Startup Office Hours on Hiring – Audio Replay

When should you start hiring at your startup? What qualities are important in your early hires? How can you tell if a candidate will be a good fit? Check out the answers to these questions and more in the launch of SPN Startup Office Hours.

Audio from the Startup Office Hours Live Stream on Hiring w/ Guests Amanda Martinez & Corey Spitzer

The following is a transcript from the kickoff of SPN Startup Office Hours sponsored by Elevator. This live stream was originally broadcast on April 25, 2023 and featured startup advisor Corey Spitzer and experienced startup hiring manager Amanda Martinez. We discussed the nuances of startup hiring, including advice for hiring managers and job candidates.

Our conversation spanned:

  • How to know when it’s time to make your first (or next) hire at your startup
  • Qualities that are important in early hires and how to assess for those qualities
  • Advice for novice startup hiring managers
  • Specific questions managers and candidates should ask during the interview process
  • Equitable hiring practices
  • Considerations when making technical hires
  • Hiring for culture add vs. culture fit

Interested in a specific topic? See the bold text with timestamps to find the answer you’re looking for. Stay tuned for the announcement of May Startup Office Hours! Send us a message or leave a comment if there’s something you’d like future panelists to discuss.


STEFANIE: Alright folks, so it’s 1 o’clock Central Time. We will go ahead and get started since we just have 45 minutes today. Again, I am Stefanie Monge. I’m the editor of Silicon Prairie News. Recently named to head the relaunch, and the kind of re-envisioning of SPN where we are focused on covering entrepreneurship and innovation in Nebraska.


I know historically, SPN has taken more of a regional approach with the Midwest, but with our new partnership with Flatwater Free Press, we’re really just honing back in on that Nebraska audience. So when we think about innovators, entrepreneurs, including small business owners, including those in the innovation ecosystem that are maybe at like larger enterprise companies. So really kind of expanding our idea of what it means and what it looks like to be an innovator and an entrepreneur in Nebraska.

Today we are going to talk about hiring at your Startup. So we are going to approach this from two different angles. The first angle is as either a founder or a hiring manager at an early stage startup. And then also from the perspective of folks who are interested in working for a startup here in Nebraska.

Our panelists today will introduce themselves in just a moment, but you might recognize them from the story that I wrote earlier in the month about what it’s like to work for a Nebraska-based Startup. I’ve invited these guests today to continue this conversation in this live stream because they have lots of experience from the perspective of being early hires, from being hiring managers, from being hiring managers in charge of hiring managers in charge of hiring decisions, and have worked for several startups around Nebraska and beyond.

[00:02:15] So I’ll hand it over to Amanda. Would you mind introducing yourself to the group?

AMANDA: Thanks Stef. Hi y’all! I’m Amanda Martinez. I am currently the director of engineering at Fable. So I work remotely. Fable is loosely based in New York, but we are all around the world. I have teammates in Poland, Portugal, and everything in between here in California, as well. So I think, in addition to that, I’ve worked for a Nebraska-based startup as well, and I am passionate about community and DEI. And so when it comes to tech, those things can be tough.

But I’m very passionate about making a difference there. And I do that through community action and education, specifically teaching children, especially underserved children or people who haven’t historically been in tech. That tech could be and should be for them as well, so that’s me.

COREY: That’s amazing, awesome. Hi! I’m Cory Spitzer. I have been a software engineer for over 20 years. I’ve been working with or founding startups for the last 10 years or so. Nowadays you’ll find me, I’m a startup advisor and fractional CTO. So I work with a lot of different startups and I’m having a lot of fun. So in my past gigs I’ve led technical teams and hired for them, and we’ve sort of established team cultures and things like that. So I’m excited to talk about all that stuff.

STEFANIE: Great. Thank you again so much for joining us today for this conversation. And thank you, too, to our sponsor Elevator. That is where I’m joining you from, where the Silicon Prairie News and Flatwater Free Press office is. We have a grand opening this Friday from 3 to 6 if you are in Omaha, or close to downtown, and want to come check it out. I definitely encourage you to stop by and see what it’s all about.

How to know when it’s time to make your first (or next) hire at your startup

[00:04:24] So to get our conversation started today, we’re going to start from the perspective of either a hiring manager, a founder, or sort of those like early team members. So let’s kick off the conversation by just starting to think about, like, what do you take into consideration on the timing, for when it’s time to start hiring for your startup.

