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You could have the best idea in the world and all the personal drive and ambition to take that idea to fulfillment. But if you don’t have the right team behind you to help nurture that fledgling business in its growing and vulnerable early years, then it is always going to be an uphill struggle.

When startup founders hire staff, they are looking for something extra; something that larger, existing corporations don’t necessarily look for in an employee. In an existing company’s eyes, an accountant need only be an accountant. For a startup hire, an accountant should also be an accountant, but with a bit of an edge: an ability to work outside of the box, and when called on, the flexibility to fulfill those tasks that are unique to startups.

This article offers advice to startups looking for those crucial first employees.

1) It Isn’t All About Qualifications

Sure, qualifications are important if you are looking for specialized skills. But don’t necessarily jump at the best-qualified person for the job. In smaller operations, the working chemistry between the employees can be the driving force towards success.

With smaller teams, this chemistry has to be right. This is even more important in the high-pressure, high-stakes environment of the startup. Larger companies can absorb an ill-fitting or disruptive member of staff if they get the job done is all that matters.

Obviously, getting the job done is also important to the startup. But equally important is how they get the job done and how they mesh with other members of the team. Low-morale and infighting is a recipe for disaster.

2) Passion

If they don’t have the passion for the project, then they aren’t right for you. It is as simple as that. Startups feed and prosper on the passion of their founders and their first employees. If the passion isn’t there, then the drive and energy that the startup requires to grow are missing.

The passion, or lack thereof, that an interviewee shows at a hiring interview is as crucial a benchmark to look at as their qualifications and resume. Startups need staff that is passionate about the business: that glint in their eyes, or the excitement in their voice as they reply to questions, says as much as the answers themselves do.

3) Talent

The mechanics behind larger companies means that staff is usually hired for a particular talent. Startups require talented staff too, but it must be more than the pigeonholed talent that larger companies look for. You want to attract people that have the appropriate qualifications, but underlying these is an overall ability, willingness, and talent, to wear multiple hats and apply this range of abilities to problem-solving whatever issues the fledgling startup faces.

Startups very often don’t have the need for a full-time lawyer, or product manager, or a host of other roles. But if a candidate can fulfill these and have the talent to turn their hand to whatever else comes along, then they are going to be an impressive asset for any company.

4) Communication

Unfortunately, I have personal experience when it comes to this attribute or lack thereof. Many years ago, I started a small IT company and hired a young, enthusiastic, and extremely smart person that I believed would be ideal, despite the fact that his communication skills were abysmal.

Not only did issues with other team members start to arise almost immediately, but customers were quickly put off by a sheer lack of ability to communicate meaningfully. Once again, this young lad would be a great asset for any business that needed a technical genius that could dedicate himself to specific problems. But in a startup, someone with this blind spot just won’t work.

5) Experience

This should be obvious, but if you can attract someone with previous experience working in a startup environment (and fulfills the other criteria too!) then you are onto a winner. If this is your first startup, be aware that you are entering an alien world that can swallow companies that make a simple mistake.

Having an experienced hand at the tiller, that has seen it all before, is a huge asset when it comes to navigating the pitfalls and wrong turns that a startup can face.

The type of industry the experience is gained in is also important; ideally, the experience they bring to the table should be in a relevant niche.

6) Dedication and Commitment

This is like passion, but passion without these two attributes can lead nowhere. Startup teams require a dedication and commitment level that aren’t required in most established enterprises. Your staff should display these attributes, even though startups often pay less, demand longer hours, have less job security and expect their staff to “pitch-in” when the going gets tough.

Dedication and commitment are essential qualities when hunting those first staff.

7) A Shared Vision

Entrepreneurs welcoming a new hire who shares their vision
Entrepreneurs welcoming a new hire who shares their vision

Not everyone will get onboard with your startup idea. If they don’t share the vision you have for the future of your startup, or have a lack of belief in the viability of your project, then they aren’t for you. Having staff members employed that are there for the paycheck, and the paycheck only, are a liability at this stage.

You have a vision for your company and in these early days, anyone that comes to work for you must share that vision and be driven towards the same goals.

8) Involve Your Existing Team

This goes back to teamwork. At this stage, your team is small and close-knit. Anything that upsets the balance of how your team operates is going to be counterproductive and potentially damaging. There is plenty of work to be done when getting your startup established without having to deal with a bickering and unhappy team.

Involving the team in any hiring decisions can help to ensure that the candidate chosen is the right one to integrate seamlessly into your team.

What criteria do you use to hire new employees? Let us know in the comments!

This article originally published on GREY Journal.

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