Nine Rules for Building a Powerhouse Team at Your Company

Over the past few months I’ve built my team at Privy from a one-man show to a group of four that I am extremely proud of and excited to come work with every day. In that process, I talked to a lot of people, lots of whom I liked a lot—even if they weren’t the right fit for this company at this time. (Both of those matter.)


Between that experience and my own job searches in the last few years, I’ve been thinking a lot about where the process goes right and where it goes wrong. Along the way, I’ve put together a few takeaways worth sharing for anyone in a similar position. While I haven’t always followed these rules, I certainly try.


1. This company and this time matter. There are lots of really smart people who could be a great hire in a vacuum. But as companies grow and change, so does the skill set needed to be successful. For example, early stage companies need doers who can think but can’t afford people who are unwilling to roll up their sleeves every day (at least for a while). That means marketing leaders who write, sales leaders who make calls, and engineering leaders who code. If a candidate doesn’t want to “do the work,” they may not be the right fit.


2. Use the Amazon rule. In the past couple of years, both my wife and I have interviewed with Amazon and I love one of the rules they use for recruiting: Hire the right person as soon as you find them. That could be the first person or the 100th. And it could mean that the person who had to wait another week to come in never gets a shot. But when you know, you know. Don’t wait to make an offer for the sake of “the process.”


3. Care about the things you care about. I’m old-school on some things and I know it. But if someone’s habits don’t align with the way I like to work, it will end up being a frustrating experience for a long time for both sides. For me, that means placing value on candidates who bring a notebook and a paper resume to an interview, send prompt thank you notes, and dress professionally when we meet.  Even though I work for a startup, I’m still allowed to care about how candidates present themselves.


4. Have a laugh. You’re going to be spending a lot of time with anyone you hire. Make sure you can have a good time together. If you can joke around during an interview, you’re probably going to have fun working with them. And work should be fun!


5. Never try to convince someone to come (or stay). Hiring is a two-way street. While you shouldn’t be afraid to sell the opportunity that you’re offering, begging someone to join the team is unlikely to make a good long-term fit. If someone isn’t excited to come on board, they aren’t going to be excited to come to work every day.


6. Say “no” when you know that is the answer. Big companies with long hiring processes like to “keep a candidate warm” which is basically just code for “we’re not sure they are a good fit but we don’t have anyone better yet.” If you’re not going to offer someone a position, just tell them and save both sides the anxiety of stringing someone along who’s not the right fit.


7. Start evaluating candidates from the first point of contact. It’s become so easy to submit a resume with a click or two that people forget how important it is to make a great first impression, especially in public-facing roles. If they are a writer, they should be telling a story in their outreach and make sure there are no typos or grammar errors in their resumes. If they are in sales or account management, they should create a great opening email or call and follow up effectively. And if they are in marketing communications or PR, they should be pitching the hiring manager their story the way they would chase down a great piece of coverage.


8. Offer a reverse reference. I’ve never actually done this, but I’m happy to put a final candidate in touch with my former team members. I want to know what it’s like to work with you and you should get a chance to ask about working with me. Again, the interview process is for both sides, not just the hiring manager or the company.

9. Remember what it feels like. Looking for a job is hard. Really hard. Even the most confident of us stare at our phones and emails waiting for a response when we’re excited about an opportunity like we’re a teenager hoping to hear back from that someone we like. While hiring managers have tons going on other than actually making a hire, it can go a long way to check in every few days to let a good candidate know where they stand. You’re building a relationship with a potential team member, so show some empathy where you can.

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