What should you consider before hiring attitude over skills?

Getting the cultural balance right when recruiting for startups can feel like managing a fragile ecosystem.  The smaller the team the higher the % of accountability each person has in building & championing your culture.

In a team of 4, one mediocre or toxic hire is 25% of your culture. And you feel it…

Not surprisingly, one of the most frequent questions we get when recruiting for startups is how do you pinpoint culture?  How do you take something so subjective & build it into a recruitment process that’s formulaic?

The first hires are the scariest.  Whilst the cost of a wrong hire can be felt in any business size, no hire will feel more personal than those founding members you bring on board at the start. And unless you have a budget that generously lends itself to error, no hire will feel more business critical to get right.

In our Brisbane startup, this is the process that worked for us:


Photo credit: The Photo Booth Guys

Raise the Bar on Demonstrable Values

We hire people’s people.  But for us it isn’t enough to enjoy meeting & talking to others. We hire people who make a point of helping others in their personal time. We now have a team of active community participants in sporting clubs,  respite care, surf lifesaving and church groups.

And the difference is phenomenal.  Values are not a tick of the box for us. They’re a way of working.   We now have a team of inspirational people on a lot of levels, and inspiration breeds inspiration – whatever the form.

In recruitment, our passion is people.  For clients who don’t have a client facing role this may not be the #1 priority, so we often exchange community participation for external tech passions.  Hire people passionate about what you do – not just during 9-5.

 Understand the Gaps

To hire attitude in lieu of a full stack of skills you need to really understand where the gaps are.  Be it technical testing, psychometric testing or multiple behavioural interviews – the process needs enough depth to bring these to light.

Be realistic in whether you have the resources available to bridge the gap.

Beyond this, the process also needs to be in-depth enough to highlight to the candidate where the gaps are. And they need to understand.

Self-awareness is a beautiful thing.  Without it, both you and your new recruit are running an uphill battle from the start.

Sleep on It

We resist time pressure and always tell our clients to the same.  Offering in the first interview is like proposing on the first date.

We get a second (sometimes third or fourth if I’m honest) person in the company to vet them.  Not just about whether they’re likable, but to really vet their skill set.  In the same way, it takes a community to raise a child, if you’re hiring on attitude over skills you may need to draw on the resources in the team to get them where they need to be.  You need your team’s commitment, time and innate belief that this hire is worth the effort.

Trust Your Gut

Sometimes the cues are unspoken – gut instinct.  Could be tone of voice or brushing off an answer – but you get the feeling there’s more to the story than there probably is.   Trust that.

If they’re great on paper don’t rule them out, but you do yourself and your team a disservice by not digging.

Culture is Fluid

By continually raising the bar we recognize the process needs to evolve to fit this.   So  like any part of the business, our hiring methods are reviewed & renewed.

This blog was written by Emily Haydon. Emily is the lead agent in our Queensland office, and, aside from recruiting in Performance Marketing & Web Analytics, is probably one of the best-networked people in Brisbane. Feel free to check out Emily’s bio page for latest jobs and on social media.

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