Recently a young woman walked through the door. Big smile, quick handshake, a spark of energy. Minutes later, after handing her off to our engineers to interview her, I whispered to my co-founder “I’m optimistic. I think she could be the one!”
It has been a long search for us. For four months I have reviewed over a hundred resumes, made dozens of calls and interviewed many of them in person. I was feeling increasing pressure to get a Mechanical Engineer in the door as a FT employee ASAP. Hiring takes a lot of time, but taking the time to find the RIGHT person will ultimately benefit our company. I know this, but it is something that is extremely hard to remember with work piling up around me.
I wasn't scraping the bottom of the barrel for candidates. I was rejecting people with pedigrees from Stanford, MIT, Berkeley, Google, and Apple. In fact, upon passing some standouts, I sent them over to a fellow entrepreneur who snapped them all up. He called me after they had been working at his company for a few weeks. "I can't understand why you didn't hire them; they are wonderful! They are stars!"
Am I crazy? Too picky? Should I settle and get someone in here plugging away since we’ve already had to mitigate this issue by hiring expensive consultants?
We have only 4 employees in our company and this next hire is a critical add. Putting together a team is a balancing act, pairing different skill sets and personalities together to achieve greatness. Our current few are AWESOME, and I want to preserve our level of camaraderie and aptitude.
At my first startup, the culture was a mess. People HATED working there. This is still a disappointment to me; I wanted to create an environment of hardworking people who really liked each other and our work, but I was not able to. People generally liked the problem they were solving and found it interesting and inspiring, yet, invariably, part of every day there I spent working to convince someone not to quit or mediating some interpersonal grievance. I even hired a “Queen of Culture” to spread joy around, without success. I learned a lot through all of it.
In the end, I turned hiring into my superpower. At my next few startups, I decided who I hired would be the top priority, and now I am referred to by others as the “Glue that holds everything together”.
When you have a small team, it isn’t only a matter of getting folks who are capable. One outlier, bad fit, can wreak havoc. You can spend an enormous amount of time trying to prevent constant disruption during meetings and general personality issues instead of focusing on the business.
Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way:
- Trust your gut. There are some people I meet that I immediately know will work out incredibly well. I can’t fully explain this sense I get. Part of it is a mixture of confidence, intelligence and friendliness that they exude. But if I don’t feel it, and there are any questions about the hire, try before you buy. Hire the person as a consultant so you can assess team fit, quality of work, and where the person will excel best. Or you can let them go.
- Network. My best referrals all have come from someone I knew. When you are a tiny company, it is way less risky to hire people whose work has been pre-vetted by a colleague or former co-worker, and starts the relationship off with a level of trust that would otherwise take time to build.
- Diversity. Generally, like attracts like. Given this, it would be easy to end up with team of people who are the same gender, ethnicity and age with overlapping skill sets. I actively work to target folks who will bring something different to the table. I like a mix of personalities on board - the professor (the person that studies the problem and loves research), the cowboy (the hacker), the police (to enforce the rules), and the cheerleader (to drive up the energy).
And the woman who walked through the door? We gave her an offer ☺!