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7 Things to Look for When Hiring for a Digital Startup

Blog 03 Update
Lionseye insights from AC Lion

The past few decades have been fantastic for digital startups. Innovation and technologically-driven achievement have been the trademark of this era, and there’s never been a better time to start a business. This period of innovation, however, has generated a lot of buzz about the tech startup world, and it can sometimes seem as though everyone and their dog wants to be a part of the next new tech company. If you’re a hiring manager, this can make things difficult. 

With so many qualified individuals out there, it’s important to know what to look for when hiring for a new digital startup. Here are seven of the most critical things to look at when reviewing candidate applications.

Look Beyond Work History

Yes, work history is incredibly important. It can tell you a lot about how long the person maintains positions, how experienced they are in the field, and what level of experience they have. However, if you’re hiring for a tech startup, you’ll also need plenty of drive and passion. Tech startups, more than any other companies, need creative and capable individuals that have a serious drive for what they’re doing.

Startups often have great aspirations, but limited funds and staff to achieve those aspirations. This is why, more than anything, you’ll need employees who care about the mission of the company more than their paycheck or work hours; these types of people can be harder to find, but it’s worth it when you do come across someone who meets the criteria.

As an emerging tech company, you want to look for someone who can take the initiative to go above and beyond in their work. Steve Blank, an entrepreneur and one of the pioneers of the lean startup movement, notes that “a startup is not a job, but a calling.” This is sound advice for new startups looking for excellent employees, and the idea of a startup being a calling should be believed in by everyone at the company, not just the founder.

Think About Personality

“Culture is what creates the foundation for all future innovation,” said Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky back in 2014. It may seem an insignificant or shallow thing to think about when you’re hiring for your startup, but choosing an applicant with a personality that fits your company’s culture is essential. Startups are all about teamwork, and your small team needs to work together seamlessly.

As Chesky mentioned, “culture is simply a shared way of doing something with passion.” This is important for tech startups, and it’s critical to make sure that your potential applicants have the right personality and perspective to fit in with the team at your company. Even if someone has all the right qualifications and seems to fit, they’re not a good choice if their personality doesn’t align with the company culture.

Visualize Potential

Hiring for potential rather than based on cut-and-dried qualifications is something that many successful CEOs recognize as the bigger picture. If you’re hiring for a startup, hiring for potential can help you save money and can also pay dividends in the long run. Sometimes, it’s better to trust your gut feeling and hire someone you think has incredible potential rather than hiring a traditional candidate with more experience who costs more.

Starting up a brand new company requires a small dose of risk-taking, and part of that can be taking a gamble on a potential employee that you think holds a lot of potential for the future of the company. 

Attitude is Essential

Hiring for attitude ties in with the ideas of potential and personality, and it’s one critical piece of the puzzle if you’re looking to hire a successful employee. Skills can be acquired, but attitude is something that’s inherent and is difficult to change (or teach). As a startup, you want to hire people who share your vision and have a success-driven attitude.

As an added bonus, hiring people who still need to be trained in the field can also be a great way to save on costs, as these people are less expensive than someone with a ton of experience in the field. You need to like an employee before you hire them, and this is particularly essential as a tech startup. Small team settings are far more productive if the people in those teams get along well and work together smoothly.

Carefully Scrutinize Qualifications

In today’s era of freelancing and contract work, it can be fairly simple for anyone to have experience working for a large company, and people are better at selling themselves than ever before. When you’re looking through applications, carefully scrutinize the qualifications that the applicant is presenting.

As always, make sure to double-check references as you’re going through applications. A one-time, ten-hour freelance contract with a big company isn’t the same as having a legitimate position at that company, but it can look the same on an application if you don’t look carefully enough.

Know What Positions You Need

This last point is more advisory of what positions to hire for, rather than what to look for when hiring, but as a tech startup, make sure you know exactly what positions you need. Don’t overlook things like marketing and social media, even if your product is highly technical in nature. Establishing a brand voice and image is crucial, and it’s important to look for people for these jobs in addition to your core, technical positions.

Great copy on your website can make a huge difference in the way potential clients or customers see you, so don’t let that get overlooked in the pursuit of a great product.

Finding the right candidate for a digital startup job isn’t easy. There are plenty of candidates out there, and it’s imperative that you find one who’s the right fit for your business. A little patience goes a long way, and with the strategies outlined in this article, you’ll be well on your way to finding and hiring someone that can help change your startup for the better.

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Alan Cutter

Alan Cutter founded New York City's premier digital media recruiting agency, AC Lion International, and continues to lead the growing company as their fearless CEO. For over 20 years, AC Lion has been the trusted provider of revenue generating talent in the digital and technology landscape. Our reach spans from innovative venture-backed startups to enterprise level organizations. AC Lion is a proud member of the Lionseye Group, a collective of brands furthering talent acquisition through Venture Capital, HR Technology and Thought Leadership.