SmartRecruiters Blog

Your Next Hire: Vitamin or Painkiller?

The San Francisco startup world asks a question to every new business idea, Are you a vitamin or a painkiller? The common interpretation: does the new business idea address a target market’s inherent problems or potential wants? I’d like to examine the line between need and want and see how this comparison applies to our next hires.

Last night I heard multiple representatives from the Founder’s Institute, the world’s largest early stage accelerator, speak on the details of starting a company. In choosing what to do, Russ Klusas‘ presentation struck a chord. Will your work be a vitamin or a painkiller? He cited Uber as a powerful painkiller i.e. when you just need that ride home, the markup fee does not matter and the consumer happily pays. If that cab isn’t around right now and Uber didn’t exist, that consumer would lose time but probably find their way home eventually. Right now, do you want or need to be where you are going?


A painkiller is more formally known as “analgesic,” deriving from the Greek “without pain.” Is your business in pain? If time is constrained, wants can become needs. Hence in the tech startup world, where the company death rate is estimated at 90%, many “painkillers” are needed to carry a company through birth, incubation, growing traction, and stabilizing revenue.

Guy Hirsch, Founder & CEO of Saygent, described this hiring phenomena (addressing multiple company pain points) as the search for a “Hiring Force Multiplier” at a recent Smartup:

Startups are far from the only type of company that should be looking to hire “painkillers.” If your company is struggling, looking to revamp a department, or simply needs the work of multiple employees, make a “painkiller hire.”

A few tips for identifying someone who will turn out to be a high quality “painkiller hire:” (1) candidate has shown signs of working outside the box to exceed expectations, (2) candidate expects the role to mold to their development, and (3) candidate speaks to the why and how the current situation of company/department needs to evolve.



You don’t notice them everyday, but you consume them everyday. A vitamin is an organic compound required by an organism as a vital nutrient in limited amounts. Vitamins keep the world going ’round.

A “vitamin hire” is not going to revamp your department or gain great traction on a small budget or do the work of five employees. A vitamin hire will show up everyday, be appreciated in the office, and make a positive contribution to your existing ambitions.

It’s ironic that publications as reputable as Inc. write things like “A vitamin is more a want-to-have than a need-to-have,” when you can live your entire life without a painkiller and not a week without vitamins. If your company scales you need reliability in specialized tasks. If your company scales – and the business model is proven – you need to hire vitamins.

A few tips for identifying someone who will turn out to be a high quality “vitamin hire:” (1) candidate has immaculate record of satisfying previous employers, (2) candidate has stories of doing “the little things” to improve the work production of past coworkers, and (3) the candidate understands the expected role of the job before you have to explain it.


Our Next Hires

The reality of being healthy is: a painkiller should not be taken everyday and vitamins should be taken everyday. Most hires are “vitamins hires.” There is nothing wrong with making the existing model scale.

The reality of this type of comparisons is: most don’t fit into the cookie cutter of “You are a painkiller hire” or “You are a vitamin hire.”

SmartRecruiters is currently hiring a CMO. In looking for someone to take us to the next level, does it require that he or she drives an awesome new product distribution strategy and execution? Absolutely. But are we also looking for someone who can provide nourishment to our existing team and techniques that brought us to 50,000 customers in two and a half years? Absolutely. In our next CMO, there will be symptoms of vitamins and painkillers.

In your next hire, consider if you are looking for a “vitamin hire” or a “painkiller hire.” Let it influence your writing of the job ad. However, when you are evaluating candidates, pin point how each potential hire will not only address your pain points, but also nourish what’s already working.

David Smooke

David Smooke was the Director of Content Marketing and Social Media at SmartRecruiters and is the Founder of ArtMap Inc & AMI Publications.