Less than 10 days until TNW València 🇪🇸 Get a last-minute 30% discount on your ticket

This article was published on November 8, 2013

5 key attributes to look for in the perfect startup hire

5 key attributes to look for in the perfect startup hire
Josh Tolan
Story by

Josh Tolan

Josh Tolan is the CEO of Spark Hire, a video powered hiring network that connects job seekers and employers through video resumes and online Josh Tolan is the CEO of Spark Hire, a video powered hiring network that connects job seekers and employers through video resumes and online interviews. Connect with him and Spark Hire on Facebook and Twitter.

Josh Tolan is the CEO of Spark Hire, a video powered hiring network that connects job seekers and employers through video resumes and online interviews. Connect with him and Spark Hire on Facebook and Twitter.

Hiring for a startup is much different than hiring for a large company or a well-established venture. Startup hiring can be the difference between the success or failure of your organization. The people on the ground floor of your company are the ones driving innovation and determining what direction your company takes.

The statistics on startup success can be disheartening. In fact, 75 percent of new startups fail, which might have to do with the fact that 46 percent of small business new hires fail within the first 18 months. Finding someone great who will stick around for the long haul can help you focus on growing your company, not employee turnover.

As the CEO of a video interviewing platform, my day is pretty much all hiring, all the time. Yet recruiting great people for my company has been a challenge I’ve had to face right along with my clients.

Certain people thrive in a startup atmosphere, while the unpredictability can drive other top-notch workers crazy. Finding the right blend of ingredients in the perfect startup worker hasn’t been easy, but here are the five attributes I’ve found that make up the recipe for the perfect startup employee:


When it comes to hiring a startup employee, you need more than a pinch of passion to get the job done. Startup environments can be tough, and the unpredictability and long hours can test even the most dedicated workers. I found employees without sincere passion and a belief in what the company is hoping to achieve were likely to abandon ship when the going got tough.

While skills are needed, passion is an absolute must. For entry-level positions especially, passion is one of the most important ingredients. Someone with passion and enthusiasm can succeed with the right training, but even with the right skills, a candidate without passion is unlikely to be a good fit.

Specific skills

Of course, specific skills are necessary to get the job done. At my company, we deploy assessment tests to ensure candidates are as knowledgeable as they are passionate. We’ve found tests and assessments especially helpful for recruiting technical talent. For our open developer positions, we have candidates take a programming quiz we develop in-house to ensure they have what it takes for the job.

While passion is important, this enthusiasm needs to be backed up with concrete skills. These tests also allow us to move faster on great hires, since the data acquired helps speed up the decision process.

Considering the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates technical hiring will more than double the growth rate for all other occupations by 2016, hiring fast is a great way to beat out the competition to the best people.


As a young and growing company, it’s important everyone has a “let’s make things better” attitude and gets whatever has to be done, done. Startup life is rarely 9-to-5 and often involves donning a few extra hats not mentioned in the static job description. For many candidates, this can be an exciting prospect and opportunity to grow skill sets and take on new responsibilities.

These are the people we look for in the hiring process, and one of the reasons we also embrace personality assessments. We need to ensure the people we hire are willing to jump in on the ground floor, roll up their sleeves, and get working. This also makes our onboarding process easier, since these are the types of employees willing to hit the ground running on their first day.


An intrapreneur is someone who has an entrepreneurial spirit and uses these innovative ideas to make your company a better place. Companies are starting to jump aboard the intrapreneurship bandwagon, with a recent survey discovering 58 percent of managers were willing to support employees who wanted to capitalize on new business opportunities within the company.

When hiring, use the interview process to look for intrapreneurial attributes. Whether your interview is in-person or through online video, ask candidates what they would do to improve your company. Candidates eager to share ideas, with specific plans on how to improve your company, are the kind of intrapreneurs who will bring innovative and creative problem-solving to your startup.


The people you hire for your startup are the building-blocks of your company culture, so hiring people you can trust is essential. You need to be able to rely on these employees to get the job done and to go over-and-above when necessary to make sure your company keeps moving smoothly. Trustworthiness is key, which is why it’s always a good idea to be on the lookout for fibs in the hiring process.

Considering nearly half of job applicants fudge the truth on their resume, you need to be careful. Do a little research on your best candidates and also check references before making a job offer. A little extra time in the hiring process can save you a lot of hassle if your employee turns out to be someone you can’t trust.

Finding the best talent for your startup isn’t easy — it certainly hasn’t been in my experience. The ingredients which make up the perfect startup hire aren’t always simple to discover. Candidates with these five attributes are likely to add to the value, innovation, and enthusiasm your startup company needs to thrive.

What do you think? What have you found to be the ingredients of the perfect startup hire? Share in the comments!

Image credit: Jirsak/Shutterstock

Get the TNW newsletter

Get the most important tech news in your inbox each week.