What Do Startups Look for When Hiring?

Carolyne Njeri

What Do Startups Look For When Hiring?
Startups look beyond just what you put down in your resume to give you a job. Sometimes, they may even bypass more experienced candidates to go with fresh blood or pick non-college educated applicants over graduates.

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Everybody wants to get hired by a startup. Since startups are employee-centric, their workforce gets a great opportunity to gain experience and scale the ladder faster than in companies that have been around longer. But getting hired at one is no mean feat. Startups look beyond just what you put down in your resume to give you a job. Sometimes, they may even bypass more experienced candidates to go with fresh blood or pick non-college educated applicants over graduates.

Why does this happen? Well, startups are very particular about their hires. You have to keep in mind the startlingly high rate of failure for these kinds of businesses- over 90% don’t make it past five years. So they take every effort to hire the best candidates to ensure their survival. They don’t want a pencil-pusher, someone who’s going to come in, do only what they’re tasked with and clock out at five. They want an all-star candidate who will take up their role with zeal then go above and beyond.

So what qualities should you have to impress recruiters at startups?  In this blog, we’ve rounded up some of the key things that hiring managers look out for, to help you on your job hunt. Spoiler: You may already possess all of them.

  • Drive

Nothing impresses recruiters more than a candidate’s passion for what they do. And in the startup world, only a great enthusiasm for your work will help you sail through effortlessly. 

With a limited budget, startups are always looking to reduce their overhead. That’s why they bundle up many roles into one job description, and may sometimes call on you to perform some tasks outside your docket. Startups run a tight ship, where everyone is utilized to their full capacity, so you should be ready to give it your all if you hope to find success there.

But this doesn’t mean you should work yourself to the bone. No, it means that you’re disciplined, you take initiative and you add value to the company in your own unique way. So don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty with some “scut work” at the beginning- it will pay off in the end. 

  • Innovation

Startups are mavericks. They try to tackle new problems or find fresh solutions to old ones; they hold their employees to the same standard. 

Working at a startup isn’t just about following orders and submitting deliverables. It is also about creating value not just with your output but with your approach. This is why having high grades alone doesn’t impress hiring managers. They’re interested in your critical thinking, creativity and problem solving skills. This can best be exemplified by how top companies carry out their recruitments. On top of one-on-one interviews, they also offer team challenges to see how well you work with others, your resourcefulness and ingenuity.

Instead of cramming your cover letter with unnecessary information, you can narrate a scenario that puts your critical thinking and innovation on display. This may just be the wow-factor that your application may be missing.

  • Culture Fit

Managers at startups are highly concerned with how well new employees fit into their company culture. Since most startup teams are small, the interactions between employees are many and close together, so every new hire must, ontop of having the requisite skills, also fit into the company’s present and future landscape. 

Startups are looking for employees who believe in the company’s mission and vision and work toward their achievement. A person who’s friendly, easy to work with and focused on their personal growth as well as the growth of the company is a perfect fit for any startup.

  • Coachability

At any workplace, at any given point, you’re going to be learning new things. With startups, most especially, there’s a lot to learn because you might be chartering new waters. So you have to keep an open mind, be willing to take instructions and implement them on the fly. 

There are many ways that recruiters can check whether you’re easy to coach. In an interview for instance, you might be given a task to complete, then based on your performance, get some immediate feedback and get asked to repeat the task. How well you incorporate the suggestions into your second attempt gives recruiters a clue as to what type of employee you’ll be.

What About MENA?

The Middle East and Africa region is abuzz with startup activity, and it’s only upwards from here. There’s been an influx in startup jobs in the past few years; according to a LinkedIn article, in the space of 1 year between August 2020 and 2021, the top 30 startups in the region posted 570 jobs on the platform, mostly seeking data analysts, project managers and software developers.

In the article, some of the executives at these companies were interviewed about what qualities they seek in potential employees. 

According to CAFU GM, “It’s not always what’s on your resume that matters most… What is important to us is that each member shows the ability to directly impact the brand, the product and the customer experience by challenging conventional thinking, leading by example and driving fast solutions.”

Hello Chef’s CEO emphasized the importance of experience saying, “Experience trumps degrees any day of the week.” For his company, the focus while recruiting is on the impact of the employee’s role on their short and long term goals, accountability and culture fit.

These requirements aren’t too far removed from what we’ve discussed in the previous section. Startups, even those in MENA, are more interested in what the employee brings to the table, how they’re adapted to problem solving and how they fit in. Also, more and more, we’re seeing companies ease the pressure on academic requirements, instead shifting the focus to skills and experience.

To Summarize…

Startups are attractive to a lot of job seekers because of the opportunities they offer for career advancement. However, landing a job in one of these companies takes more than a glowing resume. It requires a candidate to be passionate about their role, collaborate well with others, think critically and be open to failure and instruction.

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