Startup Life/Opinion/

The secret to hiring the perfect team for your early-stage startup

Here’s how to raise the quality of your interviews and crack the process of early-stage hiring

Anita Koimur
Anita Koimur

By Anita Koimur

With layoffs hitting European tech it’s easy to think hiring new people for your early-stage startup has become easier. And assuming the hard work of identifying top talent has been done by an ex-employer, there can be the temptation to rush to hire while discarding all interview processes.

But don’t. When it comes to those first crucial hires to your early team, it’s more important than ever to stick to a system.

At LiveFlow we believe in a rigorous five-step interview process. At the heart of that is the secret to making the right early hires: a personality test. 

Here are the steps to our interview process:

  • Screen call
  • FirstMind Talent Assessment
  • Home task
  • Career history interview
  • Final interview

So why does it work?

Match a candidate’s natural behaviour to the right role

According to FirstMind — the HR tech we use — we all have a set of 34 natural talents (profiled below) that make us who we are. These talents are consistent behavioural patterns — they help to understand what brings us joy and what makes us more empowered at work. As a result of seeing and deeply understanding them, LiveFlow aims to tailor people’s talents to the job they’ll be doing, so that person thrives and performs their best. 

The results allow us to put our early employees in a position to maximise their strengths and win, acknowledge their weaknesses and have an open understanding of how to collaborate with each other. 

Working at an early-stage startup requires wearing many hats and touching various business functions, so it’s important for early-stage hiring to know where a candidate’s energy comes from to find a role that suits them best. It’s sort of like figuring out which position you should play on a sports team.

For example, a person who has a good combination of people-focused talents such as Communicating, Empathic, Inclusive and Improving will flourish in roles requiring continuous collaboration with other people: Customer Success or HR.

Here’s an example of such a profile:

An image of a FirstMind candidate profile, showing the different types of talents to bear in mind when hiring your early-stage startup team
FirstMind candidate profile example

Make more confident early-stage hires

We’ve found that even though a candidate might impress you during the interview process, and you’re convinced their behaviour during the interview reflects their work ethic, this isn’t always true. 

The personality test is a truer guide. We’ve found that some time after a new hire starts, the natural behaviour revealed in the test will, most likely, take over. You should be ready for it and know how to approach this change.

We hired a candidate whose talents didn’t actually align with the role we were offering. The candidate was very impressive during all interviews, asked great questions and completed other stages incredibly well. When we started working together, however, we quickly realised that the actual talents that were listed in their test held true, and that we made a big mistake not diving deeper into the why and how behind those talents. 

To clarify, those talents were not bad — it’s important to remember that there’s no “right” or “wrong” set of talents, and each role is different — they just didn’t fit the job we had to offer, and as a result, we parted ways. 

The learnings? We now make sure to take the time to run through the test results with candidates where they explain “the why” behind their talents. Understanding the underlying reasons is just as important as understanding the talents.

We learnt to ask candidates to talk about how they demonstrated those talents in the past: things like “how does this talent resonate with you?” or “could you give me an example of this in your career or life?” That helps us to see how they interpret and take advantage of their own talents and whether indeed they possess them.

Increase team collaboration and problem solving

As an early-stage startup, we look for a “problem-solver” talent to appear among the first listed talents in all profiles: essentially, people who can roll up their sleeves and can break down a problem with limited information, understand its core and figure out a solution despite having limited experience within the problem itself.

These people love solving problems as they find them fun and challenging at the same time. These people typically have a highly operational mind that makes things work and succeed. Also, candidates’ other talents help us to understand in which domains people are able to solve those problems. 

The benefits of getting this right during the early-stage hiring process are long term. The personality test results create a unified language internally for openly talking about our talents and skills. Transparently discussing people’s talent scores also offers a new avenue for team collaboration. 

Have you ever found yourself in a job where you just didn’t understand why a colleague did things a certain way? It took you years to figure it out, but once you understood the underlying reason, you were suddenly much more accommodating. Humans need reasons for everything, but when we understand the reason, we can better emphasise, put things in context and help make things work, together. 

There are those who don’t believe in personality tests when it comes to hiring, and I can respect that position. But we’ve found that they provide a really useful signal in the noise of the recruitment process — and crucially also help the candidate understand how they can fit into the team. And because the Talent Assessment comes as the second step in our interview process, we find the results help with the problem of asking insightful questions at the formal interview stage. 

Too often candidates can hide behind standard answers to standard questions. The personality test surfaces interesting questions about their talents, strengths and weaknesses — raising the quality of interviews.

The truth is that hiring mistakes happen. Sometimes things get complicated when there isn’t someone available right away who meets all your requirements and you want to rush to hire. This is when you should wait and keep looking and thoroughly follow your recruitment process. It’s way more important and beneficial in the long term to find the right team of early employees who’ll be as happy as you are in your startup, since they’ll be doing what they truly love. Like you do.

Anita Koimur is the cofounder of LiveFlow.

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