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Hire for personality, not just skills, to build your startup team

Finding people with the right experience and skills to build your new business is critical, but it's the personality mix of a startup team that can make or break a small business.

My business partners and I are in the midst of hiring our first set of team members for our startup. As you would expect, we looked first at the skill sets we needed to meet the expanding demands of our new clients. Skills inventories were created and budgets allotted for the talent search and placement. The easy part, we knew, was now done.

The easy part? With decades of startup experience between us, we understood that adding a particular skill to a startup team is not rocket science. Of course, it is often the case that the right skill can't be found in your area, but with the help of today's mobile and virtual technologies, there are numerous opportunities to hire resources in other cities or other parts of the world. What each of us had learned the hard way is that finding the right skill set for a startup team is not nearly as difficult as hiring the right personality.

As one of my partners eloquently put it, the team chemistry is in the personality mix. One bad element … and BAM! The whole lab goes up in smoke.

This is never more the case than when a business is just starting or still relatively small. In that fragile time, the impact of a bad personality mix can have a ripple effect that spreads through the startup team and can even cascade to the customer-facing side of the business. Unlike in large corporations where the negative impact of a bad hire can be contained, in a small business, the mistake can be disastrous.

Let's say that, like us, you are trying to foster a very collaborative, innovative culture. If you bring in someone who has skills in spades but who, for example, doesn’t like to think out of the box or would rather work off in the corner and just throw completed work over the wall to the rest of the team, the culture you've worked hard to build will suffer. A positive attitude can be contagious, to be sure, but -- trust me -- a negative one spreads faster and can often leave a lasting scar on your new business.

Myers-Briggs, Jung help in building the right startup team

So my approach and advice is to always hire the right person and not solely the right skill. A skill set can be enhanced through training and practice in order to meet the company need. Personality traits and tendencies, however, are never as easy to hone or change.

When bringing in candidates, I always try to put them in front of as many of the existing startup team members as possible. This allows for the personalities currently in the mix to get a feel for what would come with the new hire. Equally important, the candidate can get a better understanding of what they may be getting themselves into. And remember, many times, hiring the right personality with good skills is not about hiring the types of personalities that are the same as or similar to the rest of the team. As a leader that wants to grow your business, often you will need to add other catalysts to the chemistry to elicit change and innovation.

Also, don't be afraid to lean on experts in assessing the right candidate. Based on advice from a fellow entrepreneur, I recently brushed up on my understanding of the personality metrics from Myers-Briggs and Carl Jung to help me identify the personality traits that could be good fit for our new company. My intention here is not to use these traits as strict measurements and as a means of excluding candidates. I am hoping to use these metrics to better assess a job candidate's potential impact on our team and, if hired, help the person make the greatest contribution to our team.

One more piece of advice: Be sure to remember that you will need to assess your own personality and character traits to best grow and lead your startup team to success. After all, you don't want to be the one that causes the whole company to go up in smoke because you became the negative element in the culture mix.

About the author:
When he's not starting new businesses, Bryan Barringer is an independent enterprise mobility consultant and speaker, specializing in mobility, user adoption, UX/UI design, customer acquisition, product design/management, and strategy and business development. Most recently, at FedEx, he was in charge of evaluating mobile solutions for operations and sales professionals, and leading FedEx Services' Office of Mobility and Collaboration.

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