The 4 Qualities of People Startups Should Hire

Going to be a product management bear

If you are reading this, there is a good chance you have interviewed for a job. And I would bet my salary that you have had a lousy interview at least once if you have been working for five years or more. As candidates, we often think we are to blame. But more often than not it is the startup and interviewer who has done us wrong.

Please do not misunderstand me, you are not right for every role you apply for. And neither am I. But imagine if you knew what a hiring manager valued before you walked in the door. This post is as much about the traits of folks I love to work with, but you need a start date for that to happen, and of course getting hired is first. So, let’s talk hiring.

Why aren’t startups clear about the qualities they are hiring for?

They should be.

That question has bothered me for a few weeks now as I have been spending a lot of time recruiting and interviewing folks. Fortunately, Aha! is growing really fast and we continue to expand the team. But are we making wise hiring decisions and using candidate’s time efficiently? I worry about that.

I have gone through many interviewing training courses and am well-versed in behavioral questioning to understand what a candidate has done in the past. It sure beats asking theoretical questions about the future which either leads candidates to guess or provide long-winded philosophical responses.

But I have been struggling a bit with how best to help candidates figure out if we are the right place for them. Because that’s the real job of a hiring manager — determining with the candidate if your organization will be a place for her to shine.

I am a framework kind of guy, so I recently started jotting down the top qualities our company values to see if that would help. And it did because this diagram emerged. I suggest that for most high-performance startups the same qualities are what they are really hiring for — whether they know it or not.

People I love to hire for product management

Integrity is at the core of everything good in life, so consider that as the
backdrop for this diagram. It sits as the base layer and everything builds on it.

Ambition
Ambition comes first. Because if you are going to be a bear, you might as well be a grizzly. I want you to go big. Without ambition, you will bob-and-weave your way to nowhere. I often recommend a “goal first” approach to business planning, but it’s also the first place to start as you think about your own direction and career. If you have never taken the time to write down where you want to be in three, five, and 10 years, now is the time to start. I definitely am going to ask. And even if you cannot name the role of the job you want to be in, you should be able to explain what excites you and the dream characteristics of your job of the future.

Effort
A candidate told me the other day that “leadership is a born trait.” I don’t think so. It takes hard work to become a leader. That’s because it takes hard work to repeatedly do anything with excellence and leadership is a journey. I want to work with folks who love accomplishment and are willing to work hard to achieve it. But there should be balance, accomplishment is not limited to work, you should pursue it as well with your family and whatever else matters to you. I just want you to be fabulous and I know you are going to need to push yourself to get there.

Skill
The most enjoyable jobs fully tap our existing skill sets and challenge us to grow new ones. But just because I am crafty with a circular saw does not mean I am qualified to perform surgery. Clearly, the more complex the task, the more training and experience you need to perform it well. And in many jobs, you don’t get a second chance. This is why your education, experience, and ability to work well with others is important. But in a high-tech company, it’s not everything. You simply need the baseline capabilities with ambition and effort and a drive to keep learning.

Learning
We are all moving too fast for you to be comfortable standing in one place. I hope that you are curious and open and committed to learning. Continuous learning is about further expanding your skill-set and it takes the right mindset. We need to respond to changes with customers, our markets, and technology easily and without fear. And the only way to do this is to know where you are going, use your existing skills, and develop new approaches along the way.

I want to hire your potential and if you are strong in the areas above, I will have confidence that you will reach it. We all will benefit when you do.

What qualities do you value most in the people you work with or hire?

About Brian and Aha!

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 product roadmap software — and the author of Lovability. His two previous startups were acquired by well-known public companies. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the adventure of living a meaningful life.

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