One of the best things about rapid growth in a startup is hiring new team members and seeing them develop their skillsets. Having said that, it can be really hard to hire the right people. Most first time founders (including myself) haven’t actually done much hiring before launching their startup. Even if you have been involved in hiring for big corporates, startups are different. So what should you look for?

Adaptability

No matter what stage a team member joins LegalVision – or indeed any startup – it’s likely that their role will have significantly evolved six months later.

Startups equal growth and growth means change. So two key characteristics you should look for in a potential team member are:

  1. Their ability to grow in the team they initially start in (i.e. take on more responsibility quickly including a management role if necessary); and
  2. Their ability to move between roles/teams if the role they initially joined the startup for changes.

In my experience, Gen Y team members are pretty adaptable. A lack of experience isn’t always a big issue, in fact it can be beneficial.

Company Culture and Mission

To increase the likelihood of hiring the right people, create an attractive company culture. Clearly communicate your startup’s mission, founding story and values for other people to read. Importantly, take care to avoid creating a culture by default. Actively think about why your startup exists and hire people who are committed to helping execute this purpose.

An Understanding of How Startups Work

Startups, especially in their early stages, are fluid and so team members assume more responsibility and pitch in when needed. At LegalVision, we regularly put on evening events for our clients. We can host up to 100 people in our offices, and we provide guests with a range of drinks and nibbles. We certainly don’t have the budget to pay for catering. Our team members for legal, marketing and sales all help out – showcasing their bartending skills! At the end of the evening, we all pack up and clean the office. When looking for new hires, they must really buy into the company’s values and be willing to work outside of the traditional 9 to 5.

How to Test for the Above

We’re hiring almost every month at LegalVision, having grown from 25 team members to over 65 in a year. When we first started hiring, we did so in a very ad-hoc manner. We’d post a job ad on our website, share it with our networks and at a pinch use Indeed, Seek or LinkedIn to advertise the position. We’d filter CVs based on our individual views of what a good candidate for the position should look like, and our interviews were more an informal chat than anything else.

We did bring on board some great team members in the early days using these techniques, but we also hired people who were not a good fit for our business. Over the last six months, we’ve totally revamped our hiring process. We now look for specific characteristics for each role we’re hiring for and structure the process around those attributes.

Write Better Job Descriptions

Poorly written job descriptions can turn away great candidates. They can mislead an applicant about the type of work they will do and result in an angry hire. Or, they can bore a candidate with a laundry list of generic demands – time management, strong communication skills and attention to detail.

Focus instead on what your startup can do for the candidate. Talk specifically about the skills they can develop while working at your company, and how they can use their existing skillset to help build something from scratch. You obviously enjoy working at your company, why would others? Also, you’re probably reading this on your phone right now, so make sure that your careers page is mobile friendly.

Interviews

We’ve all sat through an interview where the interviewer asks a curveball question:

  • Why are tennis balls fuzzy?
  • How lucky are you?
  • What three things would you take with you on a deserted island?

Aside from instilling panic in the interviewee, what does this reveal about the candidate?

An interview is an opportunity for both people to size up if they are the right person for the job. Ask better questions. Seriously stop asking people where they see themselves in five years – the speed in which change is occurring makes it difficult to predict what jobs will exist in 12 months. It’s a stupid question unless you’re interviewing a soothsayer.

If you do ask candidates to complete additional tasks, set them up so that they resemble the possible tasks your team members already complete. For example, content is critical to our mission and growth strategy. Writing legal articles means our lawyers are directly responding to our clients’ questions and needs. We therefore ask every applicant for a graduate role to write an article and answer a mock client’s questions on the phone to provide him or her with a quote. We want to hire people who enjoy different tasks and who understand the importance of clear communication. If you don’t like writing, or answering questions on the phone – you might not enjoy working here very much.

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Finding the right team to help execute your startup’s vision is tough. But it pays to seriously think about what type of business you want to build so you can attract the right people to get the job done.

How do you go about hiring for your startup? Let us know on LegalVision’s Twitter page.

Lachlan McKnight

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