, too. How do you find someone who believes in your vision as much as you do? Someone who will be able to take your vision and run with it? Someone you don’t have to hand-hold, yet they somehow grasp what you’re trying to do? Someone who understands how they fit into the picture to achieve your collective dreams? Someone who’s flexible not only in terms of job responsibilities, but also with the ever-changing world they will likely face every day? Someone that has the skills to excel while dealing with all of this and more?
Finding the perfect early startup hire is no easy task, but you’re up to the challenge. Start with identifying the characteristics you need from this person. This list shouldn’t be limited to a technical skill set, though that may be important too. The key is to find someone who is the right organizational fit — a fit with the culture, and a fit with the growing business needs. Someone who just “gets it” and shares your vision for success.
Here are 17 qualities to look for in the perfect early startup hire:
1. Belief in your vision.
If this new hire is going to be willing to give it his all, he needs to fully believe in what you’re trying to do. At this stage in the game there’s no half-heartedness allowed! Sure, he may take time to become as passionately invested as you are, but belief in what you’re doing should be there from day one. This person should be excited about helping the whole team achieve the mission.
Anyone starting up a business knows that it takes drive and energy to get through the long days. Someone who is too passive and lacking energy to drive toward a goal isn’t likely to be someone who will be able to thrive in a fast-paced startup environment.
You would think this one would go without saying, but it doesn’t. Having intelligence means not only having the expertise (technical or otherwise) to do the actual work, but also having the business intelligence to understand what needs to be done and contribute to the conversation. It also means having the emotional intelligence to know how to play nicely with multiple personality types both inside and outside of the organization.
Does a startup have standard work hours? Hardly likely. One pre-set list of tasks that is an entire job description? No way. Established processes and documentation? Not yet. An early startup hire will need to be completely comfortable with ever-changing responsibilities and work demands. And this flexibility must be accompanied by a good attitude; just because your new hire is willing to put in a crazy long work day when needed, if he or she moans and groans about it the whole time that’s not going to work!
5. Ability to get s*!t done.
GSD. No excuses. No BS. Your new hire should find ways to get things done, even if he’s never done them before. He should be able to ask for help when needed, but not let lack of experience get in the way of making things happen. He should never assume it’s someone else’s job. If it needs to happen, He needs to make it happen! (This skill may also be known as being proactive, persistent or having a sense of urgency. Any way around it: GSD!)
6. Thrives as an individual contributor.
This person won’t wait to be told what to do every step of the way, nor will he feel that he’s above doing even the most mundane task. In a startup, every person has to pull their own weight. You don’t need managers or delegators at this point, you need doers. There’s a time and a place for people who excel at people management and project delegation; but right now is the time for each person to hold their own and then some.
7. Strategic thinker.
Thinking outside the box isn’t optional. A new hire in an early startup has to be able to GSD while looking at the big picture and ensuring that his or her actions are helping the fledgling company achieve its goals. This requires a fair amount of strategic thinking. Ideally this person will have their own six-month vision for the business and will be able to explain their strategic plan to get there and what actions will be required along the way.
Did you know that this person will need to get things done, even if they’ve never done them before? Or that there are not yet procedures and processes in place that explain how things “should” be done? The ability to deal with a blank slate (and often limited budget) requires creative thinking. Creative approaches can be a competitive advantage for the organization.
9. Broad skill set.
Do you need someone with technical expertise? What about experience in your industry? What about excellent teamwork skills, adaptability, and a great attitude? You probably need all of those things. You also need someone that is going to be willing and able to pick up new responsibilities as needed. Someone who is going to be able to use their creative thinking to get things done that perhaps they’ve never done before. Maybe your technical person is also going to have to help market the company for a while, for example. Be sure that your new hire has enough experience and the right attitude to be able to take their skills and apply them broadly.
10. Different from you.
One of the best pieces of advice when hiring, especially when your team is still small, is to assess the skills your team is lacking and hire someone who has those skills. This is no small task, but it will help your team become stronger.
