3 Things To Look For In An Ideal Startup Employee

Understanding what to look for in startup employees can increase your chances of success. 

Photo: Suhaib Mohammed, freelance writer; Credit: Felix Photography
Photo: Suhaib Mohammed, freelance writer; Credit: Felix Photography

Your startup is as fragile as a newborn baby. It has blood in its veins (i.e. capital), but can’t fend for itself (i.e. not enough customers and sales). No wonder startups “cry” a lot … and stumble around trying to gain their footing to stand. It’s the nature of the startup lifecycle.

New research by Harvard Business School professor Shikhar Ghosh suggests that 75 percent of all startups fail. But what is the prime reason behind this failure rate? It is often attributed to the perfect storm of missteps, from poor management
 and execution 
to the wrong business model and more.

Ghosh notes, “Start-ups often fail because founders and investors neglect to look before they leap, surging forward with plans without taking the time to realize that the base assumption of the business plan is wrong. They believe they can predict the future, rather than try to create a future with their customers.”

Notice that many startup failure factors are attributed to the founders. 

 A startup fails because of a founders’: poor management, execution, selection of business model , etc. The truth is many founders find it hard (with little to no experience) to run a business and scale it success on their own. They often need the right co-founders and a team of dedicated and skilled people to help.

This is why understanding what to look for in startup employees can increase its chances of success. 

Here’s a look at three qualities the right hires will possess.


1. Hire passionate people

No one wants to be rejected by a prospective employer. Job applicants are skilled at wearing masks and covering their shortcomings with perfectly edited resumes and decorated titles.

 So, how can you read in between the lines?

Hire employees that visibly demonstrate they will invest their very best into your company. Hire for passion.

Passionate people want more than a paycheck and advocate companies for a greater cause (i.e. mission, core values, culture, etc.). They’ll often approach their job with hard work, enthusiasm and affection.

Discovering passion-driven candidates is also easier than you may think. Just ask the following questions during an interview:


  • What are your hobbies? Understand the applicant’s hobbies outside of work as hobbies and interest can offer insights into a persons dominant personality traits. For example, “If you’re an avid reader, you have a thirst for knowledge and might be a good researcher.”

  • What do you think about work-life balance? Is the candidate an all-work-and-no-play kind of person? If they are not prioritizing life and work as normal, passionate people do, they may burnout quickly and not be a fit for your company culture.

  • If hired, where do you see yourself five years from now? Listen closely. Passionate people are growth-oriented and mission-driven so their answers will reflect these qualities.


The point is to uncover true answers that come from the heart, not lip-service in an expensive suit.


2. Consider applicants with a unique skill set

Now that you’ve discovered a passionate candidate, there is still some more digging to do. Try to assess their unique skill set and ensure that it matches what your startup needs at the moment.

Let’s face it: a startup can’t afford fancy employees with expensive qualifications who lack the basic skills you need to scale your company. 

If your business is struggling with sales, for instance, what kind of applicant would you look for? A great marketer of course, but more especially, one who has a unique skill set like a growth hacker to take your business to the next level.


3. Prioritize the ‘company culture fit’

Your startup culture is like your personality: It makes you unique and enables you to stand out. 

Hiring a candidate who doesn’t fit your company culture can cost your business between 50-60 percent of the person’s annual salary, according to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

To recruit with your “company culture fit” in mind, ask the following questions during an interview:


  • Why do you want to work for us?

  • How would you describe our culture?

  • What type of organizational culture do you do best in?


Beyond empty boasts, listen for specifics on why the candidate wants to work for you, how they perceive your company culture, what type of workplace environment best suits them and most importantly listen to their tone of voice and assess body language.


This article has been edited.

Suhaib Mohammed is a freelance startup and entrepreneurship writer and the owner of Cademica, a content creation company that produces quality content for startups and small businesses. Connect with @Cademicaa on Twitter.


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