The 3 Most Important Characteristics When Hiring at a Startup

Find the diamonds in the rough, the talented folks who might not fit the classic mold. These individuals can have potential for tremendous growth, for themselves and their employer.

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By Jay Gould

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Startups face some of the most formidable odds in hiring. New companies often vie against billion-dollar corporations for quality talent. The salaries that these behemoths can offer far outpaces what's offered by young firms.

Every business wants intelligent, committed team players who believe in the company's mission and will work hard to fulfill it. Startups need to find, however, talented folks who might not fit the classic mold in the manner that market leaders expect. Entrepreneurs should be aware that pedigreed higher education and prior work experience at premium-brand companies aren't the most important characteristics when it comes to building their teams. Startups must find individuals willing to work for lower pay who have potential for tremendous growth, for themselves and their employer.

How then do the founders of startups find their diamonds in the rough?

The key is to become adept at spotting critical traits during the interview process. Here are the three most important characteristics to look for when hiring employees for a startup:

Related: 5 Effective Hiring Tips for Early-Stage Startups

1. Curiosity.

It pays huge dividends to stock a company with intellectually curious people. These individuals are the best kind of staffers to have around because they will challenge their co-workers and the firm itself to continue rapid expansion and the development of new skills. Plus intellectually curious people are fun to be around.

Look for people with fun and cool hobbies. Curious people are often quirky and think outside the box. So don't be afraid to be challenged by them. It's actually a joy to fill an office with intellectually curious people. After all, people spend one-third of their lives at work, so it's important that they enjoy those that surround them.

Related: 10 Things Great Talent Always Does

2. Competitiveness.

Competitive people exude hustle, grind and grit. They're perfect for startups because they don't let go. They're not afraid to work hard to reach a goal and when setbacks hit, it's in their character to dust off themselves (and their company) and press onward.

Startups benefit from having lots of competitive players in their ranks. Seek out former athletes or people who still participate in sports. Competition in sports is very similar to that in business. Both worlds require preparation, goal setting, vision, mental toughness, respect for the competition and resilience. It's a definite plus for growth companies in a crowded marketplace to have athletic employees who love to win.

3. Integrity.

It goes without saying that startups should aim to hire the most intelligent people who can be found. But the most important characteristic is integrity. Without that the entrepreneur has a smart and competitive people who will kill him. They may shave corners and put the business at great risk. At worst, they will cheat and steal from the company.

To find an honest person, ask candidates this question, "Since you have the unfair advantage of knowing everything about yourself, please tell me the one thing about yourself that, if I knew it, would cause me to seriously question whether I should hire you. Oh, and don't try to spin a weakness into a strength."

The answer will say everything the entrepreneur needs to know about that person's integrity. What's more, it will speak volumes about the candidate's openness, humility and self-awareness. These are essential character traits for all arenas in but especially in the workplace.

Finding candidates with these three character traits can put any startup in a good position. Best of all, they're often overlooked by companies large and small who see hiring as searching for the right key words on a resume, instead of looking at the intangible qualities in people who can turn average companies into great ones.

It may take a bit longer to uncover these diamonds in the rough, people who don't shine on paper. But the reward will be being able to shape a more creative, assertive and resilient company -- one that staff can look forward to seeing each Monday morning.

Related: 6 Tips to Keep in Mind When Hiring Your First Employees

Jay Gould

CEO and Co-Founder, Yashi

Jay Gould is CEO and co-founder of Toms River, N.J.-based Yashi, a location-focused online advertising technology company. He is also manages Gould Ventures, a technology investment fund.


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