Startup hiring: What to do when you discover your perfect candidate has a major flaw

Startup hiring: What to do when you discover your perfect candidate has a major flaw

Every founder wants to hire only the best. But human beings are complex creatures. We all have our own unique strengths and weaknesses. So what do you do when you find someone who seems like the perfect fit, and then discover they suck at something important?

Do you try to coach them through their weaknesses? Do you ignore the problem and try to double down on their strengths? Or a bit of both?

Hiring is one of the most important decisions you’ll make as a startup founder. Yet it’s rarely a matter of simply finding someone who ticks all the boxes.



Always hire for what someone can do today. Not tomorrow.

If there’s a golden rule of hiring, it’s that you need someone who can provide value to you and your company today. Not tomorrow. I know it’s tempting to hire a ‘diamond in the rough’ and think you can coach them into a killer team member, but that’s not the way things usually work out.

Maybe they’re lacking an essential skill. Or they don’t have the experience or background necessary for your business. Or, they’re simply just not good enough at a certain task.

Whatever their weakness, you need to ask yourself: Can this person become a valuable and productive member of our team despite these issues?

If the answer is no, I wouldn’t hire or work with this person.

This might sound harsh. But it comes from years of experience. We all want to believe people can change. And they can. We are all capable of incredible transformations and there’s nothing more exciting to me than seeing that happen.

However, you can’t put a timeframe on change. Even if someone is aware of their weaknesses and shows a willingness and motivation to fix them, you cannot know when or if that change will actually happen.

This mantra is especially true if you’re hiring your first employee. You’ll want to have a stand-out team from the get-go, as it gives your startup a higher chance of survival.

You can only judge someone on who they are now and what they can provide for your company today. Not tomorrow.

Is this person’s weak skill a “must have” or a “nice to have”?

Of course, this situation isn’t always straightforward. We all have our weaknesses, and I’m not saying you should pass on hiring someone if they have any problems (because then you’d never hire anyone).

You need to know if the weakness you’ve identified is going to impact their ability to do the job you’re paying them to do.

One way to look at this is to decide whether their weak skill is a ‘must have’ or a ‘nice to have’?

For example, let’s say you’re looking to hire a sales person who’s great at communicating on emails but a disaster on calls. Is this going to stop them from doing their job?

If your sales process involves a lot of phone calls, then this is a “must have” skill and you most likely shouldn’t hire them.

However, if your entire process happens over email or IM, then talking to customers on the phone is a “nice to have” skill and they might still be a good candidate. You can always change the expectations of the role or hire someone else to take over those responsibilities.

Value is always more important than potential

You want to hire people you can fully accept for who they are today. If this person never changes or improves, hiring them will still be a good call. Of course, if they want to change and have the potential to improve that is a huge bonus. But it’s not required.

Potential is not a requirement. Value is.

If a new teammate can’t show value right away, that’s a bad investment for both of you. You’re going to spend time and energy trying to “fix” this person. And they’re going to waste time on a job that ultimately isn’t the right fit.

The more time you put into these doomed relationship, the more expensive it’s going to get, and the harder it’s going to be when you eventually have to let them go. It’s better to recognize the issues early on and go your separate ways.

Keep tabs on people with amazing potential but who aren’t quite ready

There will always be situations where you feel like the person you’re interviewing is on the cusp of greatness, but aren’t quite there yet.

In these cases, it can be hard to let them go, knowing they will most likely get hired somewhere else (maybe even by your competitors). But how many times have you known someone who had a weakness, wanted to change, but didn’t?

This doesn’t mean you’ll never work with this person. Just that you’re not ready to work together right now.

Instead, keep tabs on them. Follow up with them on a monthly basis and see how they’re growing and transforming. Offer to help wherever you can. Even if they get hired somewhere else, keep checking in. They’re going to get better and when you’re ready to make them a part of your team, you’ll have the relationships to do so.

Ask yourself this question about everyone on your team

If you’re on the fence about hiring someone for your startup, just ask: Will I be happy hiring who they are today?

This approach extends beyond just new hires. Look at your current employees and even your cofounders. Are they providing the value they promised and that you need to run a successful company?

It can be easy to get wrapped up in someone’s potential. But potential is never a guarantee. Hire for value and you’ll never be disappointed.

What have been your experiences hiring people you were unsure of? Have you coached people through their weaknesses successfully? Let me know in the comments below.

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