Scrappy. Creative. Passionate.

Go-Getters. Innovators. Disrupters.

Pull up almost any startup's careers page, and you'll see any combination of these words plastered all over.

But how do you hire for all those desirable traits? Just ask Airbnb. Recently valued at $31 billion, the company seems how to know how to hire for good talent.

Growing a team from scratch

Jonathan Golden was one of Airbnb's earliest employees and its first product manager. The company underwent massive growth during his six years there. In Airbnb's earliest days, it was crucial that the company made the right hires.

Attracting and hiring candidates with an entrepreneurial mindset was critical. Golden wrote a Medium post in which he outlined Airbnb's hiring methodology. "We looked for builders, not maintainers," he explains. "Our mandate was to identify individuals who could create."

The Airbnb hiring team asked one open-ended question to quickly identify people with a builder-not-maintainer mindset.

They'd ask candidates how they would implement a new project, idea, or feature: "How would you go about doing that?"

How to answer the how question

There was a right answer and a wrong answer.

The wrong answer was to go ask someone. Golden says this signaled the candidate would need to look to other people for answers. Not the type of hire they were looking to make.

The right answer was to find a way to make it happen, to test your way into it.

This meant trying to make it work, and iterating along the way. Even if you weren't entirely sure how to get there or the exact steps to take, you were comfortable taking the lead to figure it out.

"That was a clear sign that the candidate was used to taking action," explains Golden.

He says the people Airbnb hired in the earliest days had a remarkable ability to just make things happen.

They were scrappy.

They were energetic.

They got it done.

They were all the things a startup's careers page boasts its best employees to be.

Looking outside domain expertise

Airbnb didn't limit its search to candidates who had relevant industry experience. For example, you didn't need to have a long history of working in travel or hospitality. Since Airbnb was one of the first online-to-offline marketplaces, it was unlikely anyone had perfectly aligned domain expertise anyway.

Above all, Airbnb wanted to hire people who were passionate and committed to something -- anything. This displayed grit. They admired candidates who displayed their ability to stick to accomplishing a goal and wouldn't easily give up. Golden hired an engineer who had been a professional long-distance roller skater.

Pains of growth

Once people began working at Airbnb, they needed to feel empowered. Golden champions the leadership team for fostering a culture where people were encouraged to "think big." But this mandate came with its own growing pains.

"When you see good ideas being elevated regardless of a person's role or title, there's greater incentive to speak up," says Golden. This meant many voices were offering their ideas. Sometimes those ideas were the same. Or, those big ideas were great but not always actionable. To harness all that scrappiness and creativity, Airbnb began requiring anyone who brought an idea to the table to also bring a basic one-page plan to execute it.

Golden no longer works at Airbnb. He went off to start his own company -- just like many of the go-getters who helped build Airbnb have done. He believes it's a testament to Airbnb's hiring the right people in the first place. Eventually, those people harness all that creative energy into building something for themselves.

He says it was the most collaborative culture he's ever worked in, with innovation championed at all levels. Golden encourages startups that are hiring to look for candidates with entrepreneurial talent, and "encourage them to dream with you, and build what is to come."

Published on: Dec 14, 2018