The typical tech start-up, right out of the blocks, consists of a close-knit team, a handful of individuals who know and trust each other. Before it attracts investors, this team will work tirelessly to get traction. Once the traction is established, the team begins (or continues) its quest for funding. But there are various other permutations of team and timing. Let’s say the founder needs to bring in additional team members sooner than later, in other words, sooner than the money’s in the bank. Or he/she needs to recruit someone in the pinch of needing a specific skill-set. The rule here is to vet before you bet. Very carefully.
The ugly truth is that there are more wannabes than ever before in the recruiting pool who may look like a decent fit on paper but, in reality, redefine the word misfit.
In the words of basketball coaching legend John Wooden, “Be quick, but don’t hurry” when it comes to extending the offer than leavens your team. Above all, don’t make commitments in equity or anything else assuming the best outcome. And if you’re hiring a developer, be absolutely certain that your code lives on a server controlled by you. In the event of any misunderstanding, you don’t want to tempt a good boy to go bad (as your parents may have said).
As distasteful as they are to some rugged individualists, the standard hiring techniques of big companies and non-startups are relevant here:
1. Use Linked In. Not just to do the obvious outreach to the appropriate groups, but to study the background (and references) of the people who look like good fits. It’s amazing how naive an otherwise street-smart founder can be when he or she becomes smitten with a particular candidate or feels the squeeze to bring someone aboard ASAP. Caveat Entrepreneur.
2. Ensure that the whole team has a chance to talk, at length, separately, with the candidate. Not voice-to-voice or via Skype, but eyeball to eyeball across a desk or a restaurant table or at a bar. Or anywhere in close proximity. Get to know this person. To the best extent that you can, find out who they are, who they are not and what drives them.
3. Have a candid, in-person conversation with people the candidate has worked for, with, or has supervised. Candor is critical here. Raise issues relevant to your specific situation and challenges.
4. Trust the collective instinct of your team, but listen closely to your gut.
As obvious as these guidelines seem, they are often overlooked or even scoffed at. The bitter aftertaste of a poor hire lasts long after the immediate sweetness of bringing them aboard in the anticipation that they were who you thought they were and how they represented themselves. In the hiring process, there are fewer things worse than buyer’s remorse.
When he’s not ranting on this blog, Stan DeVaughn oversees customer development and marketing at RightOn Mobile, a medical data security start-up in stealth mode; separately, he collaborates with agency partner Peter Davé at Write Angle, Silicon Valley’s premiere content-development specialists for the tech industry.