When you're hiring for technical roles, the rules are pretty clear. You know the hard skills you need, and you can test for the abilities that will make someone successful. Of course there are other factors that may play into your decision, but at the end of the day, you’re looking for someone who has a specific set of concrete skills. If you're searching for non technical employees, however, it can be a little bit of a trickier ball game! There’s more room for subjectivity and more of a grey area when considering desired skill set and potential. It makes sense then that the question we get most often from CEO’s and hiring managers alike is "how do we hire for intangible skills?!"

It isn't easy, and there's no one way to ensure you're doing it right. After helping hundreds of companies find smart, awesome non tech folks for their teams, we do think we've figured out a way to identify that startup je ne sais quoi.. If you know the right things to look for and create a culture that attracts it, we don’t think it’s that hard at all to hire for hustle.

1. Define your company culture

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At a larger, more traditional company, you’re often looking for really specific qualifications and someone who can follow the rules. Things are totally different at a startup. The way we view work and the workplace has totally changed – so it makes sense that the way we hire needs to evolve with it! At an earlier stage company, you need people who can hit the ground running. You need folks who can contribute from day one, who aren’t scared away by ambiguity, and who really care about making an impact. You can’t always find these things on paper.

Hiring for non tech employees is so much more than looking at a person’s resume, especially at a small company. A candidate could check off all your boxes and still have an attitude that could rock your team (and not in a good way). Just because someone has the credentials doesn't always mean they have the aptitude and energy for growth, the willingness to learn, or the grit to fail! Figuring out what qualities you're looking for and what qualities will fit in best with your company vibe means you first have to figure out what that is.

If you're a team of outside the box thinkers, you want someone who can vibe with your energy and roll with the punches. If you're a team of data-loving hustlers, you want someone who can follow suit. If you're a team that works hard days and long hours, you want someone who can roll up their sleeves and get in there with you. Define what your team needs, and use it to help you create a roadmap of the qualities you're searching for.

2. Create a process to match

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Once you know who your ideal candidate it, you need to make sure that you have a structured process for how to attract the right kind of talent and how to assess applicants for your team. The job description is a good place to start, because it can establish your company personality from the get go! Little tweaks (like saying “you” instead of “the ideal candidate”) can go along way, and really well fleshed out job posts (especially ones that give a glimpse into company culture) see a 48% higher response rate on Planted. According to a LinkedIn study, 60% of job switchers made a jump because it offered stronger career growth -- so help candidates envision how they’ll learn and grow, and how they’ll make a difference along the way! For more on crafting the ideal post, check out our post on the 5 Steps for Writing the Perfect Job Description.

There is nothing worse than having the best candidate slip through the cracks because you didn’t have a plan in place, or because you weren’t on the same page about what both parties were looking for. While things always come up and processes can evolve over time, it’s best to start with a set interview process for each candidate to make sure you’re comparing apples to apples. An easy starting point is 15 minute calls, assessing overall aptitude and cultural fit. It’s also super important to make sure everyone from your team is on the same page about the steps you take to bring someone on board -- when leadership gets their wires crossed, it can definitely get messy.

3. Find people with the hustle you need

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Hustle: the emotional and mental stamina that makes someone resilient and successful.

Some people think “hustle” means you need to be a jerk, stepping on everyone in your way to get to the top. We disagree! When we talk about hustle, we mean passion, dedication, and intrinsic motivation. We mean people who care about what they’re doing, value your team, and volunteer to dive in. We’ve broken it down into these 4 qualities:

  • Passionate
    Do they care about what you’re doing? Are they excited to be there? Are they interested in the mission of your company? Do they truly want to make an impact?
  • Coachable
    How do they take feedback? Are they willing and excited to learn? Do they want to explore and wear lots of hats?
  • Self-Motivated
    Can they take initiative to do what needs to be done? Are they ready to provide constructive, innovative ideas for improvement? Will they handle failure and rejection?
  • GSD (Get Stuff Done)
    Are they efficient, tenacious, and smart? Can they really make things happen, even when times get tough?

So how do you actually screen for this in an interview, if you can’t always tell from a resume? We think it comes down to 3 things: asking the right questions, paying attention to the verbs, and assessing for attitude. Asking behavioral and situational questions, rather than only about someone’s past experiences, can be a great way to get insight into their responses and ideas. Ask juicy questions like: “what is your biggest professional or personal accomplishment to date?”, “when did you create something of value for your company?”, or “what professional skill are you most passionate about? What is the skill you most want to develop?”

Paying attention to the way someone speaks is equally important to what they’re saying in an interview. Active language vs. passive language can be an indicator of their performance -- scanning for key words and action verbs like create, produce, influence, accomplish, or lead (vs. help or assist) can show confidence in their accomplishments. Including in-person challenges or role plays that require candidates to think about the future, rather than just explaining what they’ve done on their resume, is a helpful way to see them think on their feet. Do they light up when they talk about things they feel passionate about? Can they verbalize how they would interact with your company and hit the ground running? You just found the je ne sais quoi!

Ready to find the next startup superstar for your growing company? Sign up on Planted to list your jobs with us and get awesome candidates sent your way!