So, Corey, I don’t know if this is one that you can start us off with. But, like, how do you know when it’s time to start hiring?

COREY: Sure. I’m sure like a bunch of questions that we’re gonna talk about, it’s all case by case, you know. It’s particular to a certain set of circumstances. But one of the exercises that I found helpful is, if you just sit down and write down a personal roadmap for the next person that you’re gonna hire.

If you can easily list out the next 3 projects that they’re gonna work on from day one, that’s a good sign. We’ve had to do this often, especially when it comes to interns, because you really have to map out like, if it’s a 3-month internship or 6-month one. What are they gonna work on? You know? What’s going to fit a newcomer and get them productive right away.

Another easy indicator is if you’ve hit a ceiling in your revenue where only another addition is going to unlock more revenue, like on a sales team. That’s an easy one. But I’d say in general, like, when there’s enough work and your momentum says that you can afford a person, and you can budget for it. Then that’s a good sign.

STEFANIE: Yeah. And that’s a good point that you made, that it is something that happens on a case by case basis. So I think that applies to all of the things that we are going to be sharing today is like situation, context. It varies from startup to startup, from founder to founder, from team to team. So knowing that some of the stuff you will feel like it’s applicable to you and others you can leave behind, and that’s totally fine.

Qualities that are important in early hires and how to assess for those qualities

[00:06:52] So what are important qualities when you’re looking to make an early hire? And I think I asked this from the perspective of like any position. So not even a specific role like, what are the general qualities you’re looking for in early team members? And I’ll pass that off to whoever wants to start.

AMANDA: Yeah, I would say, what you’re looking for is people who are passionate. Who are excited about your product, like not just looking for a job. Being in a startup means you have the opportunity to do a lot of things. So what are some of the gaps? Or maybe some of the places where, like, you’re not great at that so you need someone else to come in and fill those gaps. I think is huge. I always like to say I like to surround myself with people who are smarter than me, because we’re all going to learn something from one another.

I think that passion piece is really important, because at a startup, as anyone who’s ever been at a startup knows, it means that there are a lot of things to do right? And how do we all put our heads together and make sure these things happen with a small team that we might have? So I think that’s a really important piece.

And positivity, but not like the toxic kind. So just making sure that you’re getting people that like want to come to work, right. Whether that’s working from home or working in an office like you. Wanna be surrounded by people who want to be there with you because it’s going to take a lot of work and a lot of hard work. And you’re going to face a lot of challenges, just knowing that you can sit alongside these people and solve those problems together. And it’s not going to be like that combative thing, right? Like I need someone who’s going to give me great feedback and vice versa, because that’s the only way we grow.

COREY: Can I jump in on this one, too?

STEFANIE: Of course.

COREY: So yeah, one of the things that we look for, you know, in my past gigs is flexibility, because in a startup things are changing all the time. Can we find somebody that can roll with the punches and not be a perfectionist? And actually I was talking to a startup the other day. Talking about how there’s a balance, and it’s especially, this is prevalent in the technical side of things. Knowing when to strategically cut corners. You know, when something is, you know, we’re gonna piece this together and we’re going to…We know what the right way, how to do things the right way if we had infinite resources. But we’ve got these constraints so that kind of flexibility to make the best worst decision for now.

STEFANIE: Yeah, something that I would add to that, too, is just like being comfortable, navigating ambiguity and being comfortable with that uncertainty. Because I think that kind of goes hand in hand with flexibility. But to your point, there’s a lot of learning that’s happening in real time. It can be a very iterative process as you’re figuring out all of the things from the beginning, and recognizing that that might change. So somebody who’s comfortable with ambiguity and being able to navigate that and to your point, Corey, make the best worse decision. If that’s what’s needed, I think goes a really long way.

Something else that I wanted to kind of double up on is that idea of not being a perfectionist. There is a time in place for “good enough” and recognizing that sometimes that, like iterative growth, or that incremental growth or improvement is good enough to kind of get you to cross that next bridge. So I think that growth mindset, in general, is something that becomes a really important characteristic to those early hires. And then to Amanda, to your point, hiring folks who can compliment your strengths and can help to like make you stronger in the areas that are not your strengths. I have made the mistake in early hires before of hiring someone that I think, is like a miniature me. And it’s just like, Oh, that was not the most strategic choice that I could make here. You want to find somebody who really compliments the area, the areas that you need to strengthen or kind of your gaps.

