Sigma Prime Information Exchange Event: How to Hire the Best

Last week, our offices were bustling with over 40 entrepreneurs from the Boston area.  Everyone gathered for our fall kick-off event on hiring best practices for startups.  “It is a war for talent out there and we recognize that it is a very tough environment to recruit teams.  We hope that you will walk away from tonight’s event with some new nuggets to help you build your teams” said John Simon, Managing Director at Sigma Prime.

Two groups quickly broke out to hear from hiring experts Todd McCarthy (Matlin Partners) on hiring practices for sales & marketing functions and Ed Takacs (High Tech Ventures) on hiring technical talent.  It is hard to be prescriptive or formulaic about hiring because it so personal and situational..a note that both speakers touched on.  And yet, while each hiring process is so highly dependent on the individual business, the key elements or process flow can be standardized to an extent.  This fact was apparent in the speakers’ messages which emphasized eerily similar sentiments around self-reflection and experience of hire. 

When you go to hire, most people mistakenly believe the process is kicked off when the job description or ad is written; however, this is where a flawed process will begin.  A successful search will first start with self-reflection from the team.  Who are we?  What is our culture?  Where are we strong?  What are our shortcomings and who do we need to fill those gaps?  Who do we want to work with and which type of person could thrive here?...the list goes on.  You will not be setting anyone up for success at your company if you don’t first recognize what success will look like.  Once you have established your success criteria, then it is appropriate to draft the job description.  It is hard to “know the right person when you see them” especially if you don’t know what should look like to begin with.

Another prominent theme from the evening was in regards to hiring at the right experience levels.  As McCarthy so aptly put it, “Everyone wants the Ferrari but only wants to pay for the Yugo”.  If I have learned anything from life, it is that nothing comes for free.  Sometimes the marketer who has built the storied career at a Fortune 500 is NOT a fit for a startup.  Not only do they demand a high price point but they might not be nimble enough to succeed.  They are so used to processes and thinking “high level” that they have forgotten what it means to roll up your sleeve and get things done.  Alternatively, hiring directly from college, while it maintains an appealing price point, requires attention and coaching from the experienced team members in order to acclimate new grads into the working world.  Both speakers encouraged CEOs to hire competent people.  Don’t shy away from having to train someone.  “Skills are secondary to me since people can learn them.  I would rather focus on intelligence and deliverability.  A person who delivers things learns skills.  A person who has 1 skill is a technician,” espoused Takacs.  Ironic how this advice encourages CEOs who are asking investors to take a leap of faith on an idea to take a leap of faith on potential talent.

All and all, the evening was tremendous fun filled with inspired and rousing discussions.  A great way for CEOs to be a bit more introspective and dive a little deeper into an area of their business that is critical for success.  Thank you to everyone who attended – we had a blast and are already working on planning our next event!

Connect with the author, Katelyn Staley Johnson, or comment below.