More than 50 startups will be at Northwestern University on Wednesday, April 1 for the 2015 Startup Career Fair. As students from across the University prepare to meet with entrepreneurs and startup recruiters in hopes of landing a position, we turned to Linda Darragh, Clinical Professor and Executive Director of the Kellogg Innovation and Entrepreneurship Initiative, for tips for entrepreneurs looking to hire the best startup talent. Even if you are not attending the fair, the content can be applicable to all entrepreneurs looking to hire top talent.
Startup culture is important
If you haven’t yet done so, consider your startup culture before you begin the interview process, then look to hire candidates that can thrive in that type of organization. Are you hoping to build a truly collaborative team? Then look for team players. Are you hoping to build a team of remote, independent employees? Then be up front about your vision. For some, the idea of working remotely may be very appealing, but for those who seek out that in-person collaborative environment, they may be less apt to stay with your startup as it continues to grow. Also consider a candidate’s work history. If they have worked in one or two companies over their career, they’re likely brining those organizational cultures with them. Do your homework with regards to the culture at their previous place(s) of employment. Make sure to have a conversation with them about what culture best fits their personality to ensure a proper fit.
Don’t rely on credentials alone
Always ask for references and have a thorough conversation with those references. Additionally, if you’re running an early-stage startup, hire candidates that are willing to roll up their sleeves and fulfill many roles. If you’re hiring for a later-stage team, you need to hire candidates who have already worked in the industry and can help you expand your network and develop growth and scaling strategies for your company. For example, if you’re looking to scale geographically, look for someone with a proven record of scaling operations. If you’re looking to acquire more customers, search for someone who has a history of managing regional or national sales accounts.
Interview the whole person
Working for a startup is a different scenario than working for a corporation or nonprofit. Make sure that the individual is enthusiastic about the mission of your business. If you have hired a few members of your team already, make sure every employee gets a chance to interview the candidate. Don’t be afraid to ask the candidate to speak to the group about something that they’re passionate about. Asking them to do so will not only give you an opportunity to gauge their presentation skills and their ability to think on the spot, but will also let you gauge their ability to convey ideas effectively, motivate team members and see their creativity and resourcefulness.
Leverage your network
Reach out to former colleagues and other entrepreneurs in your network to see if they know of qualified candidates to fill your open positions. Attend startup-focused events to meet potential employees and obtain advice from entrepreneurs further along in the process. Think outside of the box, too. If you’re looking to hire someone in marketing, attend marketing-focused meet ups. If you’re looking to hire a developer, consider contacting a local university career center or coding bootcamp program to see if they have qualified students that may be looking for their first opportunity.
If you’re hiring talent for an early-stage startup, consider searching for interns, contractors or freelancers that are interested in potential long-term employment so you can see their work output before hiring them in a full-time capacity. This approach provides greater flexibility to identify standout talent and find a good match in terms of skill set and culture. Consider, too, that you may be able to find interns via entrepreneurship programs at universities. As an example, Kellogg offers a summer internship program in which Kellogg MBA students studying venture thinking can work for startups over the summer. Likewise, our faculty often partner with entrepreneurs so that students can tackle real-world startup problems for course credit.
For more insights from Linda Darragh, follow @darraghchicago. To learn more about entrepreneurship at Kellogg, follow @KelloggEntrep or visit the Kellogg Innovation and Entrepreneurship Initiative website.