Anything else that either of you wanna add about those important qualities for early hires?

COREY: I would just say, because everybody is wearing multiple hats, and everybody has. They’re often doing the job of more than one person. I mean your tasks as a new hire to a startup are not necessarily gonna be fed to you, and told to you exactly how you should do it. So organizational skills and time management and good judgment, good instincts are, you know, you’re gonna kind of own what you build if the team is, you know, small and scrappy.

AMANDA: Yeah, yeah, to that point. Corey, I was gonna say, like, you want people who are proactive right? See something, say something, fix something, do something about it. Kind of like, do it, ask for forgiveness later if you need to. Most times you’re not going to need to, but like someone will just thank you for solving that problem, right, without having to go to someone else or having someone else think about it. Like those things I think are one of the things that I find to be hugely empowering for being a part of a startup, and that’s a piece that is important.

Specific questions managers should ask during the interview process

[00:12:54] STEFANIE: So as a hiring manager in a startup, I mean, what kind of questions do you ask, or how can you evaluate whether or not your candidates have these qualities or possess these qualities? Do either of you have any thoughts on that?


I could start with my go-to question. One of the top go-to questions is: Tell me about a project that you’ve done in the past that you’re particularly proud of. And the answer first of all, it makes a candidate tell a storytelling anecdote concisely, clearly in a relatable way, you know. So can they just communicate on that level? And then it really conveys what they emphasize, like, what part of the project are they proud of? Is it because they learned something new? Because they were in a particularly constrained situation?

It kind of tells you what they value. You know I really like this project because I was able to work with you know this particular mentor. Or I was able to learn this technology. Or whatever the case is. And the project that they choose tells you a lot about their level of experience. If they say, Well, I built this tic-tac-toe game in high school, that’s different than some complex mega multimillion dollar project.

AMANDA: Yeah, I think one of my go-tos is similar to Corey’s…is a project related question of: Tell me about a project that didn’t go well, or you had some complications with, and how you worked through those problems? And how you communicated that, right? Because one of the things that’s really important is communicating early and often. Right? So you don’t wanna get to project deadline time and be like whoops that didn’t happen. So like, how are they proactively communicating those things?

How are they going about that problem solving piece? And it also tells you, like, how does this person sort of own up to issues? Grow and learn from them, right? Because at startups we’re all going to make mistakes. We’re all going to mess something up. And that is okay. How do we learn from them? And like, apply that to the next project, and the next meeting that you walk into, whatever that thing is. So I think that is a question that I really like to ask folks because we’re gonna have plenty of problems to solve together.

STEFANIE: Yes, that ability to problem, solve it’s one of the things I thought of, too, in that conversation about what are the qualities you’re looking for in folks. So it sounds like asking about experiences that folks have had and listening for how they describe those experiences and what those experiences were as one way that you can really evaluate sort of folks ability to kind of navigate some of those things that you know they’re going to face in a startup environment?

Considerations when making technical hires

[00:16:05] So what about when you’re hiring for technical roles? I know that’s something that both of you have lots of experience with. I mean, how do you go about evaluating someone’s technical ability as you’re considering them for a role? What are your thoughts on that?

COREY: I want to hear from Amanda.

AMANDA: Bless you. No, I have done this in a lot of different ways. So I am not saying that any one of these is the right way, but I will tell you my favorite one. So I think when you’re evaluating technical abilities  there’s lots of different ways that you could go about it, right. Bring me a project and let’s talk about it as a team. Why did you choose to go about it this way? Why did you choose this language? What did you choose? Facts, right? And really break down that problem and say, like, also looking at this now you know, you built this project X amount of time ago, what would you do differently? And again, like that learning perspective. What did you learn from it? You’re really looking for does this person learn from their past projects? How do they apply that to the future?

Because as we’re going through, like, if I build something and Corey builds something, they might both work, right. But they’re not going to look exactly alike. And neither of us is wrong. But like is one of them a little bit better because it runs faster, or something like that. So like, if that is true, right, being able to look at Corey’s and say, like you did X and I see why that’s better. Thank you for teaching me that and applying that to the future right? So I think that that’s one way to go about it.

