1. You want to work in tech, but not at our company
At a startup, the first 20-30 employees are fundamental to the culture and success of the entire enterprise. A startup’s journey is saturated with challenges and difficulties and the thing that’s going to get us through it is purpose.
If you don’t connect with our purpose, or you don’t feel it, that’s fine — but that probably means this isn’t the job for you.
It’s easy to spot when this isn’t there, mainly because it’s so easy to spot when it is. Some people are just so excited to join they can’t put it into words. You’ll hear phrases like, “I can’t even describe how perfect this is for me.”
We hear a lot about product-market fit and increasingly about product-founder fit. But there’s also product-employee fit. Do you and your skills and interests make sense for this product? Will your approach and passions fit with the team ethos?
This is usually why technically amazing candidates are passed over. In the long term, it’s in everyone’s interest. If it’s not a role where you’ll care about the product, then not getting the job means you can pursue opportunities you truly care about.
2. You’re a brilliant jerk
There are some people out there who are just brilliant. Throughout the interview process, you see some soft-skill red flags, but you want to hire them anyway because you really need their skills right now and their CV is just so good.
After all, I’m building a team of geniuses, right? Wrong.
No matter how brilliant you are, if you’re not able to self-reflect and display empathy, it will create issues for the wider team. Every startup is a team, you cannot do things in isolation.
When a person can’t work collaboratively, their impact on morale is significant. They are, to use Ben Horowitz’s phrase, a brilliant jerk.
If you’re a CEO, don’t fall into this trap, it’s not worth it. And, if you’re job seeking, don’t forget the vital importance of being a team player.
3. You’re the right person with the wrong skills
You might find a company that you love and connect with. The role feels like the right fit and you submit an application with excitement. And it’s genuinely fantastic to receive these applications; full of enthusiasm and passion. But that doesn’t mean we can offer you the job.
A startup requires specific talents at different times. The evolution of the company happens so rapidly, that the team requirements are constantly shifting. Especially in the early days of the company (let’s say, the first 3-5 years) there’s little room for generalists.
A startup needs experienced people because you’re probably going to be the only person in the team with that skillset, so there’s no one to learn from.
If you’re a data scientist, you might be the data scientist. You can’t go to someone to ask tricky data questions and if you’re unsure about anything, it’s hard to troubleshoot. You could be setting up an entire function within the business, at lightning speed, with little margin for error.
If you don’t have that very specific skill set that is needed at that moment, no matter how passionate you are, we can’t hire you. But, I’d encourage anyone who’s fallen in love with a company to get in touch with the founders and tell them that you love what they’re building.
It might not lead to a yes right now, but when the job does come up, you’ll be front of mind.