Founder Friday is a weekly guest post written by a founder who is based in or hails from the Silicon Prairie. Each month, a topic relevant to startups is presented and founders share lessons learned or best practices utilized on that topic. October’s topic is hiring.
Between AdVentures and our portfolio companies, we’re no strangers to hiring. Personally, I’ve hired nearly one-hundred people in the past five years. Some have been fantastic hires and long-term fits. Others have been terrible. Throughout the process, we’ve developed a set of rules so we land more of the long-term people – and fewer short-timers.
Trust, but verify
Ah, yes, there’s nothing like kicking off a list with a Ronald Reagan quote. The wisdom couldn’t be more accurate. Regardless of what people claim in an interview or on a résumé, be sure to verify the accuracy. For some people, somehow, references tend to magically appear and director-level titles transform into VPs.
Divide into two camps
There are two types of people in the world: those you like more every time you’re around them, and those you enjoy less every time you’re around them. Life is too short to work with people you don’t like. If you don’t want to spend more time with the person, don’t hire him.
Trust your gut
You know that sinking feeling saying, “Don’t do it?” Have you felt the mild queasiness indicating this might not turn out well? Those feelings matter. On the downside of the equation, I’ve never been wrong. Literally every person I’ve ever had a negative gut reaction to has turned out poorly. With that said…
Don’t trust your gut
I’ve had plenty of people who didn’t set off any warning bells and also didn’t work out. Just because you have a good feeling about someone doesn’t automatically equate to success. Keep your eyes open for evidence that counters your original feelings.
Since you can’t completely trust your gut (at least on the upside), turn to facts. Past performance (in some areas) is a good indicator of future success. What did they actually accomplish? When asked, people usually default to big team wins or awards. You shouldn’t care. You want tangible examples of day-to-day performance.
Obviously, you’re looking for a culture fit above everything else. Beyond personality and ethics, the single most important element is baggage. Have they been trained to play office politics? Are they accustomed to a clock-in, clock out culture? Do they have an inherent distrust of authority? I look for these because I’ve been burned on each before.
Use social context
Our best employees come from our best employees. Social context gives you a ton of information you can’t get any other way. Any time a position opens up, ask your employees for recommendations first. Chances are they know someone they want to work with – and you’ll want to, too.
Aptitude trumps skill
I’ve hired supposedly highly-skilled people, only to find they weren’t that knowledgeable. Intelligence can’t be faked. The need for a skill changes. The need for aptitude endures.
Make money irrelevant
Unless you’re looking for an army of mercenaries, money should be way down the list, and the last thing you discuss. Emphasize culture fit, growth opportunities, flexibility, and company vision. When it comes to money, offer something reasonable and let the chips fall where they may.
Once hired, we follow one simple rule: The moment you don’t see them as a long-term fit at the company, fire them. It sounds harsh, but it’s actually quite generous. You save them – and their co-workers – a ton of frustration.
Credits: Photo courtesy of Brent Beshore.
About the Author: Brent Beshore is a serial entrepreneur with a passion for startups, mergers and acquisitions, innovation-focused altruism and strategic planning. He is the owner and CEO of AdVentures, which was founded to create, enable or acquire companies that offer transformative communications solutions.
AdVentures currently maintains investments in 11 companies and was recently ranked No. 28 on the 2011 Inc. 500. Brent is 28 years old, and his plan is to create $1 billion of value by the time he’s 40.
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