I think people do live coding exercises which I personally really hate. I am the person that, anxiety and I are best friends, and the worst enemies. And if you put sort of a test in front of me, I know that I will fail immediately. Even if you’ll be like Amanda, what’s your first name? I don’t know. So I don’t want to put someone else in that position.

So I do prefer a project-based situation. So I think one of two ways that I’m okay with is either having someone bring in a past project and like, let’s talk about it, break it down. Or giving them a project where they can take it away, you know, digest it a little bit, work on it, and then bring back feedback to say you know this is how I would have done this differently, and breaking down those problems. And sort of that real communication piece, because also you get a feel for how good they are at communicating their whys to how they approach something at the same time.

COREY: Oh, my God! I love this! I’m glad you’re recording this because I can use some of that, too. That’s great. The only thing that I would add is something that I’m always on a hunt for, that I’m specifically looking for, is I’m looking for signs of ego. Signs of rigid opinionated personalities. Black and white thinking. And that kind goes back to the flexibility. And in a startup there are so many ways you can skin a cat. And you know you could create, like Amanda was alluding to, you could create a solution that has way more security or way more user friendliness. It’s all about, you know, what do you value? And what are the constraints you’re under?

AMANDA: Yeah, plus 100 to the ego piece. Check it at the door. Let’s figure out these things together.

STEFANIE: Yeah, I think that collaboration, especially early on in a smaller team, is really important and has a big impact on how quickly you’re able to move or get from point A to point B.

Advice for novice startup hiring managers

[00:19:55] So thinking about just like a new hiring manager. Someone who is just starting out. Maybe this is their first time ever being in a scenario where they are in charge of hiring other folks. What would you tell them, or what do you wish that you knew as you were just starting out as a hiring manager?

AMANDA: Okay. I’m gonna pop in here on this one. First, because I think I learned by doing. And while I’m super grateful for that, I think there are some things that I would love to share, that I learned. I think first and foremost, I would say, like if you have the opportunity to work with a recruiter within your office, I hope you do. But make sure you’re very, very, very clear with that recruiter. What you’re looking for, right? Because I think this ties into sort of DEI for me. That’s like the lens that I’m looking at this from, you know I don’t want all of the same candidate.

I don’t want all of the candidates from one school, one space, whatever. I think being super super clear on what are the things we can sort of flex on and what are the things that are non-negotiable from a person. And I will tell you I learned really fast hiring, especially for technical roles, technical skills are great. Yes, I need you to be technical. But I also need you to not be an asshole. And if you are, that’s something that I cannot manage out of you. Like similar to ego, right? Like I cannot manage that you know. That’s just going to be a sort of battle right? And so just making sure that you’re sort of double checking right?

Like, I am going to interview this person, and then I also want Corey to interview this person and say from completely different perspectives, and say, like, are we coming to the same understanding? I want to give people an opportunity beyond just being a resume. But when there are those red flags, just making sure that…it’s not worth taking a chance on a red flag that’s like this person is just not going to be kind, or they’re going to be super egotistical, because that will just ruin the rest of your team.

So I think, while you give people the opportunity to have a conversation, it’s okay to like say, you know, this is not going to work out for either of us and let that person move on as well to find the best situation for them.

COREY: That was so well put. I have nothing to add to that.

Equitable hiring practices

[00:22:48.305] STEFANIE: So I have a question. And this kind of goes into equitable hiring practices, which I think is something that I would say, post 2020, we’ve seen a lot of desire to implement. I’ve seen a lot of research that questions whether…or the effectiveness of that implementation. So thinking about equitable hiring practices. Do you have any tips?

Like one thing that I think about when I’ve done interview panels before is, we actually all are asking each candidate the same questions across like all of the interviews. Is like one way to kind of level set or get some kind of baseline for like the information that you’re collecting. So I would say, asking candidates the same questions could be one way that you start to think about equitable hiring practices.

Are there other tips or practices or considerations that either of you have when you think about, you know, how do we remove bias, or try to mitigate bias, from the hiring process, from you as an individual hiring manager?

COREY: That’s really tough. And honestly, I need to do more reading But I will tell you a story. I would say just to try to answer the question, I would say that you can always be more cognizant of the differences in how people apply. And how people interview. Like, for instance, I heard a stat recently, men tend to apply to jobs that they’re not, you know, that they’re not particularly qualified for. They will go, you know, and apply anyway. Whereas women will try to match it up like 80%, or whatever the stat is.

