When we hire, we sometime focus too much on what lies within the boundaries of the job description rather than on what lies within the person we are interviewing. Granted, it’s extraordinarily difficult to assess fully a person you are meeting for the first time, but you nonetheless have to probe beyond their resumes.
Elan Gil has given this some thought and provided a list of characteristics he thinks are important, as he reports in Hiring the First 5 Engineers – What Sort of People Do You Want on Your Team:
1. Do what it takes-edness (to coin a term). Willingness to dive in and fix any problems that come up and to take charge since there will not be anyone else to do so. This includes the willingness to do lots of grunt work – there is no one to delegate to.
3. Ability to deal with uncertainty and not freak out. You may end up with multiple pivots depending on company stage. You need people who will stay calm and keep with it.
4. Generalist technical knowledge. You will not have a “front end team” an “ops team” a “backend team” and a “database team” etc. You need someone who can optimally work on all parts of the stack.
5. Not religious about technology (or anything really). This is useful at any size company, but at a startup you really don’t want to waste time debating the merits of Python versus Java. You just want to build stuff and get it done. No engineering ego (I find the most confident engineers often don’t need to reinforce their ego – they already know they are very good so dont feel threatened easily) and no drama.
6. Get a lot done. You need people who can just crank on product. They need to be able to problem solve independently and go figure stuff out.
7. Do “just enough”. Focus on the 80% of stuff that needs to get done, not the 20% edge case which most users won’t care about (i.e. hire people who buil things that are very solid, but not “perfect” – this applies to an internet company, not e.g. a later stage hardware co)
8. Get along with the team. This does not mean the person is not quirky or lacks personality. It does mean that you will be 5-10 people in a room every day and you need people you and the rest of the team get along with.
9. Bonus points: financial stability. This could be a low personal burn rate, or ability to take a low salary either through a past financial success, being straight out of school so living costs low, or other means. This means the person may be more willing to take a low salary in exchange for more equity, which helps the company survive longer on less.
10. Lots of other stuff, but I think the above is important.
He goes on to suggest that while there is no perfect way of ensuring that the person you’re interviewing has what it takes, you can gather important information through reference checks, taking them out for a beer or dinner to see how they fit culturally with the team, and hiring them for a day and giving them a problem to solve. The important thing is to keep digging until you’ve got a good sense as to whether this person meets your criteria.
This list of key traits applies to a knowledge management dream team as well. KM is a cost center with few traditional means of proving ROI. As a result, the KM group will most likely be small and will have to operate with the energy, enthusiasm and tenacity of a classic start-up. If you’re managing a group like that, you’d do well to hire the sorts of people Elan Gil recommends. And, don’t forget the beer!
[Photo Credit: Roscoe Van Damme]