Startups create. And they often create products, processes and ideas that have never existed before. Trying to hire employees with skills that are still in the process of coming to life can be near impossible. Like larger companies, startups must hire people who fit the bill according to culture, skills and experience. But unlike larger companies, startups need dynamic workers with malleable skillets who are ready to grow quickly.
As a technology-fueled commercial real estate brokerage, my company TheSquareFoot works at the intersection of one fast-changing industry (tech) and one traditional industry (commercial real estate). While our mission is to make the front-end user experience of looking for an office space as easy as can be, behind closed doors we have to grapple with the difficulties that come with hiring for a startup as well as hiring for an industry that’s budding, dynamic and multidisciplinary.
We learned the hard way that even if someone is a great salesman and broker, they may not know how to use the tech that goes along with it. (We had one guy who’d never heard of Slack, Google Docs or Snapchat, and wasn’t willing to learn.) Based on our mistakes, here are six hiring tips.
Look for the right people, not necessarily the right experience.
It’s easy enough to find either a fiery millennial with tech skills or a charismatic and experienced employee, but finding someone who is both makes things more difficult. This goes for any hybrid position. But, if you give leeway for certain “learnable” factors, then you will find the right people for your culture who just need some time to grow and learn. Someone who studied seemingly random disciplines in school, or a candidate who has held jobs in many different fields (even if none is the right field), may indicate that they are dynamic learners. But it may also be a sign that they can’t hold a job. Ultimately, speaking to the candidates about why they want to work in a startup will give you a better idea of their intentions for learning and growth.
Train people by making them get in the game.
The way we test out new customer experience staff is by having them make cold calls and research leads. Our training is less about “watch and learn” and more about “do and learn.” In a tech person, you want an intuitive user — someone who can figure out any technology if given enough time with it. You don’t necessarily need a pro coder. Urge employees to learn what they can on their own and you’ll see who is ready for the startup life. This works for any field. Someone who has the passion but may not have the right education could prove their worth by self-teaching.
Be creative in your offer and compelling in your culture.
Let’s face it — the best talent is going to get more than one offer. Being able to “catch them first” isn’t necessarily going to mean you’ll get them to sign onto your company. You’ll be competing with big and cool companies, who can offer better salaries and packages. Leverage your startup advantages because big is not necessarily better. Do you have a small team? Can you offer equity? Will your higher-ups act as mentors? Will you be able to give someone a managerial role or title?
Let the whole team get to know your candidates.
It’s likely that you don’t have an HR team if you run a startup, so the people who are going to gauge the “fit” of a candidate will be you and your team. Don’t segment the hiring process from the day-to-day. If you’re able to integrate the two, you’ll better and more quickly determine fit, and so will the candidate. Have them sit in on a brainstorming session, or let them explore the office. Also, hiring for a position that doesn’t exist means that your new member will work across teams.
Go for a motley crew.
When seeking someone to fill a hybrid position, you want someone who can bring something new to the table. Yes, of course, you want a go-getter, team player, etc., but you also want someone different from the rest of your team. And this means more than experience.
Consistency is not the enemy of dynamism.
A lot of people think that they’ll only be able to fill a hybrid position with someone who is all over the place. They think that someone who’s only ever been an accountant can’t fill a financial-facing role at a hybrid agency. But don’t count the rigid or consistent candidates out. If the candidate expresses the skills required for the position, but they don’t have the interest in every industry in which your startup dips its toe, don’t fret. It’s more likely your startup will change, whereas the position may stay the same.
All or nothing is not the best plan when hiring. When you make an offer, it’s not going to be a “hired forever” kind of thing. It’s OK to give a part- or full-time offer to determine whether someone is the right fit. We’ve hired freelancers to help us with graphic design and other creative efforts, and they’ve proven to be priceless assets to our team. Remember, your startup is apt to change, so give room for its growth and changing needs.
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Image Credit: CC by John Westrock