Is your startup hiring?

If it is, you are likely asking yourself who it is you truly need to hire.

You often have many needs, but you also have a limited payroll budget. The temptation is always to hire the most technically skilled person for the job, for the least amount of payroll. Getting the biggest bang for your buck sounds logical, but is it?

If you have started your hiring search by developing job descriptions that incorporate both hard skills and soft skills, you’re off to a good start. When those resumes start coming in for review, there are other things to consider. For example, are you looking for generalists or specialists? Do you want individuals with a small company background or big company background? How about experienced versus inexperienced? It depends in part on your business needs.

If your business operation has formalized processes and procedures, you will likely want to hire a specialist because they are likely to be focused on maintaining efficiency in their areas of expertise. If your business is more flexible than formalized, you might find that a generalist is a better hire because they can tackle almost any task with some degree of efficiency and effectiveness (Wasserman, 2012). Generalists bring a broader skill set that may help you get your business off the ground, but as your business grows the job requirements will likely become more specific, and you may find the need more specialists to support your day-to-day operations.

Related to the consideration of a generalist versus a specialist is the place at which the applicant’s prior experience has occurred. While some argue that those with a lot of experience in a small company are a better fit for a startup because they have been in the trenches and likely understand the challenges (Wasserman, 2012). Conversely, those who have a big company background can bring a wealth of knowledge about operational processes that might be beneficial to a startup (Wasserman). The experience that comes from each background can add value to a startup founder, but the big company versus small company experience is just one part of the equation.

Perhaps the most challenging question is experience versus inexperience (or limited experience). Some suggest that those with inexperience bring a passion for the job and the founder or manager can teach the specifics of the job. This allows the founder to hire someone with the necessary hard skills for the position, without committing significant payroll dollars that would otherwise be offered to a more experienced individual. An experienced individual, others suggest, often brings more overall skills, contacts, credibility, and perhaps stability; however, the downside is a bigger paycheck for that individual and the inability for you, the founder, to shape the company culture as well because those with experience have different expectations of the company (Wasserman, 2012). Experienced versus inexperienced hires may be one of your most significant considerations because of what these hires may bring, or may not bring, to your business. The benefit of each type of hire is not always apparent.

So, who do you hire? I can’t tell you.

Who you hire will depend on you’re your individual business needs. I can tell you this, though: Start by framing what you need this new hire to do. Then, ask yourself if you need someone who can be flexible and tackle many things or someone who has specific skills to get the job done. Next, consider the value of their background and the location of that experience (big versus small company) and, finally, develop a job description incorporating both hard skills and soft skills based on your prior decisions. And don’t hire someone like you.

I can also tell you that framing your hiring decision solely by available payroll capital is short-sighted. There are many ways to frame a compensation package, and it’s not always about that bi-weekly paycheck. Focus on the fit. Everything else will fall into place.


Who would I hire? For startups or small businesses, I tend to hire people who are curious, flexible, self-disciplined and comfortable with decision-making, have the basic hard skills necessary for the job, and have a high degree of comfort with ambiguity. In most cases, these individuals are experienced, have one specialty area (or an area where they have several years of progressive experience and responsibility), and a mix of large and small company employment. In my experience, these attributes result in the best staff for me because of my style and how I lead and manage businesses in startup mode. Keep in mind these attributes may not work for you because you and I lead and manage differently.





Wasserman, N. (2012). The Founders Dilemma. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

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Thinking Hard and Soft

Skills are both quantitative and qualitative.

Quantitative, or hard skills, are measurable and can be, for the most part, expressed with numbers. These are skills that can be taught, defined and measured. Accounting, architecture, computer programming, and auto mechanics are among many hard skills. Hard skills are acquired in on-the-job training, formal education, and apprenticeships. And when you complete your training you are thought possess the skills for which you have been trained. You have a certificate or diploma that asserts in an objective manner that you have attained a certain level of proficiency with consistent results.

Qualitative, or soft skills, are also measurable, but not necessarily by quantifiable means. Most soft skills are considered personal attributes such as patience, tolerance for ambiguity, empathy, courtesy, flexibility, decision-making, reliability, or language proficiency (Ramsoomair & Howey, 2004). Of course, these skills can be taught, too. You might have learned them at home, on the playing field, or in a classroom. However, defining and measuring the impact of these skills is much more difficult. You might be able to take a course in soft skill, for example, but assessing your proficiency in that skill defies most testing. Because, whether you possess a soft skill and use it well is often subjective.

In the broadest sense, some might argue you can learn hard skills but have a more natural tendency toward certain soft skills based in part on your personality. For example, you might be well-educated and have a lot of experience in our field, but if you don’t work and play well with others finding and keeping a job might be a challenge.

You might worry less about finding and keeping a job as an entrepreneur, so you probably think less about soft skills. Yet soft skills are an essential component of your ability to launch a business.  Soft skills, for example, are necessary to both build and maintain social and business networks. Such skills also support your decision-making in day-to-day operations and guide your strategy development. It’s difficult to recognize your own soft skills, let alone those such skills in partners and prospective employees. But, soft skills are a critical component in building a high-performing team. The challenge when hiring is often how to discern those skills in the interview process.

