7 Critical Traits to Look For In Early Hires
A Note From The Editor
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You just launched your business, and it’s time to hire your first few employees. It’s time to level up. It’s time to grow a team, but you’re not sure who exactly to look for. How will you make sure that you hire high-quality people right off the bat?
It’s critical that your first hires are the right type of people, as they’ll shape the future of your company in so many ways. You won’t have time to deal with replacing subpar contributors in a month or two. Focus on finding the right mix of the following traits that will help drive hockey-stick growth.
For now, prioritize people, who are flexible and multi-talented. They may have a particular area of expertise, but any task they undertake will get knocked out of the park. You want to hire a crew of junior CEOs. They need to understand the entire business and be able to add value wherever and whenever needed.
Here are the seven most important signals to look for.
1. Look for grit.
Early on you need resourceful employees.
Instead of throwing money and other resources at every problem, gritty candidates look for unique solutions. Ask potential hires about situations, when they used creativity to solve a problem.
Find out if they’ve demonstrated top-notch follow-through in the past. Here's a few of my favorite questions to ask to see if a candidate is gritty.
- What is something that you love doing that is quite hard to master?
- What do you like about this activity?
- How did you get into it?
- Why do you continue it, or why did you stop?
Look for perseverance.
2. Look for thrifty candidates.
Your early hires should care about every dollar of cashflow as much as they care about their own personal cashflow. Whenever they buy tools, materials or services with company money, they must insist on the best price, and it shouldn’t come at the expense of quality.
Never fall into the trap of thinking that your bank account will always be easy to refill.
Besides, every marginal dollar should be spent in a way that will help the startup grow and thrive. Conscientious employees understand this. All startups work under constraints. People, who can leverage quick thinking to get around a lack of resources, are indispensable.
3. Look for dedication.
Early hires should be joining your company for the right reasons.
Ideal candidates want to be part of the startup’s journey. They are eager to face tough challenges, and sail through uncharted waters.
The pay and the perks aren’t the main attraction. The best early-stage employees want to prove something. The right hire would turn down a higher paying offer to join your company.
4. Look for focused execution.
Every early hire should have a laser focus on the aspects of the business that will differentiate you from your competitors and lead to greater success.
What do your customers care most about? Why are they turning to you versus a competitor? That’s what your early hires should care about too. Focused execution is zeroing in on the levers that grow your business and obsessing on how to maximize those variables.
For example, a great online marketing hire is one who demonstrates focused execution by understanding all the different channels they can acquire customers through but then zeroes in on the one that is actually driving a return.
Many marketers will continue spending money on a variety of campaigns and channels that aren’t providing a great return, yet they should be focusing on the one or two that are producing the highest returns and looking to scale those further.
5. Look for doers.
Your early hires should be intelligent enough to make their own decisions. They don't need meetings and layers of approvals to get things done. They know what will move the needle, and they will act on it.
When you’re evaluating candidates, look for people who are not only biased toward action, but whose judgment you can trust. Startups move fast. It’s one of their only unfair advantages, and you need employees, who will use that freedom wisely.
Hire doers, not tellers.
6. Look for the right culture and values fit.
Your business is just getting off the ground, and it’s time to hire some help, so you vet out based on the previous five traits, but there’s a critical trait that shapes the future of your company and cultural and values fit.
It’s key to remember that these are two separate things with heavy overlap. Cultural fit will be a little more personality driven and is more focused on how well this new hire will gel with the team.
My favorite, non-scientific way of assessing this is based upon one of the following two questions.
- Would I want to grab a beer with this person?
- How would I feel if I had to take a road trip with this person?
Ultimately, will you be able to work together without killing each other, and will they make you a better team and company?
One of the harder things to vet for is values. Culture and values go hand-in-hand, and you have to make sure you have both. So what is a values' fit?
A values' fit ensures the person aligns to your mission and the company’s purpose. I think of culture fit as day-to-day fit and values' fit as long-term fit. Before you can vet for values' fit, it’s important that you figure out the why behind your company. Why are you in business? What are you trying to accomplish?
However, hiring for culture and values' fit doesn’t mean to hire only people similar to yourself. You must be able to work with them, and your values must align with their's, but it doesn’t mean that they must be the same as you. Hire for diversity - diversity in gender, age, religion, professional experience, etc. Hire different, but aligned.
7. Look for humility.
This one is simple.
In every early stage company, you’ll have to wear many hats. One minute you might be discussing a million-dollar deal; the next minute you might be washing dishes.
Everyone should be able to contribute in any and every way possible, and sometimes contributing means keeping the kitchen clean. Successful startups employ people, who don’t let pride get in the way of success.