11. Willingness to take risks.
The ability to stick your neck out is crucial for an early startup hire. Why? Because there are only a few of you on the team, and whenever the business needs a bold idea or a risky action, someone has to take ownership of it and do it or it won’t get done.
12. Compatible work style.
Call this cultural fit. Call it attitude. Call it whatever you like. The person you hire needs to have a work style that will be compatible with the rest of the team, or misunderstandings and frustrations could quickly mount. They can be perfect in every other way – experience, intelligence, skills, etc. – but if this person is unable to mesh and integrate into your organizational culture, it’s probably not going to work out.
Some things happen really fast in a startup. Other things – like the formation of a career ladder to climb – are not always so quick. If your new hire simply wants to have ever-changing new titles on his or her resume, they will probably grow impatient quickly. Look for someone who understands that things don’t always happen at the rate you expect in a startup. Sometimes it’s faster and you have to be prepared. Other times it’s slower and you have to regroup. Sometimes processes need to be repeated to see results. Someone who gets frustrated or impatient quickly is not going to be happy in this environment.
14. Ability to fail fast.
Making mistakes is expected. So is quickly learning from them and doing better. This process has to happen fast if the startup is going to survive. In a startup environment, the team must research, learn, implement, analyze for issues and fix problems—and then do it all again.
15. Sense of humor.
When things go wrong – and they will – the whole team needs to be able to band together and fix it. This is borderline impossible if anyone on the team focuses on blame and negativity rather than being pragmatic. Having a sense of humor throughout the whole crazy process is crucial.
16. Ability to receive and act on feedback.
Combine the need to be fast-paced with the fact that mistakes are going to happen and it’s easy to see why feedback will need to be delivered frequently and will need to be acted upon immediately. If a startup team member cannot take feedback and use it to improve, then how will that person learn and grow and help the organization thrive?
17. Gut instinct—yours.
Most importantly: disregard any or all of the items above when you find the person who can mesh with your team and push you forward. Gut instinct matters.
Does having and following this list guarantee success? Of course not – nothing does. But if you start here you’ll have a good idea of what to look for before the interviewing process even begins.
The Ice Bucket Challenge. Whether you love it or hate it, you can’t deny the genius virality of the campaign that has dominated social media this month, to raise awareness and funding for ALS.
California is in the middle of a chronic drought, and it’s winter in Sydney (though typically delightful). We decided to meet the challenge in the most sustainable way possible, using ice-cold water from two of the most famous water-cities in the world. Enjoy!
In San Francisco Bay…
…and the next day, in Sydney Harbour
We’ve welcomed a lot of new faces to RecruitLoop over the past 3 months. It’s been a hectic time of on-boarding, training, building furniture, and hazing (the friendly kind).
Most of these guys are already up to speed, and working with clients and members of our community. It’s past time to introduce them publicly!
Rory O’Brien – Client Success
Rory founded TEDxReno. He likes dogs. And sport. Especially the 49ers. In fact, his dog wears a 49ers bow tie. Before RecruitLoop, he worked remotely with a web development firm from the Ukraine. He lost that job when Russia invaded. Sad but true story; though lucky for us.
Kendra Williams – Marketplace Growth
Kendra calls herself a Silicon Valley baby – literally. She grew up in San Jose, the product of an IBM + Intel couple. She also grew up around HR – her mom and brother are both in the space. Most recently, she was on-site at Google, managing Contingent Workforce sourcing, hiring, and performance management specifically for People Ops (primarily Staffing).
Calvin Wei – Sales Executive
Calvin joined RecruitLoop after a few years in sales at an electronic and components distributor. He grew up in San Jose, and studied at UCLA. Doesn’t drink, but there’s nothing he won’t eat – including guinea pig on a recent trip to Peru. Addicted to baclava.
