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Hiring for Startups, at any role, is a big deal.

hiring for startups

Each person you hire has the potential to make or break the company because their contributions have such a high impact on the company’s progress towards funding or breaking even. So, you really do want to take your time – find that perfect person with the fantastic attitude and killer skill-set.

But, startups work at break-neck speeds to get to a certain point of value before running out of cash or those impressive reserves of Ramen Noodles. So, despite your usually discerning gut feeling, you go ahead and hire someone that you are only somewhat sure about. Maybe you justify it because of the cost or because their code makes your CTO shed a silent tear of joy.

Either way you end up hiring someone that just doesn’t fit in a startup culture.

Here’s the good news, unlike larger companies where a good number of ‘cave dwellers’ can simply coast their way into retirement, the wrong fit in a startup is evident fairly quickly. Of course, you still have to be willing to do something about it – and fast.

I have had first-hand experience in hiring the wrong fit while navigating the startup waters at Wagepoint. This was partly due to not trusting my gut feeling and partly because I was trying to be someone that could ‘work with anyone’ – an unfortunate compulsion trained into me during my short stint at the Big Corporations.

We survived it – but only because we took speedy action. That said, we noticed a pattern of behaviours that was consistent in all our non-fit hires.

Here are 5 giveaways of the wrong hire – what to watch out for when hiring for startups:

  1. Does NOT actively participate – At startups, you spend a lot time talking to each other and almost seemingly going around in circles. This is simply because you are not always sure which path to take and brainstorming is critical in figuring out what to do next and particularly, in uncovering areas of innovation. The wrong fit simply wants to do what has been decided and not actively participate in deciding what to do.
  2. Does NOT get the joys of collaboration – Collaboration is important at almost any company, regardless of its size. But many people join startups because of the small intimate teams that work hard and play hard. A wrong fit simply doesn’t get this. They treat it like a job and not a mission. They simply don’t care about the outcome enough to collaborate and make it happen.
  3. Does NOT ask questions – I realize this seems important in any job, but the negative implication of not doing it is compounded in a startup. If time and money is in short-supply, then the magical power of mind-reading is pretty much non-existent. And yet, wrong hires do not feel the need to clarify what needs to be done. They simply assume to know what is required of them. Consequently, they waste time in re-working it once you explain to them how you really wanted a table and not a roller-coaster.
  4. Are NOT Doers – If your new hire wants to manage people and not do the work themselves, you have just hired the wrong fit for a startup. There really is no room (or money) for managerial attitudes and habits. Even CEO’s are pretty much the lowest person on the totem pole because they are always at a position of disadvantage. They have to convince everyone, including Superstars, to work extra hard, for extra cheap.
  5. Does NOT check-in voluntarily – Everyone at a startup is super busy, after all there are only so many hours in the day in which to make mistakes, correct them and make some progress. The wrong hire does not accept that it is their responsibility to keep everyone informed of their accomplishments. They wait until they are asked. This is probably the single most telling sign of a wrong hire.

Hiring the wrong fit wastes precious time and money – something a startup can nary afford to do. If you want to get further into specifics of hiring for startups, check out these awesome blog posts: Hiring your first sales rep: 10 tips and common mistakes by Michael Silagadze and Want to run a startup? Then be ready to hire and fire! by Karen Mazurkewich.

Do you have any lessons learned from hiring the wrong fit at your startup? Share them in the comments below!