This Symbl.ai for Startups content series separates facts about the founder journey from fiction — with a little help from program mentors and startup experts. For additional information about how early stage businesses can benefit from the Symbl for Startups program, reach out to [email protected]

Finding and locking on genuine talent can sometimes be more challenging than raising capital for today’s entrepreneurs, and the all-virtual hiring process that has become commonplace in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t made this feat any easier. 

However, countless failed startups have proved that the team you put together at the outset can make or break your company’s success. In fact, your team virtually IS your startup in the beginning stages, and investors will want to know that everyone on it can hold their own. 

Soft skills are just as important as hard skills within a startup, and there are certain personality attributes to keep an eye out for throughout the recruitment journey that will lead to less headaches and churn among your employees down the road. If you’re beyond product-market fit and ready to construct your dream team, read on for our top four pointers.

Take stock of your own strengths and weaknesses

A good starting point is to reflect upon what you bring to the table as the founder of your startup. Are you a technical whiz with less experience on the marketing and sales side, or the opposite? What beliefs, values, and personality traits do you display on a daily basis and consider indivisible from your business? How much real-world experience do you have in the market you want to break into? Do you genuinely like managing people?

Be honest with yourself when reflecting upon your professional and personal qualities, because A) nobody expects you to be able to do everything under the sun and B) once you have an excellent grasp on your own capabilities and limitations it becomes way easier to define the kind of people you will need to hire. 

It’s also worth mentioning that egos can easily become overblown in the startup landscape (cough, cough) so having a solid working knowledge of your blind spots, prior mistakes, and faults will actually place you ahead of the competition in most spaces. Strive to remain open to constructive criticism and outside opinions as you scale.

Be nitpicky about skill set and culture fit

Your goal as a founder should be to focus your energy on what you do best and then hire employees to fill in the gaps, all while fostering a supportive and welcoming corporate culture. A few roles to consider hiring for first include a COO, CEO (if it isn’t your role of choice), product manager, business development manager, CTO, CMO, CFO, and a sales manager. 

Hiring as an early stage founder means keeping a close eye on a given potential employees’ flexibility, resourcefulness, adaptability, and proactivity, in addition to the hard skills required for whatever role they’re going for. Remember that in the ultra-early stages a single person can tip the scales one way or the other, and you should gain consensus among your entire leadership team whenever bringing someone new on board.

The hiring process is rife with competition today, so hiring sites such as Indeed or Zip Recruiter may lead to less quality candidates than you would find by reaching out to your personal network about openings at your startup. Note that while you may be a jack of all trades (most startup founders are) your employees do not have to be. Hire people with well-honed skills in a specific area, not people who are generally good across the board and happen to be available.

Don’t rely on friends and family to power your startup

This leads us to the next piece of advice: Don’t hire someone just because they are friends or family. This will make firing them infinitely more difficult, if it comes down to that, and prioritizing people you already have a strong emotional connection with will lead you to miss out on employees who are entering their professional prime.

Startups are risky and things rarely go according to plan, so it won’t behoove you in the long run to bring emotionally charged relationships into the mix. Many skills can be taught, so as long as you can find hardworking individuals with a good, upbeat attitude and an eagerness to learn, your startup is on the right track.

As we mentioned before, there’s nothing wrong with finding new team members through your network of friends and family who can vouch for them. Just remember that sometimes the right person for the job when your startup consists of five people will be the absolute wrong person when your startup scales to 50 employees, or 100 employees. 

Move slowly

High-stress situations can lead you as a startup founder to feel the urge to hire someone quickly to fix a given problem without due diligence. As we mentioned previously, it only takes a single person to poison a startup’s internal ecosystem, and you are responsible for preventing that from happening by moving through this process at a snail’s pace—at least at first.

Temperament and emotional intelligence aren’t aspects of a person that you can gauge from a quick glance over a prospective hire’s resume, but they are arguably more important to know before hiring someone for a full-time position.

Additionally, founders must recognize that workplace perks, benefits, and compensation all figure into the quality of talent (and quantity of people) that will be attracted to your startup, and these aspects of your business will also take time to develop. Stick it out for the right talent, and always follow your gut instincts throughout the interviewing process.

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Kira Hunter
Business Development and Growth Associate, Symbl.ai for Startups