STEFANIE: Yeah, we should find this cause, I think, is it like, it’s like 60% or something like, if a man identifies with like 60% of the skills, then they’ll apply. And I think for women, it’s actually closer to 100%. I’ll see if I can find this off to the side right now.

COREY: Yeah, that would.

STEFANIE: But anyway, sorry. Go ahead. I feel like as women, I think this is a stat we’ve known or heard about a lot. So it’s interesting that you’ve just learned this.

COREY: Yes, I learned it, I think it was last week. I was just talking to somebody. But so in that vein I subconsciously had an inkling about this kind of thing. So I remember a couple of years ago, I was interviewing a woman she had just gotten out of a code school, and I was describing, you know, here’s the work we do. Here’s our systems. And this is where we’d like to plug you in and things like that. We sent out an offer and she wrote back a very email saying, basically said, I’m not up for the challenge. And, if I mean, I don’t know what, if that was her real reason, or what? But I was gonna make sure that wasn’t going to be the reason.

So I called her up, and I asked another woman colleague to help back me up on this. And I said, Yes, you are up for this challenge if you want it, because we can see it. Yeah. So I think, knowing…I don’t think that you know, had she been a man, she would have felt that way typically. I’m not sure. But I couldn’t let that stand.

AMANDA: Yeah, so jumping on Corey’s job description situation, like I always like to say know your bullet points. Again, when you look at the stats, like if there are more than it’s somewhere between eight to 10, I wanna say bullet points, and especially for women right? They will be like, well, I meet this. I meet this. I meet this may be a little bit. Like, we’re a little bit harder on ourselves, right? Whereas, like men, tend to be…Bless their hearts! Some of these things look good, let me just go ahead and apply. But there is also stats to show that, like in those situations, even they will hire a more underqualified man than a woman who is more qualified, maybe. And it’s just one of those things, right.

So like, know your bullet points. What are the most important things that you need to include on that job description? Because again, not just speaking like from a woman perspective, but when you’re talking about a person of color, as well, right? That is just like another thing where you should clearly, if you give a shit about DEI, say on that job description, we want everyone to apply. We welcome all folks. Make it very, very, very apparent. So be really cognizant of the language that you’re using. So the language doesn’t feel gendered. It doesn’t feel like, you know, overwhelming. “We are family.” Like, no, to any of those things. Because those are just like…Those will stop people at the door. So you will only get, you know, one type of person or one group of people that apply for that job if you’re not ridiculously cognizant of your language. 

And then, when they’re in the hiring process, I would say the other thing to make sure that, like things feel equitable, as well, when you’re hiring in is making sure that your team is made up of a diverse group of folks. Like whatever diversity looks like at your company, like. Make sure you’re getting people from different backgrounds, different thoughts, different point of views. Right? Because I’m going to hear something differently than maybe Corey hears something because of my, sort of, like bias. And what I get, right. So knowing your sort of bias as you walk into those meetings, and be open to giving that feedback about that person. But also understanding things from another person’s perspective. Right? So people get a fair chance in that interview process.

STEFANIE: Yes, so I found the statistic from HBR, and it is 60% for men. 100% for women. So I have seen, to your point, Amanda, in job postings like that stated like, we know that women typically only apply for a job if they meet 100% of the criteria. And we encourage you even if you don’t feel like you meet all of the criteria to apply anyway. I’ve seen wording like that. And yeah, I think I think that that probably does make somewhat of a difference.

I also kind of back to this idea of hiring, hiring equitably and fostering like a diverse workforce or a diverse team…which also for the record people cannot be diverse. This is something that I have seen, that like referring to, like an individual as diverse. That is not how we can use that word. We can refer to a group of people as being diverse, but like to say, like you’re a diverse hire, is garbage. But like that, that is not the verbiage like, or the approach a hiring manager should take. And that made me forget the last thing I was gonna say, oh, but it didn’t okay.

So how did you…I’ve seen this, you know, especially when you’re just starting. You’ve got a small team, and you’re like, hey, we need to grow the team, so tell your friends. And so then all of a sudden you are recruiting from your existing team’s network or pool of friends, and all the sudden you have a super homogeneous team. So like, how do you avoid that? I wanna say, trap. I don’t know if that’s the right word.

