Hiring for Startups: The 4 Types of People You Should Hire, but Don’t

Hiring for Startups is Hard.

Your company is growing, your product is awesome, and it’s time to stop doing everything yourself. You need to hire someone – fast.

But who do you hire? I’m not talking about ‘who’ in terms of their role, but rather the type of person they are. What’s their employment history, what employment structure are they looking for, and what skills do they have?

These are the important questions to ask, and the questions most startups overlook. That’s what I’ll cover in this post – let’s get started.

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Hiring for Startups vs. Hiring for an Established Company

To understand the types of people that startups should hire, it’s first important to understand the different dynamics of a startup company versus a large, well established company.  Why does that matter? Well, there are important differences that, if not understood, can negatively impact the way a startup finds top talent.

First, a startup doesn’t usually have the resources to invest upfront in talent acquisition staff.  You’ll typically find that in most startups, CEOs and VPs are doing the hiring with little to no prior experience in managing and implementing full lifecycle recruiting processes.  This can lead to a lack of structure in a hiring process.

Secondly, the scope and responsibilities of a position may not be as well defined in a startup company as what you’d typically see in a larger organization.  This is sometimes intentional, but may also be due to inexperience in terms of conducting a job analysis, writing job descriptions, and establishing clear cut objectives for a position.  

And lastly, most startup companies have a more narrow focus, whereas large organizations have the luxury of planning, forecasting, and focusing on wider scale goals and objectives.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but is more so a necessary evil as a startup company develops their strategic plan and establishes their targets for growth.  What this means is that their recruiting efforts may also be narrowed, which can have significant implications in terms of candidate pool size.

With these differences in mind, we can now begin to think about the types of people that startups need to hire but, in many cases, don’t.  

Types of People a Startup Should Hire


1. Freelancers or Part Time Employees

For a CEO or VP of a startup company, hiring anyone is a risk. Taking on any expense is a risk as the company evolves in its early stages. Moreso, there are less obvious risks too. As Close.io CEO Steli Efti has said –  Salespeople and engineers have different DNA. They communicate and think differently. Bringing salespeople on board can cause a lot of misunderstanding and office politics.”

But in terms of recruiting, it’s important to always put yourself in the candidate’s shoes. Engaging with a startup company is an equal risk on their part, considering the company may not have an established market presence, known reputation, or a proven successful strategic plan for growth and stability.  

Some candidates may be more willing to accept such risks on a part-time or freelance basis.  While this may not be ideal for a VP or CEO who wants to onboard someone that is fully invested in the startup’s future, it’s critical not to discard these candidates or eliminate the possibility for part-time or freelance work in the beginning of their engagement with the company.  Doing so can cause the company to miss out on a large portion of an otherwise well-qualified candidate pool.


2. “Job Hoppers”

We’ve all seen these resumes – the candidate that has 10 companies listed on their resume over the past 5 years!  Our first thoughts about these candidates are typically negative, and for understandable reasons. However, you aren’t hiring a resume; you’re hiring a person.  

Take the time to talk to that candidate and very intentionally discuss their background and reasons for leaving each position.  You may find that this person is incredibly creative, opinionated, or entrepreneur-minded, which didn’t jive well with previous employers.  

Surprisingly, this may be just the type of person your company needs to thrive and grow!  Perhaps the candidate grew tired of corporate politics and bureaucracy quickly, so he or she was often looking for something that offered more potential for career growth and the ability to be a more independent thinker.  A startup company may just be the perfect fit for this person.


3. Candidates with seemingly “mis-matched” skill sets

Earlier, I mentioned that startup companies may not always have the best written job description with the most clear-cut set of responsibilities and duties.  So, if a candidates doesn’t meet every “check in the box”, don’t be too quick to rule them out of contention. Remember – You aren’t necessarily looking for the candidate that has done the EXACT same job over and over; what you ARE looking for is the candidate that possesses the proven skills and abilities to do the job successfully for your company.  

Another factor to keep in mind is that job descriptions can be read and interpreted in many different ways by different candidates, particularly if the job description is short, non-specific, and/or vague.  A candidate may have held the same title as the job you have posted, but had an entirely different set of responsibilities. This isn’t always a bad thing! Most employees of startup companies will wear many different hats and take on many tasks and responsibilities outside of their job description.  


4. Candidates that don’t meet some of the requirements

And last, but not least, startup companies (like every other company) will have applicants that don’t meet every single requirement of the job description.  I urge CEOs and VPs not to be overly critical of these potential candidates. A bachelor’s degree is a great credential and, in some cases, demonstrates commitment and knowledge.

On the other hand, I’ve worked with some incredibly knowledgeable and committed people in startup companies that have never attended a college course.  Further, I’ve worked with college graduates in startup companies that have no real experience in their industries and aren’t very committed to the job at all.

The point here is not to discredit someone if they don’t meet every requirement and to expand your thinking to ensure you are generating a large pool of candidates.  The larger pool of candidates you have, the more likely you are to find that perfect fit for your small and growing company.

Abilities and Skills a Candidate Needs

Now, if you’re looking for a more specific overview of abilities and skills that are critical for startup candidates, consider the following.  Keep in mind that simply reading a resume will not give you a clear picture of whether or not a person has these KSAs, but taking the time to speak with them surely will!

  • Creative and independent thinkers who enjoy unique challenge and the ability to engage in problem solving on a daily basis
  • The ability to manage not only monetary resources, but human capital resources
  • Decision makers that aren’t afraid to “pull the trigger” and use sound judgement to draw conclusions and implement solutions
  • Learners that seek constant professional development and thrive in an environment where there is always something new to explore and learn
  • Collaborators that know how to not only solicit input from the team, but also understand how to implement that input into the development of actionable goals and milestones
  • Multitaskers who are comfortable with shifting priorities, constant change, and seemingly never ending challenges
  • Critical thinkers who will not always color within the lines, but will question processes and strategy and bring about real conversation that leads to necessary improvements
  • Motivated professionals that always push themselves and their team further to not only accomplish goals, but exceed them and create new benchmarks for others

I know as well as anyone that hiring is not easy. So why make it harder on yourself? Lower your standards in the beginning and you’ll be surprised by just how many of these candidates surprise you.

If you’re in the process of hiring engineers, you may want to read this post on using technical assignments in interviews.

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