As a startup founder, hiring top talent is one of the biggest challenges that I faced. In the initial adrenaline rush of having to establish myself the soonest, I made multiple errors which I would now advise my younger self against. At the cost of sounding like a veteran (which I am not yet BTW), allow me to share some of my learning in the hope of benefiting someone who reads this.
1. Hiring to meet self-set deadlines.
In the initial euphoria of things and the entrepreneurship high, I allocated myself deadlines to meet in every department including hiring. I let internal and perceived time pressure push me into making hasty decisions. “I would recommend startups not to feel rushed. Don’t hire someone just because you desperately need to fill the position. Take a deep breath and wait until you find the right person, even if it means slowing everything down.”
2. Hiring those who fit my budget and not requirements.
While I agree you need to be pragmatic about budgets and money is a constant issue in the startup life especially if you’re bootstrapped, you need to find the motivated people who value passion, creativity, experience and learning for what it really is beyond money. Never settle on hiring. Winning a battle but losing the war serves no purpose right. Don’t settle on hiring wrong.
3.Hiring for skills or past accomplishment or because of pedigree
Nothing beats great attitude. Period
I have come to realize that nothing beats right attitude to shape and uplift the work environment. In startups, you have to sometimes work sixteen hours a day, seven days a week. You can’t survive that if you don’t have the right attitude on things. We at Alore CRM, have a chilled-out culture but yes are obsessive about our quality and deadlines. It’s okay to turn up to office in shorts as long as you’re a fun person to work with and deliver what you promise.
4. Not hiring a diverse team
I cannot tell you enough on how valuable having a diverse team is and especially in terms of skills. A business team that can complement each other’s skills can assuredly wow you anytime and how. Hire the sales guy who loves photography, the marketing whiz who loves reading and the finance lady who loves adventures. People with passion for their profession and for life. And never ever hire people who have the exact same or very similar skill sets. Different people bring different things to the table, which you need!
5. Hiring based on first impression
First Impressions aren’t always true. I’ve burnt my hands here so I can tell you. When interviewing candidates, I received a great piece of advice that I’ve devised into a method. It is working exceedingly well for me off late. When interviewing, I try to invalidate my first impression of the candidate. If I’ve liked them in the start, I gradually try to find their faults and if disliked them earlier, try to find reasons why they’re smart!! – I can tell you, it’s a great way to spot the marathon runners amongst the sprinters!!
6. Hiring someone not cut out for startups
Films like The Internship and, Facebook may have glamorized the adrenaline high of having a startup and working in a chilled-out environment but there’s a whole lot more to it than the zing one expects. The work hours are more, weekends might not always be off and the salary in the initial years may be comparatively shitty. But yes, the promise of success and believing in the vision binds the team. Having a person who isn’t here for that or came in expecting something else would be like how Tom cruise would feel if he was cast in a Chinese film – There but not quite there.
I’ve unfortunately had a brush-in with this too and hired employees with different goals than ours at work. Result was a casual attitude seeping into them and affecting the team negatively with constant remarks like “It’s so unorganized” or “This can’t happen” or “I can’t be seriously doing this”.
Spotting these future detractors before they join is essential. Now I test a candidate over the period of a day or week and make them see the daily battles and chaos live. The doubters generally jump off the wagon right there, the stronger and aligned join in.
7. Not defining responsibilities for a role
In the initial days, I hired people based majorly on the fact if I liked them and if I would enjoy working with them rather than understanding what they can offer and how they fit into my plan. While having a pleasant colleague is a plus, if you don’t know how to utilize his/her skills to your needs then you’re the one at loss. Unless I know what I want this person to be doing Exactly, I shouldn’t just hire the person.
8.Not knowing what motivated an employee to join me
Getting swept away by a promising candidate is alright if the vision for growth is aligned. But what if it isn’t? I’ve had employees who joined in for the initial euphoria of being in a startup expecting fat bonuses, a jet setting lifestyle and maybe a magical IPO in the first year. When that didn’t happen, they left. I know attrition is reality of life, but the exit of an employee from a cohesive team at a critical hour does more damage than you imagine. What gets affected most is the morale and spirit of those who stay. They begin to think of losing out on opportunities or doubting the future of your firm etc. That takes weeks if not months to bounce up from. All because you hired a person who never really wanted what you want. A classic vision mismatch.
9. Not having my company culture defined
Until you’ve figured out what culture you want at your company and yourself feel and breathe every thought of it, it’s difficult. Initially, I found myself going with the flow and realized it wasn’t enabling a unified vision and cohesiveness in the team. Over time, I learnt this lesson and drafted a culture document for the company of who we want to be. I now ensure is shared and agreed upon with every person we hire.
The company culture is also essential in shaping how you engage with prospects at a first second or third degree. If people like you, they’ll remember you and refer you when needed. I’d like to be remembered, wouldn’t you?
10. Hiring friends
Okay, this might not always be true but I think close to 90% of times it is. Trusting someone to value your dream and vision as much as you come in easily with friends and there starts the rashness of it all. This seemingly wonderful combination of friends and business partners is not a win -win but the opposite. It can end up ruining not just professional but personal relationships too. Always remember the trust between long time Beer buddies might not be tenacious enough to handle the diverging opinions in tough business decisions or times of cash crunch you might go through.
11. Listen to your heart!
While hiring, if there is even an iota of doubt after the second or third meeting, just as with other things in life, don’t hire. Scaling your startup with a new set of people is like the first few years of marriage. You need more than a match making service to make it happen. The unified will to create and make things happen being number one!