The Five Key Virtues That Define Startup Hiring

Imagine this: it’s two days before the much-anticipated product launch, and an unexpected bug threatens to unravel months of hard work. Amid the ensuing chaos, the team comes together, scrutinizing code, debating solutions, adjusting schedules, and above all, keeping their cool. It’s within these high-pressure moments that the essential characteristics of a robust startup team come to light: tenacity, decisiveness, empathy, flexibility, and candor.

Why These Virtues?

One could argue that an entire spectrum of qualities could lead to startup success, and they wouldn’t be wrong. However, these five traits represent the core spirit of an early-stage startup and are critical for the rollercoaster that startup life often is.

Tenacity, the unwavering commitment to see things through, is what keeps a startup afloat in turbulent times. It’s the grit that drives the team through late nights, tough debugging sessions, and the sometimes crushing realization of “not quite there yet”.

Decisiveness, the ability to make swift and effective decisions, can be the difference between capitalizing on an opportunity and missing it. It’s about balancing speed and precision, navigating uncertainties, and leading with confidence even when the path ahead isn’t clear.

Empathy, although seemingly out of place amongst ‘tenacity’ and ‘decisiveness’, is essential. It’s the adhesive that holds teams together during high-stress times, enabling us to understand and accommodate each other’s viewpoints and challenges.

Flexibility is the ability to adapt, shift, and evolve as the startup grows and the market changes. It’s the secret ingredient that allows startups to compete with larger, more established companies by quickly adjusting to meet changing demands.

And finally, candor. Being open, honest, and direct drives constructive feedback, nurtures innovation, and builds trust within teams. It might not always be comfortable, but it’s crucial for a healthy startup culture.

Identifying These Traits in Potential Hires

Identifying these traits in potential hires is a unique challenge. It’s not as straightforward as ticking boxes off a list. It’s about probing, understanding, and, in many ways, predicting how a person would react in specific scenarios.

Consider a hypothetical interview situation: the company is on the cusp of a product launch, and a critical bug has emerged. How does the candidate handle this? The answer isn’t as simple as it might seem, as it involves examining their responses through the lens of the five key traits.

Here’s a sample line of questioning:

  1. Tenacity: How have you handled situations where you’ve had to push beyond your limits?

  2. Decisiveness: Can you share a time when you had to make a tough decision quickly?

  3. Empathy: Could you describe a moment when you had to step back and consider someone else’s viewpoint during a heated situation?

  4. Flexibility: Have you ever had to change your approach midway due to shifting circumstances?

  5. Candor: Tell us about a time when you had to deliver hard truth to your team or received one yourself.

The trick is to listen, not just for the content of their answers, but for the nuances, the tone, and the attitude. It’s about understanding if they have the drive to tackle challenges head-on, make rapid decisions, empathize with others, adapt to change, and be candid. It’s about figuring out if they have what it takes to thrive in the thrilling, fast-paced world of startups.

Daniel Erickson is the Founder and CEO of Viable, a Generative Analysis system that helps teams make better decisions with qualitative data.