15 Red Flags to Look for When Making a Startup Hire

Question: What are some major red flags that startup management teams look for when hiring new employees?

Question by: Brent M.

Gut Check Test

"A candidate may meet all of the requirements on paper. They might present well in person. But, most importantly, do they pass your gut check test? Don't let your urgency to hire cloud your vision. Including several stages of interviews during the hiring process will help you to get to know the candidate better to be able to determine if they will truly be a good fit."

Slow to Respond

"In the early days of a startup, there is little redundancy. This means if an emergency hits you need all hands to help, regardless of what time it is. It's hard to tell in an interview if someone will be there when servers go down at 3 a.m., but a great test is seeing how quickly candidates respond to your communications. If they really want to join your team, they'll be all over them."


Personality Check

"It is vitally important for your staff to mesh well during the critical startup phase. You are going to be spending a lot of time together -- from working to selling to brainstorming to eating and traveling -- so the personalities must match or that becomes an immediate red flag. Think about the long-term culture you want in your business, and hire for that."


Is it Just a Job?

"Some people looking to be hired just want a job and are not there to really contribute to your mission. Get to the root of why they want to work with your business and if there is a passion there. If there's no passion, you know all you need to about bringing that person onto your team. You need a solid group who like the idea, want to help it grow and also learn more along the way."

- Ashley Bodi | Co-Founder, Business Beware

No Problem Solving Skills

"Every role in a startup requires creative problem solving, from the customer services reps, to the engineers, to the sales team. If a potential new employee isn't interested in solving problems, that's a red flag."

- Tim Jahn | Co-Founder, matchist

Did You Do Your Homework?

"I interview prospective employees on the phone first. One of the questions I ask is what they know about my company. Repeating sound bytes from my job posting will not cut it. If someone has learned nothing about my company before applying, I know that they are not the kind of person I want working with me. I need employees who make things happen -- not ones who wait for things to happen to them."

Lack of Personal Projects

"Whenever I'm considering a new hire, I go looking for any side projects that individual has worked on -- blogs, open source projects and so on. Those sorts of projects tell me that a potential employee can work on her own without me staring over her shoulder. It also says that a person is a self-starter, which is a great indicator that she will do well in a startup situation."

- Thursday Bram | Content Consultant, Hyper Modern Consulting

'I Don't Like Being Micromanaged'

"This is an immediate red flag when brought up in an interview. Employees who generally use this line are those who don't want to be managed by goals/results, and instead, wish to run with their own agendas or what "feels right" to them."

- Warren Jolly | Co-founder, adQuadrant

Those Unclear Goals

"Always ask prospective employees about their goals. Not only will it tell you interesting things about their personality, you'll also be able to determine whether this person will be a good fit for the company in the long run. If they don't have any goals or their goals are unclear, proceed with caution. They may be taking the job for a paycheck instead of working with directed focus."


The Hourly Concern

"It's not that we all need to work 120-hour weeks. It's not that you have to be in on Sunday. It's not that you need to give up your girlfriend or gardening. It's that there are no hours; a startup is a mission and a mission doesn't have a daily start and end time. If something breaks at midnight, we fix it. If the sun begs an afternoon run, take that run. This isn't a job. This is a lifestyle."

'I'm a Lone Wolf'

"While many creatives may not say those very words, there's an independent streak in creatives that can make it hard to plug them into a team environment. An outright, ideological rejection of meetings, reports, and communication is a symptom of this. In the end, if they'd prefer to be a lone wolf, grant them their wish and avoid hiring them."

'I Love the Startup World!'

"Do they really? Why, what have they done, who do they know and how are they trying to get involved in the startup scene? Do they have a clue how different the role can be at a startup compared to a big company? Many people who "love" the startup world actually want a big corporate job, but they heard tech startups were cool."

- Jared O'Toole | Co-founder, Under30Media
An Entrepreneurial Mindset

"If you are hiring an employee, you'll want to find someone who is on board for the long term. Startup management teams often can sniff out when a candidate is too entrepreneurial and has no intention of staying with your team for longer than a few months. Listen to your gut and if this person is the type who simply wants to work for themselves, don't hire them."

- Matt Wilson | Adventurer in Residence , Under30Experiences
Where's the Integrity?

"Skills and knowledge can be taught, whereas honesty and integrity are inherent to the personality of the applicant. Search for honesty and integrity first, and then select the most skilled from that list. Not having honesty and integrity will cause problems -- and cost real dollars -- down the line."

- Lucas Sommer | Founder CEO, Audimated

Red Flag References

"Always talk to at least 3-5 references before hiring someone. Don't just ask softball questions. Probe on the candidate's biggest weaknesses, areas for improvement, and capacity to perform a range of tasks. If the answers you're getting are tepid, don't make the hire."

- David Adelman | Founder and CEO, ReelGenie

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only nonprofit organization comprised of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs. The YEC recently published #FixYoungAmerica: How to Rebuild Our Economy and Put Young Americans Back to Work (for Good), a book of 30+ proven solutions to help end youth unemployment.

About YEC

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.

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