SmartRecruiters Blog

Startup Hiring: Prioritize Intelligence, Excellence & Bullheadedness

It’s funny the way counterintuitive measures so often prove to be the best solution. But then again, this has been true for centuries. “All behaviors contain their opposites,” said Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching around 6th century BC, and you should “learn to see things backwards, inside out and upside down.”

That said, in the 21st century, and arguably in centuries before ours, counterintuitive measures have been deemed irresponsible by those who undertake them and then fail, and genius by those who undertake them and happen to succeed. It makes business practices seem to be more luck of the draw rather than the result of a creative strategy that allows for trial and error.

Few entrepreneurs strike it rich on their first company. In fact, generally speaking, 75% of startups fail, meaning that if you’re looking to be the next Zuckerberg, the odds aren’t in your favor.

Of course, it isn’t the droves of failed ideas that make entrepreneurs so interesting. It is their never-ending ability to learn, relearn and then actually create. It is their insatiable desire for putting trial and error to the test – over and over and over until it works. And admittedly, I’m addicted.

You’ve all heard the Thomas Edison quote, rattled off at a reporter when asked how it felt to fail so many times: “I have not failed 10,000 times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 10,000 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work.”

His determination gave us the light bulb, and his failures ceased to matter.

When building your company from the ground up, finding and hiring like-minded people is essential. Starting a business is not a one person initiative, you must trust your team to take responsibilities off your hands, so you, as the founder, can focus elsewhere.

No, employees don’t have to see the world exactly as you do. In fact, they shouldn’t see the world as you do at all. No one creative; no one striving for the success that comes from true, resilient and persistent trial and error; and no modern-day Thomas Edison ever sees the world exactly the same as anyone else. Instead, you need someone who isn’t afraid to take criticism, and someone who isn’t afraid to give it to you. You need someone who believes in your vision, values and mission, but who also stands their ground – so that when it comes to needing to do so for the company, you know that they will. What you need is someone with stamina, courage and a forward-looking worldview that is a daily encouragement for you and others toward excellence.

Hiring might not be rocket science, but it is indeed an art form, even a science per se, in and of itself. Here’s what has worked best for me, and what you should look for too, in new employees, no matter the role. These characteristics might sound similar to your own, and many of them might make you think these employees will be challenging to work with, but that’s the point. Passion is revealed in action, not in silence. Invest in that.


Hiring for culture is important, and a culture match is certainly essential. But, no personality fit can make up for brains. Rather, you need both. And, we aren’t simply talking IQ intelligence here – we’re talking emotional intelligence as well.

Look for someone who sees the future as clearly and boldly as you do – and who is able to take a blow every time someone claims that their vision is plain wrong (because they will). You need employees who can take criticism as well as you do when you pitch VCs, and who bounce back smarter and stronger from it. A work culture of constructive criticism combined with deserved accolades when the trial and error process works (or doesn’t) is essential. And you need the people there who can handle both the ups and downs – just like any successful entrepreneur.


With the ability to take criticism well and build upon current knowledge (two things that come with both IQ-related intelligence and emotional intelligence) comes the capability to produce standout work that often times alludes bigger enterprises.

Excellence makes startups standout. Excellence takes startups from funding to the growth stage and from the growth stage to a leading position in the market. Indeed, excellence still matters. In an age in which timeliness and the first to publish, comment or act has everyone on the edge of their seat, you need people who use their collective education, surroundings and feedback in combination with a vision for the future to make decisions that drive real business results without sacrificing excellence.

Look for people who extend their interest in your industry to outside work hours. Are they networking within the industry? Do they have an industry following on Twitter or LinkedIn? Are they versed in the latest news and most up-to-date information within your specific field? Because if the answer to all of this is yes – it’s likely they’ve already generated excellence within the industry in one way or another, and your company culture can tap into that.


And in the face of it all, you want your next hire to have the guts to attack out-of-the-box ideas via action the same way you did in order to get your company off the ground. Starting a business is no easy task, keeping it going and on the forefront of innovation amidst the business behemoths in your industry is certainly no easier.

Look for someone who can see the holes in the wall, no matter how small, and who can invent ways to help others see them, too. Call them an idea person, a good salesperson, someone who is perhaps a little overconfident or overzealous, but whatever you call them, be sure it’s your company investing in their determination, the same way the VCs invested in you.

Of course, in order to accomplish this, you need job descriptions that accurately portray your company culture and the characteristics above. Your startup status should never mean that you throw together a vague job description. All hires must be strategic, and the best way to make sure that happens is to formulate a well-thought out job description. Doing that, in combination with using these three characteristics to weed out those who don’t have an epic startup mentality, will make scaling your startup a process that pulls in people who have the drive, ambition and frank determination to make an idea work – and encourage everyone else to make it work, too.

HO MaycotteThis article was written by H.O. Maycotte from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Learn more about SmartRecruiters, your workspace to find and hire great people.

Ryan Salerno