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Should startups hire for technical skills or cultural fit?

Startups are special. (And at Talent, we’re big supporters of entrepreneurship.) At their heart is a founding team that has poured blood, sweat and tears into making the business a success.

Once that hard work pays off and funding is secured, a startup will begin to grow. But that success presents its own challenges, such as, who to pick to join the team.

Any startup wants to find top talent to help build and scale the business. Traditionally, this was done by looking at the depth of an applicant’s experience. Today, startups recognise that every new recruit fundamentally alters a company’s DNA and focusing on a candidate’s cultural fit is equally as important as their skills and experience.

Why is cultural fit so important?

Cultural fit doesn’t mean just hiring friends of friends, or people who think and look exactly like the founders. (Historically, startups have been young, white and male because founding members hired new recruits who mirrored their experiences and background. However, diversity feeds creativity and produces an environment ripe for problem-solving). Instead, focus on personal values and soft skills like teamwork and self- confidence.

New recruits need to have the right mix of soft skills, personal values and work ethic. By aligning personal and corporate goals and values, employees are happier (and happy workers are 12% more productive). In startups however, the stakes are high. Finding a new team member who is the right fit can increase a business’s capacity, expand its skill sets and boost team morale. Conversely, a poor cultural fit can damage the entire operation. Despite a rise in head count, it may lead to a drop in productivity.

Hiring for cultural fit

Before looking for candidates with the right soft skills, startups need ask themselves some core questions:

  • How do we want the individual to fit with the team?
  • What is the company work ethic (flexible working policies etc.)?
  • How do we measure success?

You can get an idea of whether an individual is a good cultural fit on paper, but until you meet someone in person, it’s hard to know for sure. Meeting someone face-to-face gives you a good sense of whether a candidate will be willing to contribute new ideas, solve problems, and is genuine.

Lessons from startup royalty

At Zappos, a second round of interviews is always used to assessing cultural fit. Tony Hsieh, CEO, cites his principal tactic as looking for candidates who speak in terms of “we” and “our” rather than “I” and “me”.

Greg Waldorf, former CEO of eHarmony, has stated that in his experience the best candidates aren’t the ones currently in an equivalent role, but those who have achieved significant upward mobility.

Bryan Beal is an Angel investor and explains that startups need to look beyond their network when making hires. Referrals are essential and can open a world of opportunity.

However, startups also need to remember that what they are offering will not appeal to everyone. For some it will be seen as an exciting, stimulating opportunity. For others, it might be too risky or stressful. For some, leaving the perceived safety of an existing employer will be a step too far.

 

Are you looking for someone who has the skills to move the conversation, business and team forward? Someone with a startup mentality? Talent International can help you find that person. We can help you find candidates with the tech skills and the cultural fit to take your business to the next level. Get in touch today!