Want to Work for a Startup? Improve Your Emotional Intelligence

November 1, 2013

3:38 pm

“The ‘ideal’ startup hire should be one of two things: 1) a continuous learner, who understands that there’s no way any one person can know everything and is also willing to learn more about [himself or herself], or 2) a truth-seeker, someone who wants to find the best way to make things happen – they’re constantly looking for ways to improve: Is this the best way? Is this right approach?”

For Aaron O’Hearn, molding the ideal startup hire is one of his passions – I mean, it’s literally what he does on a day-to-day basis. O’Hearn is the cofounder and CEO of Startup Institute, a career accelerator that teaches skills to help people become successful startup employees. The Institute provides four different tracks to choose from: 1) product and design, 2) sales and business development, 3) technical marketing, and 4) web development. Essentially, O’Hearn and his cofounder, Shaun Johnson, created Startup Institute to provide people with the hard skills that are in demand by startups. In this regard, it could really be counted in the same category as General Assembly; however, what makes the Institute so unique is its belief that emotional intelligence (EQ) is one of the necessary skills that prospective startup employees should develop.

“Emotional intelligence is super, super critical. For one reason or another, a lot of companies aren’t focused on EQ, and this could actually hurt them in the end,” says O’Hearn.

As part of its core curriculum, Startup Institute spends a good deal of time developing each student’s emotional intelligence. What are each student’s weaknesses? What are their strengths? Are you an introvert or extrovert, and how will that impact your presence and role in a startup? For O’Hearn, such discussions are necessary in order for people to gain a greater sense of self-awareness. This self-awareness is something that he insists has a huge impact on whether or not a person can truly make it in a startup – not only does it help one manage one’s emotions in such a high-stress, high-activity industry, but also allows one to gain better a perspective and understanding of other people.

“We believe that it’s this combo of soft skills – like EQ – and hard skills that make someone a super high-impact worker. There’s always opportunities out there to learn hard skills, but very rarely is there this opportunity to train the soft skills necessary to mold a highly productive and successful team player.”

O’Hearn is not alone in this. When it comes to being successful, emotional intelligence is certainly one of the things that has been covered in the likes of Forbes, wherein Jan Bruce, CEO of meQuilibrium, argues that the ability to empathize with team members can lead to improved communication and a greater understanding of business clients. Over at Google, a “Search Inside Yourself (SIY)” program helps employees build emotional intelligence on five parts (self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills) through meditation and mindfulness training.

Despite the amount of coverage on emotional intelligence and its effectiveness in the workplace, many companies still focus on hiring people primarily for their hard skills. In the startup case, I think many founders have run into this similar issue: should we hire the person with okay skills, but seems like a really great person to work with? Or should we hire this other guy with great skills, but seems like a difficult person? For the guys over at Startup Institute, their dual approach to improving soft and hard skills hopes to solve this.

Startup Institute was featured at Tech Cocktail’s Boston Mixer & Startup Showcase. Interested in becoming a student at Startup Institute? Apply here

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Ronald Barba was the previous managing editor of Tech.Co. His primary story interests include industry trends, consumer-facing apps/products, the startup lifestyle, business ethics, diversity in tech, and what-is-this-bullsh*t things. Aside from writing about startups and entrepreneurship, Ronald is interested in 'Doctor Who', Murakami, 'The Mindy Project', and fried chicken. He is currently based in New York because he mistakenly studied philosophy in college and is now a "writer". Tweet @RonaldPBarba.