What to Look for When Hiring for Growth in Startups: 7 Traits

Today I wanna talk about two traits that you absolutely should look out for if you’re hiring for a growth hire for your startup. After I tackle the must-haves, I’ll also talk about some of the nice-to-haves that you’re going to want to look out for in the case where you’re looking to do some hiring.

So there’s really only two things that I look for when it comes to an effective growth team hire. The first one is growth mindset, and the second one is coachability. So let’s dig into each of these and why they’re so important, especially in the context of a growth team.

Trait #1: Growth mindset

The first thing we have to understand is exactly what is a growth team within a startup and why are they so important. Well, growth teams are all about driving growth for companies, especially early-stage companies. That means reducing friction to time to value, as well as just driving more demand or leads to a business as well as just scaling a business in whatever way is most effective.

The reason why growth mindset is so helpful here is because if you don’t have a growth team where every single person thinks from a place of abundance and where they can learn more and test more things, then what’s gonna happen is you’re ultimately gonna reach a point in your growth where you’re just gonna taper out. And a simple reason is because you’re not running enough experience.

The growth mindset typically manifests itself in a couple of different ways from candidates. One way that you’ll see it is if they really are obsessive about how they learn different things. Ask them about past projects that they’ve worked on and see whether or not they really went from just going from a beginner to an intermediate, or if they took that extra step of going from intermediate to an advanced state or even a master at a particular thing.

A growth mindset means never really settling for exactly where you’re at today. It means that even if you’ve been working, for example, in SEO for five years, that you still feel like you have a ton to learn because you haven’t necessarily covered every single thing in your past war stories.

This is something that I regularly look for when hiring for a growth hire, because ultimately if you don’t have a growth mindset, it’s really hard to actually coach. It’s something where you certainly can tell somebody and give somebody that feedback, but there’s something about that raw instinct in terms of how you approach growth that is so critical in terms of the difference between an A plus player and then just another B player.

So that’s something that I would definitely recommend you look out for is how big or how ambitious is this person’s growth mindset. Is it something where you place it in the top 10% or the top quartile of folks that you’ve met, or is it something where you kind of sense it, but it kind of comes and goes based off of how they talk about their past work?

Trait #2: Coachability

The second thing that I look for is coachability, and the reason why I think this is so important in the context of growth is because growth is a relatively new area in the startup world. And what that means is that there’s a lot out there that’s kind of nebulous. There is uncertainty and unknowns about what exactly growth might look like at your company versus another company.

And so being able to be coachable means being able to get feedback, take that feedback, not take it personally, and then keep going in terms of improving and applying your growth mindset towards whatever the key objective or outcome is that the growth team is working on. Coachability also means that you don’t really have an ego. It means that when you receive that sort of harsher feedback or when the data comes back to you and your experiment completely failed, that you are still able to be managed out of that situation and that you don’t just get down on yourself.

So something that I look for in the interview process when it comes to coachability is I ask folks, tell me about a time when something didn’t go your way the first time that you tried to do it, and what did you do from there and how did you work with your manager to improve on that particular action? Then what was your outcome a little bit later after working on that skill?

The reason why this is so important is because what I found in managing different folks in sales, ops, customer success, and marketing is that you really can’t teach somebody to be coachable. They either want feedback or they don’t want feedback, and there’s a varying scale as to where they typically are on that scale. But the people that are most receptive to just eating up and listening to all the different things or perspectives that others may have about their work are the people that also go back to that trait on obsessiveness and growth mindset that are able to then master different skills quickly and then move on to the next thing and tackle through that thing.

So those are the two core must-have skills that I always look for in a growth team hire. I would never hire somebody that doesn’t really score really highly in both of those respective skills.

Trait #3: Being a hustler

A few other traits that are useful for a growth team higher include things like just being scrappy and being a hustler. The reason why being scrappy or being just a hustler is really useful on its growth team is usually growth teams are very lean, and so what that means is that you have to solve problems on a budget or you have to solve things really effectively and as efficiently as possible.

