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Instead of Looking for the Ideal Candidate for Your Startup Hiring, Look for Growth Potential

Startup founders understand that wearing a lot of different hats is part of the job. Your first investors will expect you, not a sales or marketing professional, to convince them of your idea’s potential. With funding, that concept will still need your guidance to become a reality, even if you hire developers to turn a prototype into the finished article.

Most of all, you have to take on many different tasks out of necessity. Human resources are expensive, and startups generally don’t have a lot of resources to play with. So when you do get to the point where you can afford to hire someone new, you’ll understand that quality is critical to success.

But looking for the ideal candidate and assembling your ‘Dream Team’ can end up costing you in another aspect: time. Many startups can’t afford to either delay their timetables or enter production, with some people delivering subpar output because a suitable specialist couldn’t be found to take over the job. How much time and effort are you willing to invest in the hiring process?

A narrow pool of top talent

Finding the ideal candidate for your first few hires is tough. You want someone with the necessary skills to cover multiple tasks. They should have a good work ethic and a positive attitude because you’ll be leaning heavily on them to succeed.

And it’s not entirely about what you’re after. Consider things from a jobseeker’s perspective. Startup work is different from the traditional company setting. It will often entail longer work hours for everyone on the team. Blurred boundaries are to be expected; if necessary, everyone has to chip in and help out with urgent tasks.

The lack of clearly defined processes and hierarchy can be off-putting to some candidates, but attractive to others. Many people quit their jobs at big companies precisely because they lack autonomy or a sense that they are making a meaningful contribution to the company’s success.

Thus, startups aren’t entirely at a disadvantage when it comes to attracting talent. But they skew naturally towards drawing people who are willing to commit more time and effort in exchange for that potential fulfillment. Factor in the relative risk and often lower compensation packages, and the pool of talent narrows even further.

Be wary of survivorship bias

recruiter with female candidate

Stories of how tech moguls like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg all dropped out of college permeate popular culture. They even make it to the big screen. Anecdotes about them are peppered across the internet. Inevitably, we all come to know more about such successful people and companies.

We don’t just look up to them for inspiration; we also try to analyze their careers and evolution for success. You won’t find a self-help book that doesn’t do a case study of a successful company or leader. Everyone hopes to be able to glean some insight from this analysis and enjoy success by applying it to their own lives.

The problem with this approach is one of survivorship bias. People tend to focus too much on a small sample. By doing that, they can overlook the stories of failures that used the same approach. They might also ignore those that succeeded despite doing things differently.

Perhaps the search for the ideal hire for your startup is the result of a similarly flawed approach. When a successful startup founder looks back, they tend to give a lot of credit to the people that comprised their initial teams. That isn’t wrong, but it can be misleading to infer that success derived from hiring the perfect person for a role.

Keep in mind that people are dynamic individuals. Given the right combination of personal attitude and exposure to a positive environment, they can grow. They might not be the perfect person for your company, but they could become that person in time.

Thus, there are three crucial factors to evaluate when you start hiring. Look at potential growth; can someone learn to do a great job, and can any flaws be corrected? Consider time; how quickly does this growth need to happen? And finally, do you have an environment that fosters positive interactions, open communication, and frequent collaboration to support individual learning and growth?

This doesn’t mean you have to settle. If you can’t find someone good enough for a role, hiring might not be the solution. Businesses frequently negotiate with third-party providers to take on some work, with the help of commercial law firms to hold them accountable.

You want to ensure that, at minimum, the job gets done at an acceptable level. But don’t miss opportunities to hire someone with great potential just because you’re waiting to put a ‘Dream Team’ together; that might only happen with the benefit of hindsight.

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