Hiring for Startups is Not Always About Skillsets. It’s about Cultural Fit.

“When you’re in a startup, the first ten people will determine whether the company succeeds or not. Each is 10 percent of the company. So why wouldn’t you take as much time as necessary to find all the A players? If three were not so great, why would you want a company where 30 percent of your people are not so great? A small company depends on great people much more than a big company does.”

Steve Jobs


In a world full of entrepreneurial startups and with startup networking events like Big Omaha in full throttle, we thought we’d explore the startup side of hiring. What is the difference between hiring for a substantiated company and hiring for a startup venture? Are there different skillsets to look for? Different personality and character traits?

We reached out to Brian Ardinger, Managing Director of NMotion, to discuss startup hiring. NMotion offers funding, mentorship, and engagement to seven new startups annually to help them gain traction and build a core team. Every new employee in a startup makes up a large percentage of the company, explained Ardinger, “hiring for startups is not always about skill sets. It’s about cultural fit.”

Startup hiring is different from traditional hiring in the sense that substantiated organizations are typically hiring for particular positions and skill sets with defined job descriptions while startups are initially seeking “doers.” Brian Ardinger of NMotion provided some essential traits for new startup employees: resourcefulness, creativity, versatility, and tolerance of ambiguity. Ardinger explained that first hires of a startup must be able to “wear multiple hats and be okay with living in a world that’s a little more chaotic” than that of a substantiated organization.

Here are a couple tips to keep in mind throughout your hiring process:

Transparency, full disclosure, and absolute honesty are key to hiring ideal candidates to a startup position. Hopefully honesty plays a vital role in all hiring efforts. Startups, however, have a bit more to disclose than just apparent truths about the position. Startup hiring managers should be fully transparent about how a position may change over time. Full disclosure about goals, both long and short term, as well as an overview of potential shifts in priorities can make an ideal candidate a bit more at ease and can help reduce turnover.

Establish a culture that makes them want to go to work. We previously published an article accentuating the necessity of corporate culture and corporate brand. While a nice salary may bring in ideal clients, if company culture is lacking, employee retention could pose an issue. Ensure that your employees align with your mission and that your employees align with one another.

Seek out integrity, motivation, and self-starters. When hiring a team to build your empire, seek those who are impassioned, with the integrity to speak up, and venture out on their own. It’s important to build teams with soft skills as well as the technical skills mandatory to get the job done. Ideal candidates are highly effective networkers with the confidence and ambition to sell, shape, and enhance your mission.

Leverage alternative benefits. Brian Ardinger of NMotion suggests that due to a lack of revenue in the beginning, hiring managers for startups “leverage [potentially] things like equity, opportunity to build your portfolio, and a learning environment” in place of traditional benefits.

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  2. Pingback: Hiring for Potential vs Experience, Focus on Transferable Skills | Careerlink

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