Like it or not we bring bias to our hiring and this will inhibit your success.

Your startups’ business success will be based on the strength of your first hires. These first employees will either be additive to your organization and provide the juices to do more than the business could execute previously, or they will be a negative drain on you and others resulting in either a stalled company or worse a cratering entity.

How will you know which one you are hiring?

HR managers and recruiters everywhere spend thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours creating a hiring process with the goal of landing rock stars. In order to maximize their chances, they build a hiring process that goes like this:

  1. Develop a job description aka a wish list of characteristics, credentials and experiences
  2. Create awareness for the position through as many channels as you can afford (Craigslist, LinkedIn, Careerbuilder, Monster, Local Job Boards, and their website).
  3. Push everyone interested into the same structured funnel (resume, cover letter, web form).
  4. Review candidates either manually or with a software system using keywords and match those against the job description.
  5. Reduce the funnel to a manageable # of candidates (short list) and either call them or bring them into for a face-to-face interview with the recruiter (can you pass their screen?)
  6. The short short list is then brought back to you (the hiring manager, CEO, etc.) for another set of interviews where the goal is to select the best of this set. (As most of you are untrained with hiring interview techniques, our natural bias is to identify candidates that are most like ourselves).

There are two major problems with this process:

  1. The organization has deluded themselves into thinking that because you have a process that the process will maximize the chance to land that special new employee, and
  2. There is no way that unique, rule-breaking, curious, business-changing candidates get through that screen.

Congratulations, you have now found the candidate that checks off as many of your generic, meaningless criterion as possible. This person is vanilla ice cream. They will most likely produce vanilla results, inspire more people to like vanilla, and never try to push everyone to consider other flavors.

Adam Grant recently wrote a fantastic piece about originals, non-conformists and trailblazers for First Round Capital. Originals move the needle. Originals take you to places you could not even imagine when you hired them. For startups where your ultimate company/product/service success point is still a squishy object in the distant future, you need more of these people. Vanilla just wont cut it.

The first thing you need to do is blow up your hiring process. Forget about job descriptions, job boards and multi-step screening interviews. You want to find original rock stars? Go out and talk to as many people as possible–in other words open up the top of your funnel and tell everyone about your culture and what personal culture characteristics you think would rock at your organization.

Then follow Adam’s hiring questions as a starting point in ferreting out whether these candidates think differently. Don’t ask for a resume and don’t ask them to talk about their skills–originals will blow you away before you get to those checkboxes.