Startup Hiring: An Entrepreneur Disagrees With Entrepreneur Magazine

Written By: Dharmesh Shah July 14, 2008

I recently came across an article in Entrepreneur magazine that talks about startup hiring mistakes.  I don't know Brad Sugars (the author), but he's a columnist at Entrepreneur magazine and has written 14 books.  Though I'm impressed by the fact that he's a published author, I disagree with several points from the article. 

I also was a bit put-off by the statement "the good thing is that there are some hard and fast rules startups should follow".  I may not know a lot about startups, but one thing I do know is that there are very few "hard and fast" rules.  And, those rules that are hard and fast are rarely interesting enough to talk about.

So, here are my tips for startup hiring startups.  In some instances, these conflict directly with the Entrepreneur article -- in others, they're just different.

1.  Don't Hire Based Solely On Intelligence/Brilliance:  You interview the candidate and she has a PhD from MIT and is off-the-charts smart.  That's great.  Intelligence is an important factor in recruiting for most startups.  But, hiring just on intelligence is usually a mistake.  You need at least two more things:  A passion for getting things done and cohesion with your culture.  (That's a fancy way of saying that they agree with what you stand for and "fit in").

2.  It's Ok To Hire The Inexperienced:  If you find super-smart people that fit the culture and are able to get things done they may be a great recruit -- even if they lack experience.  At my startup HubSpot, we call this hiring people that "haven't seen the movie before" (this is our way of saying:  They don't have experience in the specific role/function).  We've had great success with this. 

3.  It's ok to hire for an undefined role:  In an ideal world, you have a nice clear job description and a role in mind for the person you're trying to hire.  And, your network is so strong and your luck so good that precisely the perfect candidates start dropping into your lap just as you need them.  Unfortunately, most startups are not so lucky.  Sometimes you get the wrong people for the right role (the one you're recruiting for).  Other times, you get the absolute "right" people, but just have no current openings.  Sometimes, it's ok to hire these "superstars" even though they may not fit the job description you are hiring for.

4.  It's Ok To Recruit For The Job You Hate:  You might be good at a lot of things (developing code, designing things, selling, accounting, etc.).  But chances are, you may dislike some of these activities even though you could be good at them.  The good news is that there are smart people out there who love the very stuff you hate.  There's nothing wrong with recruiting people for stuff you're either bad at or just plain don't like to do.

If you're interested in more tips on startup hiring, I kind of like some of my points in "5 Quick Pointers On Startup Hiring".

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