Hiring for Skills Will Kill Your Startup

When your startup starts to grow, you will need more hands. And we're betting you're kind of excited about that. In this course you will learn what to look for when hiring people to join your team. We'll tell you what to be aware of before you hire and teach you the six most important things to look for in your new, brilliant teammates.

January 28, 2021 · Julie Navntoft

Hiring for skills will kill my startup?

That’s a bold statement, don’t you think?

We do. And to be fair, we should’ve probably added a “just” somewhere in the sentence (up to you to guess where). Still, we stand by what we said. Don’t get us wrong, skills are important.
Just remember, skills don’t kill schmucks, but schmucks will kill your business.

So when you think it’s time to bring someone new to your startup team, some things are more important.

Two variables in the hiring equation are essential for you to know before you go looking for your new employee of the century. When is the right time? And who am I looking for?

And while you’ll never know these things for sure, we’ll give you some pointers on what to look for.

When you're done reading, you'll know

  1. How to decide if it’s the right time to hire someone for your team
  2. What to look for when finding new talent
  3. Important lessons about letting people go

When should you hire?

Will it make you money?

Hiring the wrong person is expensive for all companies. A rule of thumb is that a wrong hire will cost a company between $25.000 and $50.000.

For most companies, throwing that sort of money out the window is noticeable, but for early stage startups it can mean the difference between life and death.

So unless you’re pretty much sure it will make you money, don’t hire.

Know what you need

A classic mistake a lot of people make is to hire someone to make that huge growing pile of tasks on your desk go away. We get it. You probably need help with that. At least it would be awesome, if you didn’t have to do it all by yourself.

So what’s the problem with hiring someone for that? A couple of things. First of all, do you even know what’s in that pile? If you’re not sure, then you have no way of knowing who to hire.

Second of all, once the pile is gone, what’s your new employee going to do next? Good things rarely come from acts of desperation. So unless you know exactly which tasks you need solved and exactly what skills you’re looking for, don’t hire anyone.

What to look for

Find co-founder potential

A nifty little trick to use for those first, important hires is to find people with co-founder potential. Or as Mark Zuckerberg once put it: Only hire people you would work for yourself.

The first people you decide to bring on to your team will make or break your company. At the same time, they will be the most difficult ones to find, because you’re not entirely sure what you’re supposed to be looking for.

But if you find someone you would trust to be your business partner, co-founder or even your boss, you’ve already come a long way.

Hire attitude, train skills

In a startup, you’re hiring to build a company, not to solve a task. You need motivated people, who will keep their head in the game, even when things get tough.

That’s why in the game of startups, the best attitude should always win. All the skills and experience in the world don’t make up for a shitty attitude. But find a person with the right attitude, and you can teach them just about anything.

When hiring, it’s much better to invest some time and effort in teaching and mentoring an inexperienced candidate, than to go with the wrong personal match, because you think the professional thing to do is to choose skills over attitude.

Go for someone smarter than you

If you don’t shoot for the moon, you’ll never reach the star...tup heaven.

Sometimes it’s okay to have your cake and eat it too, so even though attitude trumps skills, if you can get both, it’s kind of a no brainer, right?

You may know (of) someone, who would be absolutely awesome to get onboard your team.

But why would a person who’s much smarter and much more experienced than you ever quit their well paid, high-level job to join the unstable mess that is your startup?

You’ll be surprised. In reality a lot of skilled, smart, experienced people are kind of bored in their jobs. Give them a challenge and they just might jump at it.

Fun fact: Did you know a 60 year-old is 3 times as likely to build a successful startup than a 30 year-old?

Oh and, by the way. Don’t ever fall into the trap of thinking you should be the smartest one in your company. The smarter your employees, the better your company. Trust us.

Don’t bet on clone troopers

While we know you are awesome, one of the biggest mistakes you can make is to hire clones of yourself.

A lot of research has been done on this and almost all of it shows that we are likely to hire people who look like ourselves, meaning people with the same skillset, personality traits and work styles as we have.

But while it may seem like a troop of awesome clones will be able to go far and have fun at the same time, it will also most likely suffer from the same blind spot and weaknesses, which will eventually hold your company back more than push it through the roof.

So make an effort to find people who have complementary skill sets and personalities, rather than people who look too much like you.

Take your time…

In startups you should hire slow and fire fast.

You should take your time to make sure that you hire the right person. An important thing to remember though, is that even though it’s okay for the recruitment process to take time, you should never leave potential employees hanging.

Make sure they always know what to expect and when to expect it. And if you decide that someone isn’t the right fit for your team, let them know quickly - and give them a reason.

Even during the earliest days of your company’s journey, how you treat people - especially those who like you enough to apply for a job - can affect your image in the long run.

… But be quick about it

If for some reason you have to fire one of your employees (and at some point you probably do), do it sooner, rather than later.

Keeping the wrong employee on for too long will cost you a lot of money. And it won’t benefit either of you. So while you should take your time recruiting for your team, you should be quick about letting people go.

Be aware though, that a fast fire still needs to be a “good” one. Be respectful, be transparent and as much as you can help the person move on to something new.

So, to sum it up

Before hiring you should define the tasks, skills and (money) impact the hire will have on your company.

If you decide to go for it, you should look for someone with a great attitude, someone you get along with and someone you believe has the potential to be great. Remember; attitude trumps skills.

If you can though, go for both attitude and skills. Don’t be afraid to hire people smarter than you. If they are the right match, they can take your business farther than a team of 10 fairly good employees.

The right people are rarely the people that look like you the most. Don’t go for clones, go for diversity.

Building the right team takes time and is not something to be rushed. Be smart about it - and if you hire the wrong person anyway, a fair but fast exit strategy is what you want.