Just as leading a startup is very different from leading a major corporation, working for a startup is different from working for an established company. Certain skills and attributes that are required (and valued) in a corporate setting can not only be irrelevant in a small business, they can negatively impact individual and team performance.
Startups are not for everyone: Rapid change, minimal supervision, multitasking, plenty of challenges to overcome... but when you find the right people, they thrive.
To uncover whether a prospective employee is right for your startup, make sure you ask these five questions. (You'll notice each question is behavioral rather than opinion-based; that's because what really matters is what candidates have done, not what they say they will do.)
Tell me about a time there was no clear answer to a project. What did you do? How did you move forward?
Uncertainty is the order of the day in a startup. When you're building something new, there aren't always clear answers. You may know what your customers want... but what is the best way to provide it?
And can you provide that solution at a cost the market will bear -- and that will also allow you to make a reasonable profit?
Great startup employees thrive when the path is uncertain and the answers aren't always clear. They enjoy the challenge of brainstorming, analyzing, testing, and refining. They don't want to be given the answers; they want to find the answers.
And, in the process, create a successful company.
Tell me about a time when you worked in a fast-changing environment. What did you do when priorities shifted?
Planning is great, but in a startup even the best plans often change. Most entrepreneurs don't make it past the first three tasks on their startup plan before reality forces them to adapt.
That's why the best startup employees are good at planning but great at acting.
Great startup employees spend a little time planning and a lot more time doing. If they're unsure, they do something -- and then react appropriately.
Tell me about a time you were given constructive feedback. How did you respond?
Feedback is essential in any job -- but especially in a startup. Honesty and transparency are key in startups. Negative feedback is inevitable.
A poor candidate will blame the person giving feedback for that feedback, pushing responsibility onto him or her. A good candidate will address the issue and move forward.
A great candidate will admit they made a mistake or caused a problem, takes responsibility, and works had to make a bad situation better. In short, they admit when they are wrong and are eager to learn from those experiences.
That's incredibly important in a startup, since mistakes -- however unintentional -- will happen on a regular basis. That's just par for the course when you're trying to build something new.
Tell me about the last time your day ended before you were able to get everything done.
Clearly the goal is to evaluate a candidate's commitment, prioritization skills, and ability to communicate effectively. But just as important is evaluating the candidate's willingness to put in extra time when needed. (Because in a startup, extra time is often needed.)
The best candidates will prioritize and stay late when necessary... but they will also communicate early on that deadlines may be in jeopardy. That way you -- or the rest of the team -- can pitch in when necessary. Or you can do some proactive damage control when a deadline will unavoidably slip.
In short, the candidate that can't think of a time when they needed to stay late or come in early is probably not the right person for your small business.
Tell me about a time you had to raise an uncomfortable issue with another employee. Then tell me about a time you praised a coworker. What did you do?
In a challenging environment like a startup, people tend to be closer-knit and form tighter bonds.
But that means your employees must be willing to be open and candid -- and do so in a way that builds a team instead of tearing it down. Great startup employees ask questions. Great startup employees raise issues.
And, just as importantly, great startup employees praise their colleagues, recognizing them for when they do things well.
The best startups teams support each other, embrace a common purpose, feel that they are in it together... and in the process, transform what was a collection of individuals into a real team.
And that's why the best candidates for your startup actively seek that kind of environment -- because that's where they not only do their best work, but where they get the greatest personal fulfillment, too.