Biggest Startup Hiring Mistakes

Shawnee Love   •  
December 22, 2010

My last blog of 2010, and instead of a year in review which my December newsletter took care of, I have decided to share something I hope will be interesting, valuable and discussion provoking.

I have worked with a lot of entrepreneurs over the years. Here are my top 6 hiring mistakes that start ups make:

  1. Hiring too many too soon, i.e., before the customers are there. Some entrepreneurs live in a Field of Dreams and believe if they build a big organizational structure then customers will come.  Maybe they will and maybe they won’t, but being big too early often means a lot of people with nothing to do and a lot of money wasted. My test for hiring a new employee is do you have a full time job guaranteed for at least a year? If not, rethink hiring.
  2. Hiring too many Chiefs. Entrepreneurs often think they need a Big Cheese to develop the strategy and lead the execution. My take if you want the strategy is hire leadership in the form of consultants or interim managers who can deliver but only charge you when you need them. I have also heard the argument that you want to let the leader pick the team. While that is certainly helpful and absolutely necessary in more mature organizations, in a start up you need people to work their butts off and get their hands dirty. Yes, some seasoned start up leaders can do both, and some even want to, but they are rare. I would rather hire a more junior employee with great attitude and work ethic and the potential to grow into a Chief, than hire a Chief right off the bat.  Those Chiefs usually come with a huge salary which they can’t begin to earn in the first year or so of a start up’s life and hiring them just speeds the burn.
  3. Hiring people who are specialists. In a start up, you have to be a jack of all trades, aka competent and willing to do anything, from purchasing your own waste basket to emptying it. Don’t hire people who are so specialized that they can’t pitch in wherever needed. Again, those specialists should be contracted temporarily only while you need them.
  4. Hiring people who need attention. Nothing worse than someone who needs to be told all the time how good she is or needs hand-holding on every new project or activity. The reality of start up is that you are all learning as you go, so don’t bring people along who can’t roll with it.  When hiring, look for people who would describe themselves as the Swiss army knife of their profession: resourceful, hardy, well equipped, and always on hand.
  5. Hiring people without stamina. Starting a company is hard work. You need to put your shoulder into it and keep your shoulder in it for a long time… like at least 3 years in my experience. People who keep asking “are we there yet” are as annoying in start ups as on road trips and when you are a start up, you don’t need to be annoyed by your people because so much of what you are doing is stressful, challenging, and overwhelming. Test a candidate’s stamina by making them run stairs at your local stadium or shovel your parking lot. I am not kidding, you can learn a lot.
  6. Hiring egos. Egos need to be checked at the door of a start up. Founders make their own coffee, CEOs and Veeps wash dishes. So does everyone else.

That’s my top 6 hiring mistakes for start ups. Do you have any to add?