Forget Credentials; Focus on Hiring for Fit

By Sean Brown | September 10, 2017

Regardless of how big your team is, hiring is a massive gamble for any business. Effective hiring is easily the most important aspect of successfully scaling a business—one bad hire can cause a major financial setback and kill your startups momentum.

The truth is, finding and recruiting quality employees that fit your team takes time. But like anything else, implementing the right strategy can make the hiring process much more approachable.

Every business is unique, and every team is going to need something slightly different. Finding the right person to fit the exact role you’re looking for can be daunting for teams of any size.

While it’s common for hiring managers to select potential employees based on previous job experience and achievements, looking at things like talent, tenacity, intelligence, willingness to learn and overall attitude are much better indications of how a potential candidate will fit into your team.

Nothing works quite as well as hiring for raw talent. Experience may be one indication of overall knowledge, but it doesn’t provide the scalability of hiring someone based on the immediate value they provide to your team.

Hiring for talent allows you to fill holes in your team more directly and provides future scalability in terms of job flexibility and project diversification.

Most recruiters and startups still prioritize previous business accolades over a candidate’s raw talent. This leaves a massive amount of untapped, undiscovered talent out on the market for your competitors to eventually leverage themselves.

Past Achievements Don’t Always Result In Future Success

More often than not, people typically assume experience automatically translates into talent. The problem is, this doesn’t give an opportunity to the people who haven’t had the chance to build their track record.

The same potential is there, and fresh talent will always be more eager to expand their role within your team.

Believe it or not, a lack of experience can actually be an asset in early hires. Candidates without exposure to previous jobs come to your team with a fresh perspective.

Potential hires without a set career path will always be more likely to take on new responsibilities and try different things—they haven’t yet developed the fear that inevitably comes with maintaining a reputation.

Prioritize People that Are Excited to Learn

It’s not too difficult to find intelligent employees for any role these days—the hard part is finding people who are excited to learn. At an early stage startup with loosely defined roles, hiring people that are willing to learn new skills and adapt to their environment is a crucial component of sustainable business growth.

Employees that are excited to learn makes your business more agile. Increased adaptability at the individual level helps you hire fewer people in the end. You never want to onboard people that are “too good” for certain roles or responsibilities.

It’s impossible to scale a business if you and your core team are afraid to get your hands dirty. As a startup, your early hires should be the most flexible. An adaptable team gives your business more internal security.

Spotting the Right Soft Skills in Potential Hires

Identifying specific traits can be hard when you’re searching for talent. While it’s best to give potential employees a hands-on project designed to test their individual abilities, it’s also important to step back and consider the bigger picture.

Teaching an engineer a new programming language is easy, but it’s hard to transform someone with a negative attitude into a contributing team member. While what you’re looking for is always going to depend on your individual business needs, here are a few of the most important soft skills to identify in anyone you’re thinking about hiring.


Early stage startups are never free of storms—you can’t expect smooth sailing across calm seas. If possible, look at past projects where your job candidate rose to the challenge and did something a little out of their comfort zone.

You don’t want to hire employees that will quit as soon as they hit their first roadblock. Your early hires—and any hires for that matter—should always be excited to take on new challenges and stick with you when the going inevitably gets tough.


Regardless of a job candidate’s past experience, look for people that take pride in their work. Whether or not a given employee cares about their reputation plays a huge role in the quality of work they will end up producing. Your best team members will always be those that are self-motivated.

Quality work comes from within. Hard skills like programming languages, email marketing, Facebook ads, and even content creation can all easily be taught. You can’t go wrong investing in the education of people that are self-aware, excited to learn, and ready to take on new challenges.

Positive Attitude

Unlike Adobe InDesign, you can’t teach someone to have a positive attitude. Onboarding an employee with attitude problems from the start will only lead to much larger problems for your team as a whole—especially at an early stage startup.

When it comes to building a sustainable team, creating a positive work culture is everything. When something inevitably goes wrong, having a positive attitude keeps your team glued together.

A person’s attitude during the job interview is an excellent indication of how they’ll perform in the workplace. Hire candidates that are willing to listen to criticism and improve themselves in order to elevate the team as a whole.

The Benefits of Turning a Blind Eye to Previous Experience

Fresh, inexperienced talent gives your team a new perspective. Going with less experienced job candidates allows lesser-known businesses to snag superstar talent without the superstar price tag.

The more credentials someone has, the more difficult they are to hire. And worse yet, a prestigious track record can lead to a significantly more complacent attitude down the road. Undiscovered talent is constantly chomping at the bit to prove themselves—hiring inexperienced employees leads to significantly more engaged team members down the road.

Remember, a person’s credentials are only worth the value you assign to them. The next time you’re looking to bring on a new team member, try forgetting about their experience and focusing on what unique value they provide to your business.