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How do you hire for a tech startup?

How do you hire for a tech startup?

If you’re running a small tech startup, it's not likely you have the luxury of a dedicated HR department.

The chances are you're taking an active role in your hires or, at the very least, you're making the final call on a person. That's a huge responsibility. And unless you've had experience with this before (say you come from an HR background), it can be tough to shoulder it.

Think about it – for a tiny tech startup firm, the risk of a poor hire is much greater than at a huge organisation. If you make one or two bad calls at a big corporate, it's possible for that error to be hidden. Take a big company with 1000 people in it. If one or two people aren't up to the task, there's every chance you have one or two people who can make up for their inefficiency. It's not ideal, of course, but it's not a disaster.

But say if you're a tiny team of less than ten, the effects of a bad hire are a lot more dramatic. Your poor hire makes up a much bigger fraction of your workforce, and your whole team suffers for it. Simply put, a poor hire can spell disaster for a tech startup.

So what kind of advice can I offer when it comes to making a great hire (or at least avoiding making a bad hire) at a tech startup?
Well, I think firstly you need to think about your process. Hiring at a tech startup needs to be quick and efficient – in this fast-paced environment there just isn't the time to dedicate to a methodical, extensive hiring process. But at the same time, this sped-up process still needs to end with your getting the right person – you can’t sacrifice quality for the sake of brevity.

Second, you need to think about the profile of someone who would thrive in this unique environment. 

A person suited to a tech startup is someone who doesn't crave rigid structures and processes. A person who doesn't want to hide behind the corporate structure. A person who wants to take on new responsibilities and not be constricted, constantly learning and exploring new experiences in the workplace.

How do you find someone like this? I think the key is to look at mindset. Think about it – you're after someone who takes a flexible and agile approach, someone who's happy to collaborate but also happy to take the lead. These key attributes you’re looking for are about mindset.

Now you might think: okay, mindset is fine in theory, but surely if you want to profile the ideal candidate for a tech startup, skillset has to figure somewhere? And yes, they do, but you have to remember that skills can be learned and developed. Tech training and qualifications are more accessible than ever, after all.

You ultimately need to question the long-term value of a rigid skillset. The role someone fills in your company is likely to change over time – not just in a matter of years, but maybe even months. Is it really worth hiring based on the skillset they have today when it's possible they'll need to add to it significantly at some point later in time?

This isn't to say that skills are unimportant. Skills are ultimately still needed for someone to come in and do a job. I'd say it's more the case that you need to balance mindset and skillset when hiring for a tech startup. If you find someone with the right skills, that's only half the battle. The question they really need to be asking themselves is: does this person have the mindset to thrive with us?

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