[00:31:18] But like, how do you avoid just having replicas of your first employees, and like scaling the company sort of that way?

AMANDA: Yeah, I think you have to be proactive, right? Like I did this back when I was hiring like a huge group of people, right? I did a lot of coffee with people. I wouldn’t say no to coffee. That could be in person. It could be on Zoom. It could be a lot of different things. And so I think, while people’s connections are important. Like, I want to give people a chance, an opportunity. Like I can’t just hire everyone’s friends, because then that turns into, you know, the same sort of thing.

It turns into that culture fit not that culture add. And so which I think is a sort of a slippery slope to get into, right. So I think it’s important to build on top of those contacts. It’s okay to talk to so and so’s friend. But like, who did they know, right? Who maybe is like one more step further removed, and one more step farther removed. But I also think, like you have to proactively reach out to people. And you have to be a person that people like want to talk to. So like, how are you sort of presenting yourself? How are you representing the company? What makes it feel like, like any person from any place or space, could feel welcome? A part of the team, a part of the company, and feel valued? So I think you have to be ridiculously proactive, and, like I said before, you have to know your biases, right? Like, what do I know that, like, maybe like, Stef, you said before, what do I know that it’s about me that maybe I’m looking for in person, that I wanted to make sure that I look beyond those things too. Right? So I’m giving people a fair shot. 

STEFANIE: Corey, do you have anything that you’d want to add to that?

COREY: No, I’ll just basically repeat what Amanda said. We all live in bubbles, and you just have to realize that you gotta look outside of your network and uncover some hidden gems, hidden to you, right. And I don’t know. Personally, I like meeting new people. I like networking so that kind of comes naturally. I wanna learn about everybody. But yeah. That being proactive really helps with that kind of thing.


AMANDA: Yeah, and I think, sorry Stef, just to add, like, be genuine about it. Like, don’t just be like showing up one time to be like: hey, I’m looking for some people, and then you never show up again. Like, if you’re going to be part of a group and like, do that networking like for real. Be a part of that group. Like if you’re just showing up to be like a used car salesman, and you just like dip out like…It’s very just, you know it’s not authentic.

COREY: That’s good point, yeah.

STEFANIE: Yes, I mean just to your point, Amanda, when I talk with folks about fostering like a more diverse pipeline of candidates, the advice that I give them 100% of the time is literally try harder. Like that is like, that’s it. Like they’re isn’t like a great hack to do this. Like it really takes more effort. And to your point, it has to be genuine. Because otherwise folks, especially who are folks who are not inclined to feel included, or that sense of belonging, because maybe they’re aren’t a lot of folks that look like them at your organization already, then I think it really goes a long way.

Hiring for culture add vs. culture fit

[00:35:08] So something you said, Amanda, that I wanna go to next is like culture fit versus culture add.

Let’s talk about that. Because I would say, you know, 5 or 6 years ago I was a hiring manager for a company in San Francisco, and I was the one who was in charge of the culture fit interviews. And that was kind of like the role that like I would play. And since then I’ve really come to understand the distinction between culture fit versus culture add and kind of how that changes the team dynamic. How it can increase a sense of belonging. How it can help you to build a more equitable environment.

So Amanda or Corey, would either of you like to kind of expand on, like your perspective of culture fit versus culture add. Like what does that mean?

COREY: I think so when I hear culture add, I think of people that can help a company grow up in an area, right? So like with startups, you know, processes are kind of scrappy, and things like that. If you hire somebody who comes from like a corporate compliance kind of background, that’s going to be a perspective right? We’re gonna be a scrappy little startup, and you know how you’re used to doing things a different way. Or maybe even a better example if you’re hiring a developer. But they have, like some sort of ADA certificate for technology. I mean, that that’s going to be a culture add to to get people thinking about people who use your products with disabilities and things like that. So I think that would be good for if you’re ever challenged on that kind of thing, you need to present a business case for that, that’d be great.

You know…this reminds me of an interview that I was on a call with a candidate, and she was kind of entry level. She was just graduating college. She took the call in a university hallway And like, and people were walking by, and she was like interrupting the interview to say hi

to somebody, and me and this gentleman who we were interviewing, we were interviewing her. We’re like, man in one sense, this is like, really unprofessional. But in other sense, like man, she’s got this like I-don’t-give-a-crap energy. We need her. So I mean, it’s kind of a fuzzy thing for me. But I think that. But you know those kind of experiences can really help.

