Finding incredibly talented employees is never easy. Not only are you competing with low unemployment rates, bootstrapping your startup could mean the level of salary you can afford to pay may not be enough to attract someone with the level of experience you need.
That's the classic Moneyball problem (a movie I highly recommend for entrepreneurs). As Billy Beane (played by Brad Pitt) says of the scouting room versus the out on the field, "If we try to play like the Yankees in here, we'll lose to the Yankees out there."
Instead, Oakland looked past conventional wisdom, incorrect assumptions, and common stereotypes to unearth talented players that other teams ignored.
And you can, too. The key is to look for transferable skills that work well in a fast-paced, action-oriented, every-employee-wears-multiple-hats startup atmosphere.
Servers, bartenders, and fast food employees.
Maybe you're unimpressed by a candidate's restaurant-heavy resume-- and maybe you'd be wrong.
For one thing, a significant percentage of people have at some point worked in the restaurant industry. (At one point, nearly 1 of every 8 people in the U.S. had worked at McDonald's.)
Think about what those people have learned. Kitchen workers learn to meet quality and productivity standards, embrace best practices, and perform well under significant time pressure. Cashiers learn to take and fill orders and communicate with coworkers, all while dealing with an endless stream of customers.
Bottom line: a server or fast food cashier with one year of experience has dealt with more difficult customers than a customer service rep with three years of experience -- especially if the customer service representative was assigned to a long-term customer base.
Restaurant workers, especially front-of-house workers, have experienced the worst people have to offer.
Which might make them the perfect candidates for your customer-facing position. All you need to teach them is your business; they already have the skills they need to take great care of your customers.
Maybe you think a veteran will be less likely to think outside the box and more concerned with rules, processes, guidelines, and structure.
Again, you'd be wrong. While the purpose of basic training is to assimilate new recruits, the bulk of goal of military training is intended to create leaders. And much of the training for military personnel is designed to develop strong analytical and problem-solving skills, responsibility and initiative, along with the ability to take intelligent risks.
Your startup needs employees who are reliable and accountable-- those who are willing to put aside their own goals in the service of team goals.
And then there's this: no matter how small your startup may currently be, as it grows you will definitely need people who can step into formal and informal leadership roles so you can focus on strategic rather than tactical issues.
Which might make a military veteran the perfect candidate for your business -- even if they don't have some of the specific skills you're looking for.
If you're like most entrepreneurs, you're an expert in many aspects of your field. (Take me: when I was launching LogoMix I only knew a little about software engineering -- but I knew a lot about identifying customer needs, solving customer problems, and helping customers grow their businesses.)
When your business is small, transferring some of your skills to your employees is fairly easy. But as your business grows and your employees rise through the ranks, they'll need to be able to transfer their skills to newer employees.
All of which teachers excel at doing.
And then there's this: teachers know how to work with little or no supervision. Teachers know how to juggle multiple, shifting priorities. Teachers know how to adapt to and meet the needs of a diverse group of people.
And best of all, teachers have learned how to learn. Which is a skill everyone -- including you -- definitely needs.