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Hiring for Startups? What to Look for in an Ideal Employee

Hiring for Startups? What to Look for in an Ideal Employee
Image credit: Andrew Rich Photography
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Hiring for startups can be very different from hiring for big businesses. Large companies usually have clear structure, processes and training in place for new recruits. Startups on the other hand may have very little to no training and new hires mostly have to figure things out for themselves.

Here are some qualities we should look for in a good startup hire.

#1 Self-Directed

When I hired a fresher for my startup many years ago, the biggest challenge I faced was that many of them needed a lot of training and handholding. Many startup entrepreneurs are handling multiple activities like raising capital and business development that it is practically not feasible to micro-manage their employees on a day-to-day basis.

We always want to train and provide consistent feedback to our employees so that they can do their job better, but it’s not always feasible especially in a startup. That’s one of the reasons it’s important to hire someone who is self-directed and can figure things out for themselves.

#2 Entrepreneurial

Every day is a fire-fighting day for a startup. That’s why it’s so critical to hire someone who brings in new ideas and something different to the table. He should be able to take the initiative and position himself as a leader rather than someone who waits for instructions.

Ilan Alon, Founder of Los Angeles based Startup AdsWish.com which is a search engine for classified ads says “It is very important for us that our employees are not just talented but also engaged and most of all imaginative in solving problems. We’re at a stage where we don’t have the time or the resources to teach our employees, and tell them what to do. We also can’t learn from other similar examples as we are first movers in our niche.”

#3 Can make an impact from day 1

Sometimes, there are applicants who have the right attitude but are too far back on the learning curve. Every employee in a startup counts. If you’re making an investment based on attitude alone, then be careful. As a startup, you’re trying to break-even before you run out of money. I like people who have at least 80 per cent of the skill sets rather than someone who is completely fresh off the boat and needs to learn new skills from scratch.

#4 Ambition

A start-up can provide fast growth opportunities. Most startups have a pretty flat organizational structure and even entry level recruits are dealing directly with the founders. So it’s an opportunity to build trust with the founders, and win leadership roles when the startup grows bigger. I’ve seen a lot of employees who work at startups who are not ambitious at all, I’m not sure if they are an ideal fit with their companies.

#5 Energy

Long hours and high pressure can burn people out very quickly. I prefer people who have high levels of energy, and can keep their entire team enthusiastic and motivated.

#6 Flexibility

Order and structure are not always terms associated with a startup. An employee who believes that he should only do tasks related to his job description may not be an ideal fit for a startup. Unexpected changes are part of the game.

An employee might be working in sales today, product development tomorrow, and operations the day after that. A lot of multi-tasking and doing jobs unrelated to their area of expertise can also happen. During these times, being flexible and having the ability to adapt helps.


There’re so many people who want to work in a start-up environment. However, it’s important to position your communication appropriately to attract the right talent. It’s people who make or break a company, so it’s important to hire right.