One of the most important things you can do for your startup is finding the right people to surround yourself with to tackle the work at hand. You may be the brains and the inspiration behind the project, but it takes a team to bring the idea to life and creating a good team can be the difference between success and failure. It’s perhaps a bit scary to have so much of the fate of your venture tied up in others, but having great employees as both contributors and collaborators can also take your company beyond what you thought possible, provided you get the hiring right.
Women meeting in business office
So what makes for the ideal employee? It’s a question that has no single defined answer and yet has vexed employers for as long as the concept of working for another for pay has existed. Sometimes the traits you think you want in an employee turn out to be exactly what you don’t need. For example, independence can quickly turn into insubordination if unchecked; conversely, a willingness to follow orders could mean an inability to work free of constant supervision, in extreme instances. Most people you interview for jobs likely won’t be so obviously ill-suited for the positions on offer, but neither will they necessarily be the good fit that you’re looking for to help build your business.
There’s no exact right answer when it comes to hiring, and no way to know exactly who you’re bringing in when you offer someone a job. We’re all our best versions of ourselves when we sit down for an interview, and as employers, we can only hope that the reality is closer to that ideal than not for those we choose for the job. There are a few key traits that we can try to identify and define that tend to differentiate those who will be the good employees from those who might not last in the startup world.
Dependability. It’s said, particularly of sports, that your greatest ability is your availability, and something similar can be said in business as well. Leaders need people that they can count on to carry out the work that needs to be done and being someone that can be relied upon to be there to do the work is a positive that shouldn’t be overlooked. Ability is an essential trait, to be sure, and not one you want to sacrifice in your search for employees, but there are so many with talent that fail to pair it with reliability and follow-through. As someone with a lot on your plate, running a company with so much work that needs to be done, you can’t afford the extra time and energy of worrying if one of your team is going to complete their work on time, or if they’ll make it into work at all. Find people you know you can count on to show up so that you can sleep at night.
Adaptability and flexibility. There’s a lot going on at a startup, and things can change at a moment’s notice. In filling out a staff, you need people who can change along with the circumstances and are willing to take on new and different challenges as they arise. It might seem like a given to you, a natural instinct at this point — you’re going to do whatever is necessary to make it work for your company. But others aren’t necessarily so flexible; plenty of people see themselves in a particular box, with a particular specialty, and aren’t exactly excited about the possibility of venturing outside of that terrain. You want expertise when you’re looking to fill a role, but there’s something to be said for those with an aptitude and a willingness to learn new things, particularly in an environment where the addition of new roles and responsibilities can outstrip the budget for new hires. Having someone willing to tackle things that aren’t in their job description is invaluable in the fast-paced startup environment.
Motivation. The one thing that you can’t teach but you desperately need in filling your jobs is motivation. There’s only so much that you can push and prod someone to do their work before they become more trouble than they’re worth. You want people who are intrinsically motivated, people who take it as a point of pride that they do all that is asked of them and more, without having to be repeatedly asked to do so. Motivation can be a difficult thing to suss out, at least initially; people are going to put forth a great effort initially upon starting, but eventually, their pace will meet the natural level of their work ethic. That’s not to say that you want to find someone working at a maniacal pace for twelve hours a day for weeks on end; that’s a recipe for burnout and an unhealthy approach to work, frankly. But you do want those who will take the work seriously and do it to the best of their ability, with a willingness to stay late to meet deadlines if the work calls for it. Finding those properly motivated is yet another worry off of your plate, allowing you to focus on other things.
You won’t find the perfect employee, because no such person exists. We’re all imbued with our own flaws — yes, even us founders! — and we should be cognizant of that before we dismiss anyone who seems less than the absolute ideal for the job. The key to hiring is minimizing those flaws while finding the traits and characteristics that we want and need, the qualities that outweigh any minor negatives and help us build our companies and our team into something stronger than it was before. #onwards.