When bringing new hires on board to an early-stage company, what is the No. 1 characteristic you look for?
The following answers are provided by members of Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched BusinessCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.
1. Action Oriented
I look for people with a bias toward action. Early-stage companies do not operate with perfect information, as the business plan can change in a week and strategy is a hypothesis. Big companies train people to mitigate risks, both for the company and for themselves. But at an early-stage company, risk is implied. The best hires are people who understand that the only way to de-risk is to try.
When we began our company, we weren’t exactly sure where the industry was headed or even our place within it. So, it was important for us to feel strongly about the people we brought on to ensure they were a strong fit for the culture and environment we were trying to create. We tapped more into their personalities, and it definitely helped us determine if they were the best possible fit.
3. Mental Flexibility
Flexibility and the ability to effectively handle stressful situations are crucial. Working in an early-stage company can be stressful and may require an individual to wear many hats. New hires should be able to adapt easily, learn quickly and manage stress in a productive way.
Independence is the No. 1 characteristic I look for in a new hire. It is important to have someone who is good to work with, but is also capable of getting stuff done on their own. If your company is in its early stages, then you need to be focused on the bigger picture, which is why it’s important to hire employees who are self-starting and self-sufficient.
5. Broad Interests
You can benefit so much from hiring someone who is interested in exploring a broad range of topics and tasks. Not only are these people some of the most adaptable, they’ll often accomplish things you didn’t know needed doing. Someone who isn’t just willing, but also interested in having a wide breadth of knowledge will see unexpected connections and help you innovate.
The most important characteristic to look for in new hires during the early stage of your company is talent. Experience is too expensive, so you need to focus on talented hires with limited experience. Find talented people and nurture them over time, as they will become your leadership team. Early on, a large portion of your employee base will be non-paid interns — focus on talent over experience!
7. Long-Haul Warriors
Hiring solid, competent talent is always the best approach — but often, their stay with your company will be ephemeral at best. Look for those long-term employees who are excited about what you’re doing and will be next to you years down the road when you’re fighting for market share, looking for investments or evolving your business. These warriors are invaluable to success.
8. Good Attitude
Competence and experience are obviously extremely important, but I’ve found that a good attitude is the most important trait. An employee with a bad attitude can demoralize your entire team, and that can have disastrous consequences for young companies.
I value team members who are open to both constructive feedback and finding new and innovative ways to get their work done. This flexibility helps my company move and grow as the market changes, and allows us to nimbly correct our trajectory to meet current trends. It’s important to stay abreast of the latest in technology and best practices in my industry, and I need a team member who values that.
You know that the right hire won’t be great at everything under the sun. Ask an applicant what they know they’re not good at, and they should be able to answer this question quickly and specifically. Generic answers will tell you that they have weak self-awareness. Hires who don’t already know their own weak points require heavy management because they won’t know when to stop and ask for help.
I’ve seen highly qualified candidates walk in the door and expect everything to be handed to them, whether it’s a salesperson hoping leads will just fall in their lap or a marketer who believes that images and other ad creatives will build themselves. At an early-stage company though, the best hires are the ones who can find (or make) the resources they need to be successful in their role.
12. Detail Oriented
New hires need to be detail oriented in order to represent the company well. When you’re an early-stage company, every person on the team impacts your brand’s reputation, so it’s important that new hires follow up when they say they will, write typo-free copy and know how to format things properly. Clients consider all these details when they’re evaluating your company.
When I started my company, I made sure I hired developers and project managers who could do tasks other than the ones outlined in their job profiles. In early stages, the ability for staff to do multiple tasks goes a long way. My developers and project managers could do office management and other company-related tasks, which made my job easier.
Skills can always be taught, especially for new hires who are eager to learn. What’s more important is gauging their values and their ability to overcome challenges. During the interview process, we ask for two to three life experiences that have most impacted their lives. For us, we want team members who appreciate the struggle of a startup and who have the awareness to continuously learn.
I look for hungry, driven employees who want to be part of something larger. My team is like a family and we are all dedicated to helping the company grow while helping each other in the process. The better the company does, the better we all do, so I look for that special combination of drive, personality and team-driven attitude.