By Gill South
Tech entrepreneurs have a way of doing things which are designed to disrupt and turn things on their head. They take pride in it, in fact. Their approach to recruiting is similar too. No psychometric testing for them. No interviews in impersonal business suites.
Wherever they are, out for dinner or on their kids' sports field, they are always on the lookout for new people, confident, change-makers who like nothing better than to throw a spanner in the works. Their ideal recruit is the type of person who is fun to pull all-nighters with and who fits the informal but hard working company culture of a startup.
I witnessed this in action at the recent San Francisco Startup Job Fair, an event where tech talent and startup founders came together to make recruitment magic, ideally. Upwards of 1000 keen job hunters milled around 30 company booths.
It was a job fair like no other I had seen. There were no rules. One COO tapped me on the shoulder as I walked along and asked if I were a developer by any chance. The mind boggles. After a while job-seekers began queuing in front of company's booths in a more orthodox fashion.
Although many of these tech CEOs have excelled academically, they were generally not looking for Ivy League types or graduates with fancy PhDs. They were more interested in people with good solid industry experience but also provocative thinkers who liked to challenge the status quo.
As for the entrepreneurs, they had to be really good at telling their company's story and inspiring excellent candidates who were looking for the next big idea to latch onto. In some cases these business leaders had no real proof that their idea has taken off yet, so they were looking for people with imagination and vision who could look beyond the here and now.
These startup recruiters were fully aware that they were competing with every other new business idea that has popped up in the last year for the truly top talent.
“Everybody in the Bay Area is looking for the next best thing,” said one experienced tech recruiter, Kevin Seng from Ayasdi.
He listed the most important attributes he was looking for.
“We are looking for people who are inquisitive, who are asking the right questions, people not afraid to speak up with new ideas,” he said. “A friendly demeanor is also a must.”
He is looking for people who might say something like: “Why are you doing it this way? Have you thought about trying it that way?”
Getting the cultural fit right is more important for startup hires than for other businesses further down the track, Seng said. “It's understandable. These are hard working operations where people spend a lot of time together and if you don't get along, it's pretty painful.”
Many of the decision-makers who participated in the annual Job Fair are running their own businesses now, but a lot of these techies came from large companies like Google and Facebook.
As one former Google recruiter, Ramy Khalil, said: “I wanted to make more of an impact.”
For Khalil, industry experience is what is was most valued at Ampush, the mobile advertising business founded by three 17 year olds a few years ago. Startups are well aware an inexperienced person is going to make mistakes and they just don't have time for that. They need someone who can hit the ground running.
Meanwhile for Purple Squirrel founder, Jon Silber, confidence is the biggest thing he is looking for in his current recruitment drive. Another ex-Googler, Silber was asking potential candidates to come on the adventure with him, his idea just “coming off beta” this month.
As a brand new company, Purple Squirrel is looking to connect with job seekers directly with employees at top companies who are invested in getting them hired. Silber is looking for front-end marketers who can tell the company story with complete conviction. Self-sufficiency is another quality high up on his list.
“Talking to a candidate's referees is the best way to find out if someone is exceptional,” said Silber. They can tell him what is special about them and give examples of their achievements.
Lessons to be learned about the way startups recruit:
- Ask candidates to give examples of when they thought laterally and had success.
- Look for candidates who are curious about everything.
- Look for candidates who are always looking for better ways of doing things.
- Value candidates who have researched the company and come up with some new ideas for it.
- Value confidence and the ability to be an inspirational story teller.
About the Author:
Gill South is a Berkeley-based business journalist and writer who loves reporting on the startup world and people's careers. She has been a newspaper journalist in the UK, New Zealand, and the US for over 25 years, working on the launch of three newspapers. She is also the author of an inspirational book for working mothers: ”Because We're Worth It” -- A ‘whereto from here’ for today's working mother. Visit Gill's website to learn more: www.gillsouth.com.