That requires people to think outside the box. It also requires people to really string things together in order to get it to a minimum viable test. And so I’ve always found it really great when a candidate can clearly answer the question, like, tell me about a time when you hacked something together. How, what did you do and how successful your outcomes? This can give you a sense of something where they really had to come up on the fly on something and then make something out of nothing.

Another way you can ask this question is by asking them about a time they really wanted to pull something off, but they didn’t have the budget to do so. How did they go about working around that constraint and what would they do differently looking back? This is a good way where you can also test them on their coachability as well as growth mindset because if they are self-aware enough, they will go ahead and also talk about the things that they would optimize differently the second time around.

Trait #4: Self-awareness

That actually naturally leads me to another nice to have, which is self-awareness. If the growth hire that you’re looking to hire doesn’t have a strong self-awareness, it means that you’re gonna have to do way more managing of that person.

If they don’t know, for example, that the way that they are interfacing with a customer or the way that they’re interfacing with another team member is potentially rubbing that other person the wrong way, well, it’s gonna lead to conflict in the workplace, which is going to lead to delayed milestone and delayed work and shipping towards the outcomes that you guys are driving towards.

And so having a high sense of self-awareness is so important. And this also kind of carries into how you recognize your strengths and weaknesses. Growth is very broad in a lot of different early stage companies, and so what that means, is that your growth team has to know what they’re really good at as well as where they’re weak.

A good example I can think of is somebody on my growth team recently wanted to put together a set of Facebook video ads, and that’s something in which they’re not a strong videographer, but rather than just dwell on that or try to learn that themselves the hard way and spend way too much time learning how to do that, they went ahead and started thinking about where can I find a creative agency or a videographer to plug in for that skill set while then teeing them up with some sort of project brief that clearly states the sort of video that I want.

That’s that sort of scrappiness and resourcefulness that comes from starting from a strong state of self-awareness of knowing your strengths and knowing your weaknesses.

Trait #5: Somebody who gets the work done

And then another trait that I’d say is a really great trait to look for in a growth hire is somebody who isn’t afraid to roll up their sleeves and just get the work done.

In any high-performing growth team, there’s gonna be a ton of experiments being run, and that often means that there are things that don’t fall into the typical job description that need to be fulfilled. And so the best team members and the ones who are able to rise up the ranks over time are the people who don’t complain about the new work that comes up or the work that might not necessarily fall into the work of anybody in particular on the team.

Instead, they’re problem-solving and they’re actively working through how we can go ahead and get that work shipped which naturally leads me to another thing, which is having a creative problem-solving skill set.

Trait #6: Creative problem solving

This is where I’d say a really exceptional growth hire is not only able to see the first order condition, but also the second order condition of what is the impact of this particular test or thing that you are working on.

What does that mean? First, sort of conditions of things that you pretty much can assume most people would be able to figure out. Whereas the second order conditions are the sort of the results that might happen as a result of a broader strategic change. So say for example, you are changing your homepage in which you’re changing it from just booking a demo to potentially having a 14 day free trial.

Well, the first order sort of outcome from that sort of change is probably gonna be that there’s going to be more 14 day trials, but the second order sort of outcome that might come from that is that you’re gonna have to start thinking about how to build a more product led growth motion because you now have a lot more traffic and you have to deliver on this key trial experience.

So notice how you’re thinking about not only what the immediate consequences of the test today, but also what is the consequence of this down the line in terms of downstream implications on other tests or parts of our company and what we do that lead us to getting to value for our prospect or our customers.

So these are the sorts of things that a really effective growth hire are going work through in the case where they are really thinking about all the different ways that they can grow your business.

Trait #7: Being humble

And then the last trait that I’d say is so useful is that your growth hire is just incredibly humble. This is something in which growth is going to often have exponential movements if you are working in a high-performing team. And so it’s really important that your growth team is humble across the board. And if there you don’t have a character who just thinks you know, “Hey, I’m a hot shot because I ship this thing where we 10X the conversion rate on XYZ page.”

No one cares at the end of the day. Like, sure, it was great for the business, but no one really wants to work with that sort of person. And so having somebody or a set of team members that are all humble and really in this to just create the best user experience for your customers and prospects is the best sort of world that you can be in when it comes to scaling a growth team.

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