Author: Sowmya Keshava
I have been long in this system to understand different types of leaders, managers and executives. Let's also add interns and greenhorns to the list. When founders, either of startups or of SMEs, start off with their venture their first and foremost challenge is hiring a dream team. Why is it so difficult? I always wondered. When I share my tips on dos and don'ts for hiring & must have qualities in candidates, they look quite alarmed that they hadn't thought of it earlier on. I don't judge them; as founders you already have too much on your plate and you may not pay attention to such details and your priority may just be to get that first 5-6 members on the team ASAP.
Here are some of my Dos and Don'ts of hiring your initial founding team from my experience of working in startup and starting my own:
Preparing a Job Description - Always be aware of the roles and responsibilities of the team member. Prepare a JD which knows that you are serious about the position as well. I have seen many founders who prefer explaining the role on a call to the candidate or friends. If the role is critical, then do take some time to write about it so you and the candidate know the expectations. Ofcourse, it is understood that the role may require the person to do more outside of the JD, depending on the situation and opportunities that would arise. But JD is a good starting point.
Expectations - As part of the JD, one important factor is the requirement- having an expectation is good but let's be fair, we might never get a 100% fit for the role. We, as founders, always have a wish list such as : candidates from premium institutes with excellent results, extremely smart, must have had a startup project in school/college, should fit perfectly in the startup environment or even should understand the product and the needs even before you could explain to her/him. Let's be realistic and have a list of them that you will not compromise on such as integrity, team work, taking responsibilities and most importantly respecting & understanding company culture & processes. How do you gauge these qualities you ask? Simple, have a set of standard questions during your interview round which really comes in handy. Another advanced approach would be to have psychometric tests as one of the interview rounds. Trust me, the results are amazing and I'm sure we want to put in that effort if we need a dream. After all, everyone knows that the founding team is picked by the founders themselves, right?
Know your key player - Hire a good recruiter on your team first. As founders, you may not have much time to interview many and also have multiple rounds of discussions. Hiring a good recruiter as your founding team member will help you source, shortlist and evaluate candidates and save a lot of time. Most founders think HR (/recruiter) is required once they have 8-10 employees on board. Think again.
Image source: Dribble
Referrals - A good way to start sourcing candidates would be to put a word out to your network of ex-colleagues, family, friends and your alumni groups. This helps immensely because most people from your network know you personally and will take the effort to refer someone good. Again, it saves time for you and the initial level of screening is done too. I always take the candidate referred by my friends/colleagues on priority. Do not, I repeat, do not take your referee for granted as they may not help you another time if you don't respond to them sooner. I have seen founders of unicorn startups respond immediately to references shared by people from their network and that left a good impression on me.
Your founding team members are your flag bearers. If they refer more friends and colleagues to join the team, then they are clearly excited about what you are building and want more talent to come onboard.
Reference check -
Always have reference check as part of the interview process. There could be good, bad and sometimes shocking things that gets revealed during the reference check. One reference check on a candidate had revealed that the candidate used to borrow money constantly from his colleagues & banks and had created a bad rep for himself.
Onboarding process - Make the onboarding process of your team members a good experience as that gives them the impression on what they have signed up for.
Its lonely up there -
"Its lonely at the top, but I sure like the view"
Do not expect the founding team to empathise with you every time you hit a road block.
Recognise talent - Knowing your founding team members' skill sets and utilising them is your responsibility. When their true potentials are utilised, Voila! you have your dream team.
No favourites -
"You are my all time favourite. You understand me".
Even if you do, you don't have to reveal it to your team. This may lead to unhealthy competition within the team and may also reveal that you are way too dependent on them.
Interview process - Have your core team / founding members interview every new candidate. Huddle up after the interview process along with your recruiter and discuss the ratings. This helps in spotting wrong fits before it is too late. This may be possible when the team is way smaller but the process can be followed later on with the interviewers and hiring managers.
Get to know your team - Have a weekly brainstorming session with the team. These sessions need not be a serious one but a fun session that helps your team think out-of-the-box. It could be about product features, a completely new product idea or even discussing a web series.Why not a weekly game night?
I am a firm believer in giving your team freedom to go out and explore things, be it attending events, conducting events or even mentoring students. Give them the exposure and opportunity to learn. I was lucky enough to get the encouragement & freedom from my previous bosses that has made me achieve what I have so far.
These are only some of the points that could pen down for this article and would be sharing some more in the following ones. Hope this helps new founders in avoiding making mistakes in hiring their dream team. Dream teams can be a reality.
Published on: June 9, 2020