STEFANIE: One thing I was just thinking like, what do I think about culture ad versus culture fit? And I think it’s like the difference between focusing on the amount of value someone will add versus how much you think they’ll fit in with the existing team. I think it’s balancing those things. And realizing that when you’re a culture add, there is value that you could be adding even if you’re coming from a totally different perspective than the existing team. And yes, I think there are considerations, Amanda, to like what you said. If somebody is just a huge asshole that’s going to be destructive, and you don’t want someone who’s toxic.

So I don’t mean yeah, well, and I guess like that. If you’re toxic that diminishes the value that you’re adding to the team just like inherently. But you know, I think just like, how do you consider the amount of value someone can add versus focusing on like, Oh, gosh! The test I’ve heard, do you wanna have a beer with them? And it’s just like, Oh, two thumbs down. Like what if I don’t drink? It’s just like that…I think the days of like you know, would I go out and have the beer with this person, as like the litmus test, it’s like that doesn’t fly. Like that’s not good enough.

Amanda, did you have anything you wanted to add to that?

AMANDA: Yeah, I think, I think sometimes when I hear cultural fit, like, I think people that share the same behavior, share the same interests, education background, right? So like and this can also lead to biases right? Like I’m walking in, and I have x degree like, I’m really wanting a person that has x degree. But when you talk about tech, there’s like multiple different ways to get to where you’re at right? So like not everyone has a degree. Some people went to code school. Some people learned on their own, and they’re, you know, they started in high school. And they just know what the hell they’re doing, right? So I think, like being open to all of those different perspectives.

Because I think when we are looking for culture fit, I think what can happen is like, you know, I come to an interview, and maybe I’ve done some research and I know Stef really loves the Huskers. So I come in, and I’m like you love the Huskers. I love the Huskers. Look at this vibe that we’re creating, right? And so that’s that meeting. And she’s like, wow, I really connected with Amanda because we both have this truly deep love for the Huskers. We’re going to go to a Husker game together! Like those kinds of things right versus looking for a culture add, right? Where it’s like this person is maybe going to challenge me. And they’re going to challenge me in such a way where I’m going to grow. The team’s going to grow, the company’s going to grow, like similar to what Corey said. How are they going to help us solve these problems that we don’t know that we have anymore? Because we can’t see them, right? It could be a blind spot that we can’t see. What is this person bringing to the table that’s going to help us as we continue to grow up?

And I think again, like when you’re thinking about things from a DEI perspective, I think one thing that we fail to talk about when we talk about diversity, like I try to talk about people from all different places in spaces. But it’s also like that, that diversity of thought and meeting people where they are, right? Like I had this person who I wanted to interview her, but before I did, I sent her the job description. She sent me back a list of questions, and her message that she sent to me prior to that was like, before I interview with you. I want to let you know that I have autism. And how it shows up for me is I have selective mutism. So when I interview, I want to know that you can like support me through this process. And if I were to join your team, how would you support me?

That was a challenge to me, because I had never been asked that question before, and so I’ve thought of how would we best support this person and like what would they bring to the table that would challenge us to get better at communication? And how we support people who are neurodivergent of any type, right? And although it didn’t work out with hiring that person, I learned so much just from interacting with her. And understanding like where she was coming from, that I could apply to the people that I was interviewing and hiring in the future. So making sure you’re like meeting people where they are. So I think when it comes to culture add, there’s just like so many different ways to look at it.

But I think fit is a slippery slope into like we’re all going to the Husker game together because we all love them. And you know you don’t…you don’t want that. Like that’s not gonna help you be successful.

STEFANIE: Thank you. That was a really good example. So we just have a couple of minutes left.

Specific questions candidates should ask during the interview process

[00:43:06] So I have one last question, and this is from the candidate side. So, if you are a candidate considering an opportunity at a startup, whether it’s your first startup or your 10th startup that you’re working at or applying to…Like, what is a question that I should be asking to help me evaluate the opportunity? Like or the team? So from a candidate perspective, is there a question or two that you can think of that would be good and helpful in evaluating, you know, the opportunity from the candidate side?

