Startup Hiring: What To Look For In Your First 10 Employees

Startups are revolutionary within the tech industry. They all have the goal of bringing new, innovative, and more efficient technology to the market. When a startup is in its early stages, the right people must be involved for the business to grow. A company could have the best tech product/service in the world, but without competent employees to create a strong foundation to build from, it can be extremely difficult to achieve success.  

If you are in the early phase of your startup, the first 10 people you hire will be one of the most important decisions. The employees will influence many aspects of the company’s development including its growth trajectory, company culture and the values it upholds. If they aren’t the right fit for your business, your startup will grow on shaky grounds – a big mistake that can come with a heavy price.

To prevent poor hiring for your startup, you need to examine the candidate’s character and look beyond their CV. In this article, we’ll explore the top qualities you should look for in potential employees to ensure a solid foundation for your startup. We’ll also discuss how working with a trusted recruitment partner can support you in developing an effective hiring strategy that will help you overcome many startup hiring challenges. 

  • They have leadership potential  

It’s often the case that your earliest employees will also be your most loyal employees. They will grow with the company and develop extensive knowledge about the product/service. They will know what the future of the business looks like and could eventually become the perfect fit for a more senior position. For example, the first engineer you hire may eventually become the head of the entire engineering department of your company.  

It’s therefore a good idea to look for leadership qualities within your first hires to ensure they will one day be ready for the big promotion. These include strong communication skills, decisiveness, creativity, high EQ, empathy, and the ability to organise and manage a team.  

  • They have all-round skills and are efficient multitaskers  

It’s important to focus more on utility rather than specialisation in the early stages of your startup. Don’t just look for functional skills in your first hires. You need to see if they can deal with the day-to-day challenges of a small business. Startups typically don’t have rigid processes in place like a corporate company – they work in more fluid business environments where each employee is wearing multiple hats. 

Candidates should show that can juggle many tasks at once and execute them well without much guidance. They need to be adaptive in their work strategies and good at problem-solving. Hiring generalists over specialists is often recommended in the initial stages because it will allow for a lot more work to get done with fewer resources needed. As your business grows, you will then be able to hire employees for more specialised roles.  

  • They are flexible and have a will to learn 

To thrive and have longevity in a startup, employees must be comfortable with change and be comfortable working with little structure or routine. Unpredictability, messiness and spontaneity are things that should excite and motivate candidates who are applying to work in a startup. They should show flexibility in how they work and be okay with the idea of sometimes taking on several different roles as the company grows. They also need to be open to feedback and be willing to learn and develop new skills.  

These qualities can often be hard to spot. The best way to identify them in an interview is to ask candidates if they can give an example of when they have been in an unexpected situation or when their first solution to a problem didn’t work. Examine the approach they took, how they solved it and what they learnt from it as a result.  

  • They have resilience and grit  

Working in a startup comes with a lot of trial and error. Taking shots in the dark and making high-risk decisions often happen during the early stages. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. It’s important that when failures do occur, your employees are resilient enough to recover quickly and can get back on their feet to try again.  

Your first hires must be comfortable working in these uncertain conditions. They must stay calm and show grit to continue to perform at a top standard even when times are tough. Employees also must be confident in their abilities, but also be able to identify their mistakes or areas in which they need to improve.  

Failures are inevitable in startups. Building a team of resilient, fearless, and confident colleagues will enable your company to elegantly overcome these mishaps and keep growth on the right path.  

  • They are optimistic and self-driven  

Due to the many difficulties new startups face, having employees with positive attitudes will make the process a lot more enjoyable. Negativity can bring everyone down including your clients, so you must ensure candidates can always see the flipside even in the darkest times.  

Self-motivation is also something all your first hires will need. You need to trust that when you give them a list of jobs to do, they will have enough drive to complete them independently with little guidance.  

  • They have passion for the company and its mission  

Your first employees must show passion for not only the products/services you offer but also the ethos and values behind the organisation. They need to personally enjoy the work they’re doing and allow for a strong company culture to develop so that a friendly and productive workplace is formed. Believing in the overall mission of the company will create enthusiasm and motivation amongst employees as they work toward the shared goal of wanting to deliver innovative technology to your customer base.  

Your first hires will also become the figureheads for the business. As your workforce grows, they’ll be the ones every colleague knows and views as being the essence of what the company stands for.  

How to find the right employees for your startup 

Finding candidates who possess the qualities needed to create a strong foundation for your startup is tough. Recruitment organisations that specialise specifically in startups and scaleups have valuable expertise and experience in the hiring process that will help you along this journey. They understand each stage of a startup and know your needs, challenges and limitations when recruiting new employees. They will essentially do all the hiring for you delivering the right employees for your business.

Some specific advantages working with a trusted recruitment partner are:

  • It saves time. Finding and hiring the right employees is very time-consuming. When you’re in the early stages of your startup, time is of the essence. Getting a recruitment agency to do the hiring will allow you to focus more of your hours on the tasks crucial for business growth.  
  • It attracts a wide range of talent. Recruitment agencies have a large network and access to a wide range of talent that will help you find the right employees. They have valuable experience in attracting skilled professionals in niche areas which will be highly beneficial if you are new to the hiring process. 
  • It reduces costs. Posting on job boards is expensive. It’s likely that early-stage startups will only be able to afford advertising on a few. Recruitment agencies can post on numerous sites eliminating the excessive cost. They will also reduce the cost of training by ensuring candidates are already highly qualified and skilled. 
  • It can help develop your EVP. Your Employer Value Proposition is the unique set of benefits an employee receives in return for the skills, capabilities, and experience they bring to your company. A recruitment partner can help you to understand what the candidates within your sector value most, and make sure your brand stands out in the job market amongst competitors. 

For more information about how GR4 can support your startup hiring process, you can download our ultimate startup recruitment guide here. It entails everything from why startups fail, to how recruitment agencies like GR4 can help you make your startup hiring strategy a success. 

At GR4, we’ve plenty of opportunities within Europe’s thriving startup scene. You can search all our positions here, or get in touch with a member of our specialist team for a confidential discussion.  

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