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A Manager’s Guide to Successful Startup Recruitment

Adi Assaf


So, you’ve reached the growth stage at your startup. Kudos!! Now you’re looking for sterling recruits to take your company to the next level. You’ve got a pile of CVs on your desk and it’s time to start interviewing applicants for several positions. What should you be looking for and how can you determine if the person sitting across your desk has what it takes to succeed?


Obviously, you will first need to ensure that the applicant has the right technical qualifications for the job. But you have to discover far more than the bare bones. What personality traits should you be looking for and how can you be sure which is the right person for the position? Bottom line, what questions should you be asking?


Startup Characteristics - A League of Their Own 


It’s important to remember that one size most definitely does not fit all. Personality characteristics required for a startup are different than those suitable for an insurance company, for example. Startups are associated with a certain level of ambiguity. Products and priorities may shift unexpectedly, and so can deadlines. Projects may be cancelled. Unexpected bugs can cause frustration and delays. Let’s take a look at some of the characteristics your prospect must possess to handle the ups and downs:


  • Determination and courage - Your candidate must be determined to succeed and have the courage to rethink strategies and start from the beginning when required, regardless of the amount of time and effort already invested. 


  • Flexibility - Your ideal applicant should be able to think outside of the box and handle unexpected changes with equanimity. The candidate must be willing to accept the fact that sometimes overtime and increased efforts will be required.


  • Strategic thinker - Startups require staff to grasp the big picture. In order to attain your end goals, strategic thinking must be applied every step of the way by all parties concerned.


  • Creativity - Startups are nothing if not creative. Creativity is mandatory when trying to perfect a new product. An employee’s ability to come up with innovative solutions is vital.


  • Accept failure - Startups are known to endure failures on the way to success. Candidates must be able to face a failed project or task, learn from the experience, and move on. 


  • Do what needs to be done - A startup is not a place for snobs. Your ideal employee will be willing to roll up their sleeves and do what is necessary, even if it isn’t part of their job description. Team spirit is vital.


  • Possess a broad skill set - Due to shifting requirements, team members must possess diverse skills as well as the grit to undertake tasks they have never done before. They must be willing to seek help from other teams when necessary.


The Right Questions Lead to the Right Hires


Now that I’ve shared what characteristics you should be looking for, let’s discuss the questions you should be asking to find your hidden jewel. First and foremost, your goal should be to encourage the applicant to talk as much as possible about themselves, their professional goals and experience, and what they think about the role you are offering. Pay attention to the answers provided and be willing to part from your written list to discover more. Make the effort to glean if the applicant is really interested in the job. Don’t waste too much time talking about the future.


Question no. 1:

What do you know about our company? Did you download our product (if applicable)? What do you think of it? Do you think changes need to be made to improve it?


Question no. 2:

As the interviewer, describe the role being offered and the team working on the project. Then ask: Do you think this role is suitable for you? Have you done this sort of thing in the past? Do you think you will fit into the team? 


Question no. 3:

After ensuring that the candidate understands the role, encourage them to ask questions about it. Once you have responded, ask: In what ways do you believe you would contribute to the project and team? Do you have any suggestions or ideas of your own?


Question no 4:

At work, did you undergo failure recently regarding a task or a project? How did you feel about it? What did you do to resolve the problem and what did you learn from it? 


Question no. 5:

Point out that there is always the possibility that a startup must scrap a large project due to unexpected developments, for example because of changes in the end clients’ requirements. This may entail beginning anew, reprioritization of projects and shifting tasks. Ask the applicant if they have ever experienced this type of situation at a workplace. If they reply that they have, request a description of what happened and how they dealt with it.


Always Remember - Interviews are a Two-way Street


I think that the main lesson to come away with is that interviews work both ways. Don’t regard yourself as a judge interviewing a needy supplicant. While the person sitting opposite you may need a job, you require a sterling employee no less. So my advice is to refrain from running an interrogation. Turn the interview into a conversation. By encouraging the applicant to open up and talk, you will acquire crucial insights into their personality while proving that you respect them as an individual. Chances are, you will both come away with the insights you are seeking.