Hiring for a startup is a challenge. The team dynamics are vitally important, especially since the group is often so small that one staffing mistake can turn a happy workplace into a war zone. With that in mind, we asked members what was the most common hiring faux pas they’ve experienced—and how they rectified the situation.
Can’t adapt to startup style
“Team members, especially those from more traditional industries, may not be used to the change and fast pace involved in a startup. Some hires can get frustrated if the company changes direction on a project. Rectify this friction by making sure to communicate regularly the progress of the company and create a comfortable environment for questions so work is always aligned.” —Doreen Bloch | CEO and founder, Poshly Inc.
How much are you really worth?
“We hired our first sales guy to bring our team to five, and after a trial period, we offered him options and a real salary. We were very up-front with him about how much we owned, how much we made in salary, as well as how much our tech team earned. He believed he was more important than the tech team because he was the one earning our company money. Resetting those expectations was difficult.” —Nathan Lustig | cofounder, Entrustet
Alignment adjustment necessary
“There is nothing more wasteful than spending your and your teammates’ time interviewing candidates who turn out to be an obviously bad fit because their skills don’t align with your needs. Set criteria for roles very clearly. Be transparent about what you are looking for in a candidate, and let them know about your culture. Your goal should be to have the right people self-selecting to interview.” —Aaron Schwartz | Founder and CEO, Modify Watches
Can you think for yourself?
“In a startup you need to think entrepreneurially, take a project and run with it. Startup hires should remember to act first and ask questions later. There is nothing worse than an employee who does nothing all day because they were waiting around for someone to tell them what to do. If you are going to work for an entrepreneur, you better start acting like one.” —Matt Wilson | Cofounder, Under30CEO.com
“For one position, we experienced a lot of turnover due to the fact that our company does everything virtually. Although working virtually means we have flexible hours, candidates didn’t understand the level of commitment necessary for the job. To fix this, we changed the job description and requirements to emphasize the time commitment the position required—and implemented video preinterviews.” —Heather Huhman | Founder and president, Come Recommended
Adopting the startup structure
“Not everyone can adapt to the “free-for-all” environment that is a startup, and some startup hires (and the startups hiring them) get frustrated when tasks aren’t handed to them, but they have to actively find work and be productive. One way to rectify the situation is framing the new hire’s state of mind such that they start thinking about problems to solve and actionable solutions.” —Danny Wong | Cofounder, Blank Label Group, Inc.
“Oftentimes, the best applicants are not the best interviewers, and vice versa. This makes it very tricky to bring on the right talent, as the best interviewers might be poor workers. To solve this issue, I recommend a “trial day”—putting the person to work for a half or full day in order to see how they do the actual job you are hiring them for.” —Zach Cutler | Founder and CEO, Cutler Group
Knowledge vs. execution
“Interviewing candidates allows us to determine how knowledgeable they are, but in many instances, such knowledge doesn’t translate to execution capabilities. In order to avoid that issue, we’re now running contests: We hire the top three candidates for a month or so as consultants, have them compete in several projects, and offer the job to the best-performing one. The results are great!” —Alexander Torrenegra | Cofounder, VoiceBunny
Solving problems indirectly
“When you hire someone and they don’t directly report to you, it is often difficult to tell if they’re a good fit—in skill and corporate culture. You must trust your instincts and detect issues when they’re small; chances are if you recognize an issue from afar, it’s been a problem for those directly with them for some time. Stay in communication with the new hire’s coworkers to avoid this problem.” —Jason Evanish | Cofounder, Greenhorn Connect
Taking the pay
“Often, startups are strapped for cash, which makes it difficult to attract the best people from a salary basis alone. However, a lot of people aren’t completely money-motivated and would gladly join an organization if additional benefits that suited their interests were present. Include things like flexible schedules, a positive project scope, your existing team itself, or even stock options.” —Nicolas Gremion | CEO, Foboko.com