We call them athletes, because they can tackle any position. And they're the best type of employees you can hire at a start-up. Here's why.
After we closed our round of Series A funding for 42Floors, we began working on hiring the right people. Because we got a lot of good press, we got inbound job requests from some impressive people. As we looked at the most impressive resumes, we kept seeing a trend: people who were incredibly good at one thing. But that’s actually a problem for us.
One of our early decisions was not to hire specialists, but generalists--we call them athletes, because they can play every position. These jacks-of-all-trades types are the best kind of early employee you can have at a start-up. They may not be the best at any one particular skill, but they have lots of good skills that can be applicable all over the company, and they are very adaptive. Athletes are employees who think and act like founders because they’re not so locked into one individual role that they lose track of the wider needs of the company. And in the early stages of a company when your needs are changing almost daily, you want employees who are not only flexible, but enjoy changes in their day-to-day jobs.
Here are a few tips we've learned about finding and hiring athletes:
1. Take it easy on the job qualifications. Entrepreneurs love to create dream lists of qualifications. But if you hire an athlete, he or she is going to be able to pick up the skills you need along the way.
2. Focus on pet projects. Athletes are always making things; they can’t help themselves. So, instead of asking applicants what they did at some particular job where they might not have had control of their own time, find out what side projects they’ve done. Athletes will have lots of them.
3. Think medium term. The easiest mistake to make is hiring only for short term needs. A lot of people on your team will push you in that direction because they are facing the day-to-day stress of hitting upcoming milestones. The other mistake is to hire for the long term. Often, you end up hiring someone who is overly experienced, but not a good cultural fit.
4. Look for former entrepreneurs. Specifically, people who have founded companies and failed. Sure, it would be great to hire entrepreneurs who were massively successful, but I wouldn’t expect to get lots of them coming through your recruiting pipeline for obvious reasons. Entrepreneurs who have failed are really hungry to succeed. Plus, they already think like founders.
5. Beware of big company types. A huge chunk of your recruiting pipeline will probably be filled with people who have been at a big company for a while and are looking for something new. They are usually very good at what they do and have impressive credentials, but they are often the least athletic you’ll meet because big companies inherently force people to specialize.