Culling out soft skills in a partner or applicant is more challenging. While there are a number of tools and services that purport to help you assess those soft skills—behaviorial interviewing and the DiSC Assessment are my go-to’s—the tools only provide a guide. And of course, they are useless unless you know what soft skills these individuals will need (hint: most startups need people who have a high tolerance for ambiguity). Nonetheless, such tools remain subjective and should not be the sole determinate as to whether an individual you are considering for a partner or employee has those soft skills your company may need.

In the absence of tools that attempt to measure soft skills, you, like many other managers, might interview others by assessing their “ability to do the job.” In doing so, you are likely assessing only their hard skills. The “ability to do the job” is often determined by measuring the individual’s hard skills and experience against the job description, which likely also specifies only hard skills (e.g., five-plus years in computer programming, six-sigma black belt, knowledge of scrum and agile methodologies). Rarely do you see a job description that includes, “Must work and play well with others.” And if you do, how will that skill be assessed or measured?

So, when you have five candidates with equal hard skills, who do you choose? It often comes down to whether you like one candidate over the others. One candidate whose personality comes through—the one you like out of all the others—is often the one deemed a good fit for your organization and its culture. But, you don’t really know because you cannot effectively measure the fit—those soft skills—until the new hire is working and you can see for yourself how well he or she assimilates. Even then, it’s a somewhat subjective decision.

Soft skills bring more effective management and provide support to your organization’s strategic goals as a result of greater integration and understanding among those members on the team (Ramsoomair & Howey, 2004). All things being equal, soft skills are the things that should give your company a competitive advantage. Empathy, courtesy, language proficiency, the ability to “work and play well with others” are the things that bring cohesiveness to the organization. Still, you need both hard skills and soft skills to build a company.

Don’t be tempted to partner with or hire only those individuals who have demonstratable hard skills. People with soft skills, especially empathy, dedication, and courtesy, and the ability to make decisions, should always be highly valued. Consider this: A software programmer with killer skills and limited communication skills or no empathy might have a place in the company, but the software programmer with average skills and great communication skills and empathy might be better for the company. You can help teach new programming skills, but teaching communication and empathy is much, much harder.  Which of those programmers is a better fit? It depends on you and your entrepreneurial goals. Achieving the necessary balance for your company is the key.

Partners and employees who prove to be the greatest asset to a founder have a good mix of hard and soft skills, and they make a conscious effort to continually develop both skill sets. Of course, the same can be said for the most successful founders. As a founder, you need to know how to do the work your company does each day, but you should also have strong decision-making skills, empathy for your partners, employees, and customers, and the ability to communicate well, among other skills.

Which skillset—hard or soft—do you lean on most for your business and why? How well is it working for you?


Interested in learning more? Check out these resources:

Learn more about DiSC Assessment here: Everything DiSC.

Take a free DiSC Assessment from the Tony Robbins organization here: Free DiSC Profile. Note: You have to sign up for the newsletter to take the assessment.

Interested in my DiSC Profile? I’m a very high D with a high i (Di). Read a summary about the style here.

100 behavioral interview questions to help you find the best candidates. A blog post from recruiting company, Top Echelon, provides some insights on behavioral interview questions.




Ramsoomair, F., & Howey, R. (2004, April). The Hard Realities of Soft Skills. Problems and Perspectives in Management, 2(4), 231-238.


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Hiring People Like You

You will have the desire to hire people like you when you’re an entrepreneur.

Leveraging social capital to build your founding team makes it easy to hire people like you. People with your values, your background, and a substantially similar knowledge base can be advantageous for you, the founder. You’ll have a common language, communication may be more comfortable, it will take less time to get those new hires up to speed, and you will have greater confidence in their ability to achieve your goals and objectives (Wasserman, 2012). Hiring people like you might seem to be a smart business choice.

When you hire, people like you are probably hiring them because you have had a good working relationship in the past. You hire people you like and people with whom you enjoy working. You hire them because your experience tells you they are good at what they do. You hire them because although they have different areas of expertise—sales, marketing, or finance—they are likely to have similar backgrounds, networks, and possibly industry knowledge. Arguably, this may give you an advantage at first. Surrounding yourself with people like you when you’re risking everything else to get your business off the ground will provide some comfort. On the surface this seems rational; homogeneous teams may make things a little easier in the beginning but are likely to be the cause of stress as your business grows.

Hiring people like you means you may be hiring people who have not just similar strengths, but also similar weaknesses. Hiring people like you may also mean few will challenge your view of market opportunities, customer targets, or product features and benefits. People like you will tend to see the world in much the same way as you. And this might mean you miss business opportunities because hiring people like you limit your ability to see much of anything different than you may see it. Hiring people too much like you may well restrict your long-term success in business.

Hire people who have different backgrounds, education, and experiences. Hire those with a different world view, a different attitude, and from a different place in the community and the world. Cultivate this diversity within your company because it is this diversity that will help you identify and exploit opportunities for business growth. Hire people whose strengths bolster your weaknesses. Hire people who do things differently than you, who challenge your thinking, who push your buttons, who make you question your decisions. And listen to them. Surprising as it may seem at times, you do not have all the answers. The input of others—people who are not like you—can make you a better in business, a stronger leader, and often, a better person.

When you surround yourself with people like you, you will get a company built in your image. And as enticing as this might sound, it will likely limit your ability to achieve those business goals to which you aspire. Don’t give in to the desire to hire people like you.



Wasserman, N. (2012). The Founder’s Dilemma. Princeton: Princeton University Press.


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