Opinion: Five Characteristics to Look for When Hiring Talent

By Sajjad Masud

Sajjad Masud is the Co-Founder and CEO of Simplicant, a cloud-based social recruiting platform transforming talent acquisition and making enterprise-level recruiting technology accessible to companies of all sizes. Connect with Sajjad and the Simplicant team on Twitter and Facebook.

Best-in-class companies realize that making ongoing investments in grooming their workforce is important. However, starting off with a great team arguably has the highest impact.

Finding the right talent can be tricky, especially if your company is a startup that doesn’t have a substantial hiring budget. But making an upfront investment of both time and resources can make a big difference to your startup’s bottom line and growth potential. Adding top talent early on will bring a combination of new energy, ability, innovative ideas and the passion your team needs to become competitive in the marketplace.

Proof talent is so important: Large and mid-size companies are continuing to snatch up startups, mainly for their employees. This phenomenon is called ‘acqui-hire.’

When looking for the right people in the exciting and often unpredictable world of startups, look for the following characteristics.

1. Flexibility

Life in a startup is rarely static — change is almost always in the air. Products evolve and markets change, sojob descriptions need to be fluid to accommodate these fluctuations. An employee with “beyond my job description” syndrome is probably not the best fit for your startup. This is why you need to be on the lookout for talent with a high level of adaptability and the willingness to take on newer and bigger challenges.

To find these candidates, start with the job description. Before you push out your open position to social media and other platforms, make sure this description stresses the need for fluidity in job functions. Create a list of targeted questions to ask during the application process. A rigid candidate is much less likely to apply for your position if they know they will be asked to stretch beyond the written responsibilities.

Once you have candidates in for an interview, ask about their short- and long-term plans and how they view their career evolving during this time. If a candidate has a highly structured view of themselves in five years, they might find it very difficult to deal with the kind of day-to-day adjustments necessary in startup living. Look instead for talent with enthusiasm and the ability to wear many hats.

2. Creativity and Risk-Taking

Startups thrive on innovative new ideas. Entrepreneurs and business leaders create startups because they have novel concepts to bring to the table. These companies need talent that is able to think outside the box and take risks. Candidates stuck in the old paradigms of thinking are just not right for startup environments, where creativity is a necessary component of success.

It’s necessary to brand your startup as a creative working environment. This could mean highlighting your company’s creative approach to problems on your branded career webpage or even making a recruitment video. You want candidates to know your company is a place that rewards innovation in all forms and welcomes new ideas with open arms.

You might even want to embrace creative application methods from top talent. Some candidates have set upsocial media campaigns centered around getting jobs at certain companies or rented billboards to enhance their candidacy. Social media is an especially great outlet, allowing candidates to show off and share their creativity. Not every creative application method will be right for your company, so look carefully at the choices these candidates are making to represent themselves.

3. Trust

Most startups start small and become bigger only in time. This means the talent you score for your startup will likely be with you for the long haul, including many hours working together. You need employees who will be straightforward about their skills, limitations and capabilities. After all, you want to be burning the midnight oil with someone you can trust.

Be on the lookout for fibs as early as the application process. If a candidate is not able to back up information provided on the resume, social media profile or initial screen, your time may be better spent considering other candidates.

In interviews, watch out for false bravado. You need candidates who are honest and realistic about their abilities, not those who are good at bragging but bad at follow-through. The business world is full of such examples of employees, as well as leaders. You want your company to start off on the right foot, and you need talent you can trust to get the job done in the trenches.

4. Passion

This may seem obvious, but most startups are a labor of love. Starting a company is a tough process, and unless you have real passion for what you are building or doing, the sacrifices might outweigh the benefits. You need talent that really and truly loves their job and believe in what they will be doing, and therefore willing to put in long hours and work hard.

Look at the talent’s social media footprint. What is he blogging about, tweeting and sharing on his social media profiles? If your candidate is neck-deep in industry news and information, this is a clear sign he or she is in it for the long haul. Candidates who spend time outside working hours thinking and talking about the industry are the same people who have genuine passion.

5. Communication

You need good communicators in your startup environment because employees often work as the public face of the company. More importantly, they need to be able to communicate effectively with internal and external stakeholders to complete tasks. Bad communicators can bring your whole company down, while good communicators can help create opportunities for your startup to soar.

Social media recruiting is a great way to assess the communication skills of potential hires. This could mean engaging with candidates in an online talent community to get a better feel for their communication skills. Speaking to them in person also will be essential to determine their communication skills. While virtual communication will only provide you with a partial picture, social media and other publicly shared content can shed some light on a candidate’s written communication abilities.


Startups have different hiring needs than more established companies. Bringing the right mix of people on board can be the difference between failure and success. Be open-minded and willing to consider a diverse set of qualities while focusing on what matters most for your startup. If you put time and effort into the initial team-building stages of your company, it will provide large dividends of value in the future.

What are some characteristics you look for when hiring for your startup? Share in the comments.