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Hiring was traditionally focused on experience. If you needed someone to join your team, you looked to your competitors and tried to attract the best people with the relevant experience.


However, times are a-changin’! In this article, movemeon looks at how hiring across all sectors has moved more towards being focused on skills. We then look into why this still creates issues in start-ups, before turning our attention to how great start-ups hire and what we can all learn from them.


Times are a-changin’!


The rules for hiring talent have changed. It wasn’t that long ago that recruiters were focused on headhunting people with relevant experience to make moves between competitors. However, the increased amount of data resulting from new technology has meant skills between functions have become much more transferable. In addition to this, there’s been huge growth in “industry agnostic” careers like consulting and banking: they attract and train great talent who often don’t have an industry affiliation (“generalists”).


It didn’t take companies long to realise that hiring based on experience alone unnecessarily limits your talent pool. So how can you assess potential hires who don’t have deep experience in the industry? We’ve found an increasing focus on skills.


To many, this isn’t revolutionary: there’s always been an element of skill assessment. However, what has been revolutionary is the ability to hire people without deep industry expertise.


But things aren’t quite so easy in early-stage start-ups


The challenge in start-ups is two-fold. Firstly, as the tech industry expands there is a supply and demand issue (i.e., there are a lot more jobs than people with the skills to match them). A classic example of this over the past few years has been “Product managers”: every business wants great product people, but there are very few with the complete skill set required.


Secondly, start-ups are constantly in a stage of flux. Businesses have to be reactive and priorities change, resulting in changes to organisation structure and individuals roles. So whilst start-ups can give a relatively good articulation of the skills required for the role they initially envisage, it’s a lot harder over 6 months. Whilst there are some skills that are unlikely to change (i.e., analytics will always be helpful in a business intelligence role), the supplementary skills can/will. It’s these supplementary skills that make the difference between a good hire and a great hire.


It is, therefore, a lot harder to hire on skill alone in start-ups.


So what do great start-ups do about it?


We’ve seen how a lot of businesses hire, and it varies a lot. However, there’s one common theme we’ve seen in many great start-ups: the increasing focus on “intrinsics”.


In any role, there is a hygiene level of skills required (e.g., strong analytics in insight). This has to be built into the hiring process. However, we’ve recently noticed an increased level of attention on the deeper routed “intrinsics”.


Whilst how people refer to these varies, they broadly seem to align to the following:

  • Smarts – pure intellectual horsepower (think IQ)
  • Attitude/keenness – how excited they are by the product, team and their life (think Positive Mental Attitude)
  • Drive – how strong is their drive to succeed (think competitiveness/ inverse of laziness)
  • People skills – how well do they get on with people (EQ)


Whilst we’d love everyone to excel on all of these, we are only hiring humans! So we find they typically look for three spikes out of the four.


It’s not just what you look for, it’s how you look for it


The other thing great start-ups do is they find innovative ways to test these “intrinsics”. Interviews are notoriously bad at identifying the best people for a job. So the best start-ups hire by using some innovative approaches. We’ve seen a huge variety in approaches, but some that stick front-of-mind:

  • Live project work: go and launch this product to 100 customers and come back to us with your findings
  • Product testing: can you user test our product and come back to us with recommendations
  • Hacking tests/logic tests: please can you sit this logical/reasoning test


Whilst again, some of the ideas above might not be revolutionary,  here at movemeon, we are constantly surprised at how rarely they are used – especially given the proven ineffectiveness of “experience-based” interviews. So maybe we can all learn from how start-ups have been forced into hiring.