COREY: Go on. Okay, okay, so I’ll tell you one that I like that was asked of me. It kind of stumped me. What is your management style? And fortunately I had some people that were under me to answer that for me which I thought was like perfect. Because I was like I don’t know. You know, ask these guys. But I think that speaks to, it’s something I heard a long time ago is, you know. You have an interview with the hiring manager, but try to seek out the current employees because they’re gonna be your future colleagues. And get their opinions, right? It’s kind of like, you know, digging as a journalist a little bit, right? But yeah, I mean, try to get the real story, however you can. And yeah, that I like that bit of advice, you know. Talk to the people you’re going to work with outside of this interview setting.

AMANDA: Yeah, I, think, I think that’s always a fun question, Corey. I always tell people like I can tell you about me, and I can tell you how I believe I lead. But ask my team, and they’ll tell you if I’m full of shit or not. You need to talk to the folks that like deal with it on a daily basis. So I think that that’s important. I think, I think another question that I really like when candidates ask, and not many candidates do it’s like: what do you see success looking like in this role? Right? And so like, especially when you’re at a startup, success can look like a lot of different things. Right? You can come in on Monday, and Tuesday you’re doing something completely different and like, that’s okay. It’s still adding value. It’s still adding to the company. And so I think, what does success look like? And it can be like near term, long term, like, if you have that vision. And I think it’s also an interesting question, because that puts you as a manager in the spot of like, am I bringing this person in at such a time where they can be supported? Or I’m setting them up for success right? So like that’s another super valuable question. Because candidates need to know that wherever they sort of come from, like, where are we gonna meet them at the door? And are they going to get what they need in order to be successful here? So that’s one that I would say, I really value and I love to talk about.

I would also just say, like, you should do this for any job, but especially for a startup, do your research. What do you know about the company? What do you know like what research have you done for the people that work there? What are they posting on Linkedin like? What do their socials look like? Can I see myself there? And you know, let us know what you bring to the table when you come in. I saw X on social media, I think you should do Y. Awesome. Amazing. Give us that feedback like right off the bat. Again, it tells us, like, you’re comfortable communicating and giving that feedback, and like challenging. And all of those things are hugely important at a startup.

COREY: Oh, and I just like to add, if you’re feeling particularly bold, you can say you can ask something like, what would you like to see improve at this company?


COREY: Or you know, wave a magic wand…But yeah, at the end of the day I would just remember that you’re interviewing them as much as they’re interviewing you. So you’re looking for an employer that’s worthy of your awesomeness.

AMANDA: 100% agree and I love that question, Corey. I think what is one thing that you love? And what is one thing you could change if we could change any one thing? And you get like some insight really to see, like, is there anything that is sort of challenging at the company right now that I could be a part of solving?

COREY: Right.

STEFANIE: Those are really great questions for an interviewee. I hope that everybody took notes. Okay, so we are at time. Just a couple of minutes over. I want to say, thank you again to Amanda and Corey for joining us for the kickoff of our SPN Startup Office Hours. We’ll do this monthly with a rotation of different guests talking about different topics that are relevant in the innovation and entrepreneurship areas in Nebraska

[00:48:22] Amanda, where can folks find you if they’d like to connect after this?

AMANDA: Whoo, great question. I’m on the LinkedIn, so you can find me there. I’m easy to find my picture that you saw for this thing is the same, so you’ll see me there. I would say that’s where I’m the most active. I have socials, and whatever but like, if you just want to see pictures of my dog, you’re welcome to follow me there. But yeah, definitely connect with me on LinkedIn. And I would love to have more and further conversation with folks.

[00:48:55] STEFANIE: And Corey, where can folks find you?

COREY: I’m saying on LinkedIn. I will be at the in Elevator Grand Opening this Friday. I try to make it to 1 Million Cups, as everybody should. But yeah, reach out, you know. Like Amanda said, Amanda, you said you never turned down a coffee. I try to do the same. I don’t think anybody’s ever turned me down for a coffee. I think that’s that kind of community we have.

STEFANIE: Excellent. So thank you to our panelists today, our guest experts. Thank you to those who joined the live stream. And thank you to our sponsor, Elevator. Again. We have a grand opening at Elevator this Friday April 28, from 3 to 6 Pm. If you are in Omaha, or the area, and want to check it out, I would love for you to pop into the SPN and Flatwater Free Press office to say hello. So thank you all for your time today. I can’t wait to do this again next month. Bye.

AMANDA: Thanks, Stef. Bye!

STEFANIE: Thank you. Bye.

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