Hiring your first staff is one of the most crucial, make-or-break moments in a startup’s formative period. The old saying ‘One bad apple’ could have been written about this set of circumstances. Getting the wrong people onboard can be damaging to your enterprise and, in the worst-case scenario, destroy it altogether.

Finding the right staff to help guide your business through the difficult times is important. Ensuring you avoid employing the wrong people is just as critical as the focusing on your company succeeding.

This article sets out to explore how to spot that bad apple and avoid employing them at all costs. Some of the things you should avoid will be obvious; some not so much. Read on for a list of dos and don’ts that will help guide you in the right direction.

DO Believe in the Company Mission

Entrepreneurs that believe in the company mission working together
Entrepreneurs that believe in the company mission working together

Startups feed on the enthusiasm and energy of the founders and the early staff. There is a feeling of ‘We’re all in this together,’ and a dedication to fulfilling a shared belief in the company or product. If someone doesn’t share in the goals of the startup founders and existing staff, then they are a liability who is likely not going to pull their weight.

The resentment that arises from this situation can soon disrupt that well-oiled machine you spent so much time and effort in building. Belief is essential: if they don’t believe in you, or your company mission, then they are of no use, regardless of qualifications and suitability.

DO Possess Communication Skills

Communication is crucial in a growing enterprise. Within small teams, there is really no excuse for having inadequate communication systems. However, it doesn’t matter how much time and effort you put into ensuring the right information is on the right desk; if somebody is a poor communicator, it isn’t going to make any difference.

Never underestimate how important communication skills are when gauging an applicant’s suitability for a post. If they can’t efficiently communicate, they shouldn’t be part of your workforce.

DO Employ Friendly Staff

A friendly entrepreneur working hard
Portrait of a friendly young asian man having breakfast while sitting at the table on a kitchen at home and reading newspaper

This might seem obvious, but for a startup to flourish, it is far easier if everyone gets along with each other. Camaraderie and teamwork go hand-in-hand with each other. This is a people-skill that should be taken into account when vetting potential staff. It doesn’t matter how good their resume is or how well-qualified they are; if they aren’t approachable and friendly then the working atmosphere within the startup will soon become untenable.

DO Hire Reliable Staff

This one can be tricky to achieve as often the reliability (or lack thereof) will only become obvious after you have employed them. The key here is performing due diligence during the hiring process. Always check references when hiring staff. Even if they are first-time employees, check in with college lecturers, or even former employers from part-time or weekend work.

Sickness records can also be a giveaway when checking reliability. Ask prior employers whether there were excessive periods of sick leave.

There is nothing more guaranteed to rock the boat than having an employee who is constantly late and frequently fails to show up.

DON’T Cause Drama

Entrepreneurs causing unnecessary drama in the workplace
Entrepreneurs causing unnecessary drama in the workplace

There is no time for dealing with people who make mountains out of molehills. What you want is someone who sees the mountain as an opportunity. There are just some people out there who will always see the negative side of whatever comes their way. This isn’t good for their personal productivity, but more than that, it will affect morale and overall productivity.

Your business will already take up enough of your time and energy without dealing with dramas that aren’t dramas.

DON’T Only Be In It For the Money

Let’s face it. One way or another, we are all in it for the money. But people who are purely in it for the money are unlikely to be the employee you need at this stage of the game. If someone is more focused on the size of their paycheck than the mission of the company, they aren’t going to be around for long. After all, it is unusual for startups to be able to offer similar sized salaries than those offered by established firms.

No matter how good their work ethic is, if someone is entirely money-focused then it is only a matter of time before the attraction of a larger paycheck leaves you with the burden of filling a vacant position again.

DON’T Lack Confidence

An entrepreneur lacking confidence
An entrepreneur lacking confidence

Having staff that have confidence in their own abilities is essential in any business, but it is especially so when it comes to startups. In established corporations, the lines defining responsibilities are mature and precise: you are either a product manager or you’re not. With startups, these lines are blurred, and everyone pitches in where they can. Employees who are lacking in confidence are less likely to be an asset when asked to step outside of their comfort zone, regardless of how well-qualified they are.

DON’T Be A Lone Wolf

Teamwork is crucial in any enterprise and even more so in fledgling startups. Having a member of staff that doesn’t work well within teams is a burden to any startup. In the early days of a startup enterprise there is often just one team – everyone. Having someone that sets themselves apart from this team breeds dissent and bad morale. Lone wolves should be avoided at all costs.


An entrepreneur doing her due diligence with hiring new employees
An entrepreneur doing her due diligence with hiring new employees

Avoiding bad employees isn’t always easy. Potential weaknesses and undesirable character traits can be papered over during the interview process. The main keys to avoiding employing the wrong person is to always be diligent during the hiring process, never take anything at face value, and read between the lines of the answers.  

What character traits do you look out for in new employees? Let us know in the comments!

This article originally published on GREY Journal.