Guest Post

5 Qualities That Distinguish World-Class Startup Hires

Let’s face it: The job interview as our parents knew it is dead. Of course, basic skills such as maintaining eye contact and using a firm handshake have stuck around — and for good reason. But in the tech industry, the sweaty suit-and-tie interrogation has gone the way of the PalmPilot.

That’s not a bad thing, but it does make finding the right candidate a little bit harder.

Startups run on an entirely different wavelength than most companies — cycles of development and delivery are condensed, and deadlines are life-or-death. That’s why it’s crucial to find skilled people who are able to perform at a high level. But in the rush to find top talent, you can’t forget about the personal qualities that your startup needs to survive and thrive.

Here are five of the most overlooked traits that distinguish world-class tech hires:

1. A broad skill set. Take a look at programmer job listings at Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn, and you’ll notice a recurring phrase: “full stack.” A full-stack developer is someone who can build a user interface as well as the back-end bits that make the whole thing hum smoothly. Instead of hiring a person to handle each task, hire one full-stack developer to handle them both.

Of course, it’s unfair to think that an employee can be everything to everyone, but there’s something to be said for hiring someone with a broad skill set. An employee who knows how to handle multiple aspects of software development can become invaluable to your startup.

2. Loyalty and reliability. I’d argue that loyalty is one of the most important traits of a great employee. People tend to judge a candidate’s loyalty and reliability by the amount of time he spent at his previous jobs, but that’s not a reliable indicator. It’s always nice to see a minimum of a couple years at each job, but in tech, people move around pretty quickly. It’s part of the game.

If you’re considering hiring a well-qualified person who has moved jobs frequently, take a good look at his ambition and what drives him. By understanding why he left his last company, you’ll have a clearer picture of his loyalty.

3. Energy and endurance. In college, you pulled all-nighters on occasion to finish a big paper or prepare for a midterm. But once you put on that mortarboard, you finally got your beauty sleep, right? Not necessarily. The tech startup world is notoriously deadline-driven. That means you have to hire people who can push ahead with a project when you need it the most — usually a time when it’s least convenient.

During interviews, see if candidates have the tenacity necessary to perform in these situations. Don’t be afraid to ask questions such as, “Would you consider an all-nighter?” or “Have you ever been on a team that required working endless hours toward a common goal?” Working at a startup is a lifestyle, and it’s not for everyone.

4. Ambition and desire. When you’re conducting an interview with a potential hire, it’s important to understand his short- and long-term ambitions and desires. If you can determine where your candidate wants to be next year, it’s easier to figure out whether you’ll be able to keep him interested in working at your company.

Think about it this way: If you hire someone who wants to start his own company in a few years, then you know he’s not going to stay around forever.

5. Personal character. This doesn’t show up on a résumé, but it’s crucial to the morale of your team. When you’re interviewing a candidate, you have to consider his character and how well you would get along with him for eight or more hours a day. Your employees become the foundation of your culture, so you have to choose wisely.

To uncover a candidate’s personal character in an interview, share a little bit of your own story, and don’t be afraid to make a few jokes. If you’re doing an in-person interview, consider meeting in more neutral territory such as a coffee shop or bar. Sure, a candidate might have the skills to do the job well enough, but what’s he like to be around? Does he have the personality to lead a team? These are questions to consider during the interview.

The traditional, formal interview is largely a thing of the past, but the fundamental traits of a good employee are the same today as they were in your parents’ day. You can’t overlook a candidate’s personal qualities. Ultimately, they’ll either take your tech startup to new heights or run it into the ground.