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Hiring a 'Newbie' vs. an Industry Pro

Ask the Expert

Editor's Note: Entrepreneur's Ask the Expert column seeks to answer questions about everything from starting a business to growing one. To follow the column on Twitter -- and ask a question -- use hashtag #ENTexpert, or leave a comment below. Your query may be the inspiration for a future column.

Hiring a 'Newbie' vs. an Industry Pro
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Q: When starting up, should an entrepreneur hire a staff with more experience or one equal to prowess but with less experience?
-Stan Chekkers
Nigeria

A.  I've seen both instances yield success.  And I've also experienced both as sub optimal.  It largely comes down to the individual, and perhaps more importantly to the company leadership.

Startups can provide an incredibly exhilarating career experience.  They can offer opportunity to shine and make a tangible impact, expand skill sets, embrace unforeseen territory and innovate on the go. In fact, they typically require all of the above.  

They also tend to come with more ups and downs and challenges than many jobs.  Most often resources are limited (at least in the early days) and team members need to be resourceful and scrappy to drive toward outcomes.  Also, frequently people are required to wear more than one "hat" so the ability to multitask is often a requirement.  Maybe most important in this context, is that willingness, ability and often need to do things differently is critical.  The ideal team member can rise to these challenges and is motivated by the development opportunity.  

Related: Startup HR: How to Compete With Big Firms for Talent

Bringing industry or role experience can certainly be worthwhile and help navigate otherwise unforeseen territory.  But, per the above, it's often an advantage, or even critical, to not be set in standard ways and be able to challenge convention and recreate processes and norms.   A team player with experience who can do that stands to be invaluable.  

Alternatively, I've seen raw talent and drive, give rise to invaluable team members and leaders.   In these instances success is often supported by an instinct to be proactive, flexible and resourceful. 

Bottom line, I recommend hiring people who:

  • Share a passion for your company mission
  • Motivated by the opportunity and challenge inherent in startups
  • Ability to be both a self-starter and team player

Beyond that, success comes down to leadership and setting your team up for success.  As the founder you can succeed with either a "newbie" or an experienced team member if you communicate clear values, expectations and goals and encourage self-awareness around people's strengths and weaknesses and solve for team structure accordingly.  Be realistic about who your hiring and help set them up for success.   

Related: Why Hiring Exclusively for Experience Doesn't Make Sense
 

Kirsten Green is the founder of San Francisco-based VC firm Forerunner Ventures. Green has raised more than $100 million from leading institutional investors and invested in more than 30 early-stage companies. 

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