The Essential Traits Startups Look for in Potential Hires

Perhaps you’re interested in a working at a startup, but not quite sure you fit the docket. Sure, the accomplishments listed on your resume are an important factor in your job search, but there are a lot of other things to be considered. It’s not enough that you went to a good college or have a high GPA. Startups aren’t necessarily looking for someone with a certain degree, but instead they’re more focused on finding people with specific traits.

Many of these traits are innate, meaning you’ve either got it or you don’t. Hopefully, you do. So, what exactly are these characteristics? Startups are looking for…


You proactively move the ball forward, instead of standing around waiting for the coach—or in this case, the boss—to tell you what to do. You’re always looking ahead to what can be done next.

Comfortable with the Unknown

Startups are by nature ambiguous—and heavily resource-constrained—organizations. This means there won’t be any time for handholding. You might be given a project that you, nor anyone at the company, has experience with, but it’ll be your job to structure it and see it to fruition. You’re going to have to hit the ground running and wing it.

A Can-Do Attitude

Startups look for problem solvers. They need people who approach challenges saying “How can we make this happen?” versus “There’s no way we can do this.”

Someone Resourceful

Being resourceful is a key trait of any successful startup team member. You may have to do a little background internet research on something new to you, reaching out to your friends for connections and feedback, or coming up with your own creative solutions.

“Whatever It Takes” Mindset

Are you a true team player? In a startup, there are a lot of things that need to get done that aren’t glamorous, or in your direct line of duty. You have to be willing to get your hands dirty, even if that means working on some lackluster tasks.

Resilience & Passion

There are always ups and downs to startups – they look for people who can push through setbacks and bounce back stronger because of their passion for the team, mission, and product. In sales, you might get 100 closed doors before you land your first client. Your ability to be persistent will make you stand out.


Basically it comes down to being a hustler. Will you do whatever it takes to make things happen?

If you have some, or all of these traits, a position at startup may be within reach. Use your intro email to show that you could be a great fit, giving examples of your resourcefulness, resilience, etc. Put yourself out there, because they could be looking for someone just like you!

Originally posted on Planted.

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Written by:
Susan Zheng is the cofounder and CEO of Planted (Techstars NYC ’14), a platform that helps companies hire junior, non-technical talent.
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