Jeff Zwelling is co-founder and CEO of Convertro, which provides marketers and agencies with cross-channel analytics, insights and recommendations to monitor and optimize marketing strategies. 


There’s an unfortunate trend developing in the professional world, and it’s all a result of our need for talent. Have you ever seen a cartoon where someone is desperately hungry, and everyone he sees just looks like a walking piece of pizza or an ice cream cone? Well, imagine that phenomenon in the workplace, except the thing everyone is desperate for is a qualified candidate, and what they see walking around are giant, upright resumes.

Employers are effectively reducing interviewees to these resumes, viewing everyone as a talking LinkedIn profile. They have become the collective benchmark for what makes someone worthy of an interview, or ultimately a job offer.

However, they’re also pushing the interviewer away from the criteria that should truly matter: is this candidate someone who has extensive industry experience and can not only get the job done, but can contribute to establishing the company as a market leader?

Move past the business cards

I’ve started a number of ventures over the years, and each one has required unique staffing tailored for the particular field we were planning on breaking into. But the key thing is, effective staffing is not a matter of going through LinkedIn profiles and reaching out to anyone who has five-plus years in a chief marketing officer position, or two-plus years as an account manager at a Fortune 500 company.

Those are just notches on a professional belt – boxes that are checked off without any guarantee that the person doing the checking possesses the actual qualities you assume go hand-in-hand with that job title. Rather than focusing on someone’s past business cards, you need to consider the attributes that are truly valuable.

I can boil these attributes down to a few key components, particularly within a startup venture. The ideal startup employee is smart, motivated and authentic. He needs to be smart enough to make good decisions.

Risk versus calculated risks

There is a misconception that startups are all about risk, and although there are risk factors, they relate to calculated risk; the ideal employee must have good judgment. He also needs to be a self-starter.

We don’t hire newbies that learn as they go, we hire people that have proven track records and get results in their specific area of expertise. For example, we don’t just hire engineers, we hire data scientist engineers that fundamentally understand machine-learning algorithms and how to improve them everyday to meet our standards and those of our customers. Startup founders need to make sure they hire people who know what they are doing from the start.

Personality match

Lastly, you should plan on spending a lot of time together, so a new hire needs to be authentic. It seems simple, and in essence it is, but when you’re around the startup world, you start to realize just how many egos are in the game.

I made a decision a long time ago that I was not going to spend my time with self-centered and mean-spirited co-workers. I won’t make the mistake of hiring someone with whom I wouldn’t want to be stuck in an airport while killing time between flights.

That simple philosophy has served me incredibly well over the past two decades, and I highly recommend it.

As you’re building your workforce, the first few hires will set the tone for your eventual employee roster. It’s important to dig deep from the get-go to find the people that you not only want and like, but whom you can trust, as well.

For me, those first individuals are always folks that either I or one of my co-founders have worked with previously. If they proved themselves to me or to my co-founders in the past, then I want to work with them again.

Also, truth be told, at this point pretty much anyone my co-founders have worked with, I have worked with, as well. It’s this reality that has taught me how important it is to construct your professional networks, and then get close to the people with whom you want to keep working. You build strong loyalty and develop bonds, so when you start a new venture, you know there are people in your network waiting for your call.

None of this is an exact science

It’s easy to preach about finding the right kind of people, but it’s certainly not an easy task in practice. Judging someone’s character can be a far more in-depth and complex process than simply reading the bullet points of their accomplishments; those bullet points won’t be what makes or breaks the right employees, so the extra time put into the harder process will without a doubt pay off in the end.

It will be a matter of seeing someone for who they are beyond the walking resume, and building your company based on what you recognize your new employees can handle, rather than just what they can point to on a sheet of paper.