Chad Doe – Sales Executive
Chad studied undergrad at University of Wisconsin-Madison and la Universidad de Sevilla. He learnt sales at CDW in Chicago, before heading to business school in France. He’s a world traveller, speaks 3 languages, and makes a mean pizza. #alwayshustling
Jeff Dean – Sales Executive
Jeff just moved to San Francisco from Reno, Nevada, where he studied Finance and Economics. He spent a semester abroad in San Sebastian, and travelled Europe extensively. He’s a keen snowboarder, football fan, and occasionally dabbles in parkour.
Mikiko Bazeley – Sales Hacker
Miki is San Francisco native (the only one on the team!). Her vague title is matched by her diverse interests: anthropology, digital storytelling, development, dancing (salsa), knitting, and running.
Marin Staykov – Software Engineer
Marin moved to San Francisco from Washington State. His budding career in motocross was cut short by an accident. Now he sticks to live music, Korea food and building software. This is his only known photograph.
It’s incredibly exciting to see a team grow in this way. You’ll be seeing and experiencing the impact of each of these guys in different ways over the next few months.
Stay tuned for a few other faces in the coming weeks. And check out our other open roles!
Your new employee is great – they’ve settled in, made friends and started producing work that’s as good as you knew it would be. It looks like they’re a strong fit, and will stick around for a long time.
You’re pleased with the recruiter who found them, and you’re considering using them again to expand the design team… right up until you receive the invoice.
It feels like just four weeks ago they were sitting across from you taking a brief on the person you needed to find. How could they possibly have performed $15,000 worth of work in a month?
Even if they were working full time, solely on finding your candidate – which you know they weren’t – that’s an average annual wage of $180,000. That’s $80,000 more than you pay yourself! In fact… you don’t even pay your lawyer that much!
So, is a recruiter really worth more than your lawyer?
Well let’s break it down. Good lawyers charge $300-$800 per hour. Traditional recruiters charge 15-35% of the salary of the position they fill. For most roles, that leads to a fee of anywhere between $10,000 – 50,000.
When considering the time required to fill most roles, the effective hourly rate of a recruiter can end up being more than your lawyer.
Is the cost justified?
Sure, talent is critical for a business’ success, and attracting that talent takes special skills and networking. By no means am I diminishing the value a good recruiter can bring in finding the right talent.
Let’s consider for a minute though, what it takes to become a lawyer and charge upwards of $300/hr for your work (at least in the US):
Excellent high school performance, four years of undergraduate studies, LSAT tests, graduate law school for another three years, the Bar Exam, then at least a few years as an Associate.
It takes years, and thousands of dollars in education and training, for lawyers to be ‘qualified’ to charge at least $300 an hour.
On the other hand, while many recruiters have an undergraduate degree, initial requirements in large agencies can be nothing more than a personality test and sales background. While the requirements of the two jobs are clearly different, are the skills and value brought to the table by a recruiter really equivalent to that of a top lawyer?
For difficult positions, a good recruiter can save your company a lot of time and money. However, most positions filled by recruiters are not Executive. The hours worked, and skills required, to recruit your next Customer Service Officer or Marketing Coordinator don’t really justify a price tag similar to that of a lawyer.
Recruiting is a professional service (when done properly). Like other professional services, hourly pricing can make complete sense. If the position was easy to fill, that saving should come back to you. After all, you’re the one who developed the great company culture and offered above-market rates to ensure you closed the right candidate quickly. If a position is difficult to fill, the recruiter continues to look for solutions rather than moving on to easier jobs.
Managing a recruiter by the hour sometimes makes hiring managers nervous. There’s a belief that recruiters may abuse the system and charge more hours than they actually spent.
And in many cases recruiters don’t want to charge an hourly rate, because they lose the potential for the outsized paydays associated with a traditional success fee.
The fact is, I don’t know anyone who would agree to pay a recruiter $500+ an hour. But in many cases, that’s exactly how much – and possibly more – they are being paid via the traditional commission model.