Top 5 Employee Strengths Every Startup Should Be Looking For

Employee Strengths

What are the key strengths of good startup employees? What makes a good manager an exceptional manager and what are the most important qualities to look for in your next hire?

We are living in a rapidly changing and highly globalized business environment. The demand for top talent has never been higher and with the rising number of small and mid-sized companies, this is isn’t changing anytime soon.

First Comes Competency

Before the ‘70s the prevalent view in the recruitment industry was to test for general intelligence when hiring. This has changed, however, with David McClelland’s 1973 paper “Testing for Competence Rather than for Intelligence”. McClelland dismisses IQ, and emphasizes ‘personality variables’ such as habits, values, leadership and interpersonal skills. He also argues that employers should define the specific skills needed to fill specific roles and then compare the candidate’s competence to these competency variables.

Top 5 Startup Employee Strengths

The competency approach is still what dominates today’s talent spotting. Every employer has to first assess competency level and then filter candidates based on the results. Competency can be tested fairly accurately and you should end up with the best experts in your field after filtering for specific skills. But once you have determined a candidate’s competence, what other traits might be worth looking into?

#5 Curiosity

Especially in the fast-paced milieu of startups, every employee needs to have a curious mind. An ideal candidate is always on the lookout for new experiences and not afraid of change. Curiosity is a very powerful trait that will keep candidates sharp and always up-to-date to current trends. Small companies need to follow and react to emerging trends very quickly, which requires employees to think beyond the fields they are working in, always seeking new challenges.

Curiosity also makes people natural learners and helps them remain engaged in their work, without the need for external motivation. This is very important in small companies, where the managers are themselves innovators and there is little room left for employee engagement.

How to spot curious minds?

To investigate curiosity, you have to see if there is any evidence in the candidates’ past where they displayed a high level of self-improvement without external motivation.

Ask about past job experiences, what have they learned in their positions and how did they acquire that knowledge. See if they were driven to explore underlying issues whenever they had to solve a problem and see if they were open to out-of-the-box solutions. People who prefer staying in their comfort zones will never make a great leader.

#4 Intuition

As the amount of information available to us is constantly growing it is increasingly important to recognize the best option or course of action in many tricky situations. It is crucial for a good manager to always see the whole picture, digest loads of new information on a daily basis and still be able to see patterns and trends.

But how to see if a candidate has great intuitive skills?

Insights depend on having a fresh eye on a specific problem. The best way to test this is so to come up with a brainstorming task for a complex problem. Construct a situational game with an issue that is likely to happen in the position you are about to fill and see if the candidate is able to propose meaningful, out-of-the-box solutions to the problem.

#3 Attitude

Employees with the right attitude are the center of company growth. They are always ready to face new challenges and keep other people around them engaged. Employee strengths directly links to effectiveness, output, and positive workspace environment.

While technical skills and experience can be tested very easily, the right attitude can be difficult to spot, despite its important role in building a good company culture. As Mark Murphy, the author of Hiring for Attitude puts it :

“For example, a newly hired executive may have the intelligence, business experience, and financial acumen to fit well in a new role. But if that same executive has an authoritarian, hard-driving style, and they’re being hired into a social culture where happiness and camaraderie are paramount, that combination is unlikely to work. “

But how to spot the right attitude before exposing the candidate to the working environment?
Questions like the following can help:

How do you react when someone challenges you?
How do you invite input from others on your team?
What do you do to broaden your thinking, experience, or personal development?
How do you foster learning in your organization?
What steps do you take to seek out the unknown?

#2 Grit

What is grit? It is as simple as it sounds: the ability to maintain sustained performance  toward a goal over time.

In a startup environment, there is usually little stability and employees have to face periods of adversity with the same positive attitude as success and growth. Employees with a high level of grit will not bounce back from challenges and will always sustain their performance regardless of the circumstances.

How to see true grit in a candidate?

You can ask the candidates about their ability to focus on projects which take up longer periods of time. Ask about their past experiences as project managers. You can see if they have a tendency for finishing the projects they start or leaving them when they produce no immediate results.

#1 Ultimate Startup Super Power: Resilience

The number one key strength of a good leader, based on our experiences is resilience. This is the most vital characteristic that we want to look for if we want someone to adapt and thrive in the fast-paced Bay Area tech startup environment.

Startup employees are always asked to take on new responsibilities in the company and learn new skills. Resilient candidates will cope well with this ongoing change and they will sustain a good attitude and energy even when under constant pressure.

According to Sam Goldstein, Ph.D., co-author of The Power of Resilience. How can you become more resilient? Here are 10 traits of resilient candidates:

Employee Strengths:

1. They have a strong sense of purpose.
2. They have a healthy sense of control.
3. They accept circumstances that cannot be changed.
4. See change as a challenge or opportunity.
5. They are self-confident.
6. They are optimistic.
7.They have a good social support and are not afraid to ask for help.
8. They are flexible and adaptable.
9. They use sound problem-solving strategies.
10. They have a good sense of humor.

Even though curiosity, intuition, attitude, grit and resilience can be a game changer when hiring for a higher-level position, this doesn’t mean we should immediately toss aside intelligence, experience, and specific skill sets. But after finding the most competent and skilled candidates for the role, hiring for these strengths should be your top priority.

Bottom Line

If you are not working with a search firm, make sure to conduct in-depth interviews and focus on questions and background stories that reveal whether the person has the qualities mentioned above. Don’t just ask questions like ‘Are you resilient?’ but try to uncover past stories and examples where the candidate demonstrated her potential. Hiring for potential and effectively engaging those who have it should now be your top priority.

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