You’ve made up your mind: you’re going to work at a startup. You’re ready to work long hours and make less money, in exchange for working for a company you love and a mission you believe in. Let’s assume you have a stellar college GPA (you’re disciplined and driven), you were promoted twice at your last job (you’re a hard worker and a leader), and you have a few “quirky” hobbies (so you get past the “what do you do outside of work” portion of the interview). But what gets you hired?
We’ve interviewed our fair share of candidates over the last 14 months. There’s no perfect formula that tells us exactly what skills or experiences will lead someone to be a strong team contributor at an early-stage business. But there are a few key characteristics that we’ve noticed end up driving real value.
1. You welcome big new challenges with open arms.
We always ask candidates about a time they had to run up a learning curve quickly. This is the most telling question given that at an early-stage business, this scenario will inevitably unfold. As day-to-day priorities shift to accommodate new goals, work and responsibilities shift. Our first hire had never worked at a startup, but we could tell during the interview process that she embraced ambiguity and unfamiliar business problems. On her first day at LOLA, we told her she was in charge of email marketing. With limited resources and no experience in this area, she quickly and single-handedly got our nascent email program off the ground.
2. You view building your career and building our company as one and the same.
Founders are looking for early hires that view working at their company as a place to build a career. These are folks who, throughout the interview process, focus on learning about the mission of the company, how the business can get built, and how they can be part of driving the company’s success – versus a deep-dive into topics like hours and benefits. An interview that transitions away from “what will I get out of this role” to “how can we build this together” is a positive sign for any founder to see. At LOLA, we’re building this business for the long-run and want to attract early hires who can picture where we’re going and want to build together to get there.
3. You value fit as much as we do.
Whether we work together well is not a one-way street. Teams that succeed have strong individual contributors and also complement each other’s efforts (see this NYT article on Google for an even more in-depth group dynamics analysis). We love candidates who are open to trying LOLA on a bit — in a brainstorm, with a small project, really in any type of thought exercise to make sure it’s a fit on both ends. This is part of our business’s DNA — when we first met, we worked together on a couple of projects before we decided to make our partnership official.
4. You’re not afraid to fail.
Start-up teams that are doing their job right try a lot of creative strategies to grow and improve their businesses. And some of (ok, a lot) of the time, these creative strategies fall flat. But instead of wallowing in what went wrong, we learn from these mistakes and move on. We have to experiment to make the business the best it can be. The key thing is that we’re not afraid to fail. In the hiring process, it’s important to show that you can identify a time when a strategy you implemented or a decision you made was the wrong one, and how you’ve learned from the experience. When we meet with candidates and hear genuine learnings from failures, we can tell right away if they can jam.
5. You believe.
Part of joining an early team means making real tradeoffs. There’s no guaranteed upside. Near-term salary is down from what you were making before. But if you pick right, you work with an amazing team, you start on a steep (and seemingly endless) learning curve, you get incredible exposure, and you’re building something you feel strongly must succeed. Everyone on our team is here because they believe LOLA should exist. Of course, in our case, everyone on the team is also incentivized with piles of free tampons… so maybe they’re here for that, too.