Hiring for Your Startup: What To Look For In Your First Employees

Business.com / Hiring / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

Hiring for a startup is a science as one bad hire can ruin your dreams while a great hire can take a company to new heights.

With start-up fever showing no signs of going down, everybody wants to be an entrepreneur rather than an employee.

So let’s say you’ve got a great idea and have managed to convince some venture capitalist to make an impressive investment in your business.

The next step is expansion, and therefore, hiring. 

While getting people onboard at your business can be a rewarding feeling, it is also a rather difficult task, because your employees will decide the future of your business. Chances are that the people you recruit will be exactly the same age as you (or even older, in some cases), and similarly energetic, enthusiastic, and rather clueless as to what the future might bring. 

Related Article: Going Millennial: The Perks of Hiring Generation Y

Here are a few points you should keep in mind while evaluating a candidate in an interview:

Don’t Over-Concentrate on Standardized Tests

In a Forbes report, Venture capitalist Alan Hall lists out the seven C’s of good hiring, or what to look for in a candidate in a typical interview. He lists them as competent, capable, compatible, commitment, character, culture and compensation. It is interesting that academic brilliance, in the form of a sterling academic record, does not find a place in his categories. 

Similarly, the senior VP of Google’s People Relations, Laszlo Bock, points out the unreliability of traditional merit testing formats, like the SATs. He says—“The SAT consistently underpredicts how women and non-whites will perform in college.” Such prescribed testing formats usually adhere to stringent norms that seek to assess a very tiny portion of the candidate’s overall merit. Hence, it is a good idea to not reject the candidate outright if his SAT or GRE scores are not too great. 

In fact, organizations are now open to hiring people without degrees, provided they show exceptional skills at a particular task, and have the zeal to learn.

Check the Creative/Innovative Side of the Candidate

If you’re not concentrating only on college performance, then it follows that there must be something else you can rely on while judging your interviewee’s merit. 

Keep an eye on what else the candidate has done in his college years other than studying—is he an exceptional baseball player? Did he undertake any innovative projects? Did he design a new UI/app? Was he a team leader for any enterprise? Did he participate in debates? A focus on extra-curricular activities will give you a clear idea of the diversity and versatility the recruit can bring into your team.

Virtual Presence

This is a pre-requisite for any kind of job hiring, and especially desirable if you’re leading a startup. Check out the candidate’s online presence—one social media, blogs and other resources on the web. A person’s online profile is a good indicator of his behavioral tendencies. At the same, try to keep an open and unbiased mind while technically stalking your candidate. It’s very easy to make snap judgments when we’re looking at person through online media.

Related Article: Hiring the Hero: 9 Traits to Look For in Successful Candidates

Other Learning

When you’re checking out a resume, keep a sharp look-out for the things that a candidate has learnt other than his chosen course/subject. This could be anything from website designing to piano lessons to culinary ability. This will tell you about the range of interests of the candidate, as well as the kind of skills he/she can bring to your team. 

People without specific degrees or education earn less on average, but finding a person with related experience can help save money on the budget while possessing the same or superior skills as their counterpart with a degree and no experience.

Behavioral and Situational Testing

As Bock points out, questions judging your behavioral instincts and how you would perform given a challenging situation are a few must-ask questions at any interview. The questions themselves may seem drab, like “tell us about a challenging situation you faced and how you overcame it?” as these are the staple queries at any interview. 

According to Bock, however, it is the answers to these questions that determine the mettle your candidate is made of and such “structured” interview questions are better than random ones like “what kind of music best defines your life principle?” which will only bias the interviewer and mislead him in selection.

Case Studies/ General IQ Testing/ Subject Testing

Evaluating how mentally adept a candidate is for a job is something you definitely cannot do away with. In such situations, it is better to ask questions that determine the flexibility and on-the-spot thinking of your candidate, rather than bookish questions which they will come having learnt by heart. 

So instead of asking the candidate to explain the knick-knacks of the Hibernate (Java) framework (something that could just be learnt off Google) you must ask questions that credit improvisation and creative thinking.

Never Evaluate a Candidate Based on the First 5 Minutes

This is a mistake several interviewers make, leading to disastrous hires. It is very likely that the better candidate is one who will take a little time to adjust to the movement of the interview, slowly gaining confidence with each question. Street-smart candidates, who do not know much but would seek to deceive you by glib talk and a show of confidence, are actually quite common.

Related Article: Moving On Up: When Is It Time to Hire Your First Employee?

So try to avoid such traps and choose a candidate only on the overall time duration of the interview. Going by your gut when hiring works for some and is a disaster in other hiring situations. Make decisions on concrete evidence and make sure to thoroughly vet the person you are letting into your startup. One negative person could actually hurt your dream more than help it.

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