Once you advance beyond the point of being an individual contributor in business, you henceforth have to keep your eyes open to assess people who may be able to join/advance your team.  You should always have a pretty good idea of gaps in your team, and you should always be on the lookout for people who can fill those gaps.  Sometimes those gaps exist at a senior level — executives, board members, etc.  Other times, those gaps are in specific operational areas.

What makes people "qualified" for roles in our business?  Here are some high level thoughts on how I generally assess whether someone is qualified and fits our team:

  1. Converse, listen intently & ask questions — formal interviews, pitches, etc. are a really terrible way to meet someone.  One party judges the other, which is probably on edge.  This isn't how you'd work together, yet many relationships start this way.  It's a bad idea.  Make it comfortable and as natural as you can.
  2. Don't trust education, a resume', or someone's work history at face value — the best institutions in the world have people who either snuck in or didn't belong.  Similarly, bright people can come from all backgrounds.  Such things tell you there is perhaps a higher/lower probability that the person has a good pedigree, but there are no guarantees.  Which leads me to #3…
  3. Find the best in everyone — just about everyone you will meet is capable of great things.  If you don't know where that is in someone after conversing over an hour, you missed out.  It isn't to say that there will be a match for your business, but I think you're cheating yourself if you spend time talking with someone and you write him/her off immediately because of something that is/is not on their resume' or in their past.
  4. Seek insight and creativity — No matter what you're seeking, creativity and insight will be important as you move forward.  Better candidates will just offer it in the course of a conversation because that's how they're wired.  Just don't expect accuracy — very few people will know your business or market as much as you do.
  5. Assess initiative and hustle — nothing beats a hard worker who understands what a startup is all about and then is compelled to hustle naturally.  Bonus points here for the self-motivated people out there.

I've interviewed hundreds of people in previous lives and taken oodles of interviewer training.  So maybe it's gotten easier for me over time.  In my opinion, the most qualified people are consistent in these areas — they can't help but operate at a high level most of the time.  So while it can probably be masked for an interview, it can't be faked for long.

The next step for you as you assess qualified candidates for your startup is to seek proof that "talk" is backed up with substance.  At the end of the day, that's where the rubber hits the road.  Skip this step at your own peril.  Make it part of your decision-making process, and you'll minimize costly hiring mistakes.