12 Key Traits to Look for When Hiring for Your Early-Stage Business

What would you say is the No. 1 characteristic you look for when bringing a new hire on board to an early-stage company, and why is that trait critical during that time?

Hiring early-stage business staff
photo credit: Gustavo Fring / Pexels

These answers are provided by Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most successful young entrepreneurs. YEC members represent nearly every industry, generate billions of dollars in revenue each year and have created tens of thousands of jobs. Learn more at yec.co.

1. The Drive to Win

In the early days of a startup, there are so many challenges and hurdles to overcome that it can feel incredibly daunting both for the founder and for your employees. Having a group of people who are not just high performers, but who are also driven to win ensures you will overcome those challenges together.

Ben Jones, Ohi

2. Adaptability

An important characteristic to look for in any new hire and especially in the early stages of a company is adaptability. Being on a small team often means wearing many different hats. Tasks and responsibilities can be fluid and established roles can change overnight. Seeking out an employee with a flexible mindset and an aptitude for taking on new things sets everyone up for success.

Rachel Lipson, Blue Balloon Songwriting for Small People

3. Coachability

Identifying people who are coachable is key. It’s always good to meet and be introduced to a candidate who has confidence, but there’s another “C” that’s even more important when hiring a new team member. Ask yourself the question, “Are they coachable?” Having people who are willing to be flexible, learn a new skill fast and jump to a different task or team is essential for early startups.


4. Consistency

Consistency is key. Once you’re newly hired, the chances of performing well are really high, but once you’ve worked for a while, the feeling of excitement can go away and boredom can pop up. In a few years’ time, there could be a feeling of discontentment and unhappiness. Consistency in performance, attendance, attitude and flexibility are things I usually check for, and I start doing that while interviewing applicants.

Daisy Jing, Banish

High five between colleagues

5. Loyalty

Employee loyalty is one of the most desirable traits for a congenial workplace. Companies should foster employee loyalty for the long-term success and effective delegation of tasks. Allow employees to solve problems on their own, set their own timing, use their own style of decision making, etc. Given adequate power, managers can delegate responsibilities and hold employees accountable.

Vikas Agrawal, Infobrandz

6. Positivity

An important characteristic I look for when hiring new candidates is their level of positivity. It’s easy to let negative thoughts kill your drive and impact your productivity, but when I see someone using positivity to get things done, it inspires me to do the same. Work can cause stress, so it’s important to learn how to remain positive.

Stephanie Wells, Formidable Forms

7. The Ability to Communicate

This quality is crucial for small-team startups. Everyone needs to be on the same page at all times to make sure things run smoothly. If I get the sense that the person is flakey, I usually pass. You need strong, dependable people who know how to communicate during this phase of your growth.

John Brackett, Smash Balloon LLC

8. The Motivation to Be Better

They need to meet the minimum skill requirements, but after that I look for motivation to be better. As a company, we are big believers of getting better every day and we have developed a culture of continuous learning. We want our new hires to feel the same way. The more each individual improves, the more we all improve.

Zane Stevens, Protea Financial

Taking online classes

9. Eagerness to Learn

I go out of my way to find new hires who are eager to learn. I’m not too picky about their experience as long as they understand our company’s role and know a little bit about the industry. I’ve found that an inexperienced person with the desire to learn is way better than a skilled person who is unwilling to learn new things.

John Turner, SeedProd LLC

10. Personal Accountability

It’s critical that any new hire to an early-stage business has a sense of personal accountability. When a small business is struggling to grow, it’s important that every person on the team is pulling their own weight. If they are struggling, they need to ask for help and look for solutions. It’s only when a person feels accountable that we can rely on them to get work done.

Blair Williams, MemberPress

11. Passion

You can teach just about everything else in an early-stage company, but passion typically isn’t one of them. Since early-stage companies can have changing environments and goals potentially on a daily basis, you don’t want to have to deal with someone who isn’t passionate about their role, because there’s too much else going on.

Andrew Schrage, Money Crashers Personal Finance

12. Independence

We look for independence and an ability to self-start. Leaders of early-stage startups don’t have time to hand-hold or walk new hires through every stage of their development. When hiring early, you don’t necessarily need to pick up the most skilled candidate on the market. Instead, you need to find those who are resilient, independent and motivated to problem-solve on their own.

Amine Rahal, IronMonk Solutions