Is The Best Candidate Wrong For Your Startup?

August 11, 2013

10:00 am

Here’s a piece of hiring advice that might sound counterintuitive: You shouldn’t always hire the most qualified candidate for your open positions. This is especially true when hiring for your startup company. The team you hire for your newborn company will influence what direction your business takes, what the culture of your business is like, and, ultimately, what success your business achieves.

Your startup team is important. So why shouldn’t you hire the person with the most impressive resume or the biggest skill set? The reason is because cultural fit, passion, and loyalty are actually more important than concrete skills for a fledgling startup–and the repercussions of hiring the wrong person for your startup can be devastating in the long run.

When Good Hires Go Bad

Most startup companies, especially tech startups, are looking to fill open positions with all-star talent. You want someone with the best skills, the most impressive background, and a stellar resume. These are the highly-skilled candidates startup companies chase, but they’re not always the best fit.

The truth is, 46 percent of small business new hires fail within the first 18 months. Those are bad odds, especially when your first few hires are the ones who will help you guide the company to success or failure. These are the people who will help you navigate the company in early days, who can help you refine your company mission, and who will be instrumental in establishing your company culture.

Yet a bad hire can really set your company back, and those setbacks can be costly. A survey found the cost of a bad hire can often be as much as $50,000. This is no small sum for a company just starting up, and another reason why early-stage hiring is instrumental.

So why skip the superstar candidate and go for the person who is obsessed with the company mission statement? Because company culture matters, and it matters more than you think. As a startup company, every hire you make is a step toward establishing and maintaining your company culture. Hire someone with the right skills and the wrong personality, and you could end up with a negative workplace culture at your organization.

This affects not only how your company operates, but how effectively you can attract top talent in the future. The best people want to work for a great company, and these early-stage hiring decisions can really impact your ability to recruit in the future.

So it should come as no surprise that company culture fit is a huge ingredient for the eventual success or failure of any new hire. A recent survey showed new hires failed 89 percent of the time because they were a poor fit with the company culture.

Skills and qualifications are important. There’s no arguing that you need someone with the right stuff who can hit the ground running. However, if this candidate is running in the opposite direction, your company is unlikely to see the benefits. Company culture fit needs to trump a stellar resume if you want to avoid a costly bad hire. Instead, bring on someone who is truly passionate about growing the company.

Hiring For Cultural Fit

So how do you hire someone great for your company culture? Here are a few tips to help you avoid being blinded by a supernova candidate who’s great-on-paper but a dud in your organization:

Look for personal connection earlier in the recruiting process. In order to connect more personally with a candidate to determine whether or not they’d be a good cultural fit, you need to shorten up the hiring process. The traditional hiring process — which can take as many as 29 days for small businesses — is just too long to wait for the best people. Yet, if you try to rush through the process, you run the risk of hiring someone who looks fantastic on paper, but is all wrong for the organization.

One way to avoid this fate is to focus on personal connection earlier in the hiring process. New technology like social media and video interviews are making it easier to get a more personal feel for candidates before they ever walk into the office. You can check out a candidate’s public social media accounts or watch them answer your questions on video in a one-way video interview. Whatever you choose, make sure you get a more personal feel for candidates so you’re only spending time on the people who are the best fit for your company.

Ask outside-the-box questions for unexpected answers. The same old questions are going to merit the same old answers, and those answers probably won’t tell you all that much about the candidate in question. To find out if the candidate is truly a cultural fit and has sincere passion for your organization, you need to step outside the box.

Ask questions that will surprise candidates and knock them off their prepared interview script. Take a page from Glassdoor’s list of 25 oddball interview questions and ask candidates something weird or silly. These questions might not tell you much about concrete, job-related skills, but the candidate’s answers will tell you more about their personality and ability to think under pressure.

Hiring the person with the best skills isn’t always the way to go when finding the best candidate for your startup. The best person is usually someone with sincere passion for your company and the ability to help you establish the right culture for your startup.

What do you think? Is company culture fit more important than skills when hiring for your startup? Share in the comments!

Guest author Josh Tolan is the CEO of Spark Hire, a video powered hiring network that connects job seekers and employers through video resumes and online interviews. Connect with him and Spark Hire on Facebook and Twitter.

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