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Make Non-Obvious Hires

Clara Shih

Some of our top-performing employees come from unconventional backgrounds. Especially in the early stages of a startup, there is so much to do that your priority should be hiring the very best people (scrappy, get things done, cultural fit) and then figuring out how to make them fit in your organization later. You shouldn't be worrying about fitting hires into neat little boxes with specific roles and titles.

Here’s how to find them:

  • Think of everyone you meet as a potential new hire. The person you run into at a conference, an airport or a coffee shop could be your next star employee.
  • Think creatively about transferrable skills and experience. Read between the lines of resumes and seek out nontraditional backgrounds. One of our business development managers, Miguel, previously worked on an Egyptian cruise ship on the Nile. It works because he is used to interfacing with a wide range of cultures and personalities, quickly establishing rapport, and adapting quickly to changing conditions. We also have a neuroscience PhD who was researching neural networks now on our data science team. She has discovered that there are interesting parallels between synaptic networks in our brain and social networks, and is now applying machine learning and graph theory to helping our customers grow their business.
  • Invent positions for people who are really special but don’t fit a traditional career path. Greg, one of our product managers, is another great example. He was living in Southern California, surfing and doing SEO for a surfing company. We didn't have a need for surfers or for a dedicated search optimization person, so we hired him and decided to figure it out later. He started our data science team and has gone on to become a talented PM.
  • Ensure culture fit by ensuring everyone you hire shares your company’s values. For example, we value execution speed and believe very much that results trump appearances. We want doers, not talkers. We articulate this and our other values on our careers page as well as throughout the interview cycle. If a candidate is overly focused on title, this is usually a red flag to us that they might value outward appearances over actual results.
  • Create a true meritocracy where even non-obvious hires can excel and get promoted according to their contribution and capabilities. Employee #1 at Hearsay, Chris, started with us a year out of college working in customer support. From there, we stretched him by putting him in a product manager role where he succeeded despite not having a technical background. Over time, we asked him to contribute to a growing number of sales deals. This year, we promoted him to run Europe for us. Chris and many other internally promoted leaders inspire the rest of our employees to think out of the box and challenge themselves to grow, knowing that their options at Hearsay Social are limitless.
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