Hiring for culture & values

A high-growth company is fragile, and having people pull in different directions, or wasting time in pointless philosophical arguments, can be lethal. Early on, you want to hire people with common values and goals, who are all pulling in the same direction. This does not mean you want clones or want to create groupthink, but you do want people who will work well together toward shared goals.

1. Determine the sort of values and culture you are optimizing for. Ask yourself the following questions, and get input from the broader employee base:

  • What are the cornerstones of your company’s culture? What sort of values do you want people you hire to have?
  • What are you willing to compromise on? What are you not? (note: if you are willing to compromise on it, it is not important to you.)
  • How do you plan to screen for these values in your interviews? What questions do you plan to ask at each stage to surface candidates’ values? For example, if you are selecting for people who will dive in proactively to solve problems they identified outside of their own responsibilities, ask about past examples where they have done so in other jobs.
  • How do your values, interview questions, and filters ensure you can attract and hire diverse candidates?

2. Look out for red flags. Each company has its own values and therefore its own red flags. Some common ones may include:

  • People whose sole motivation is financial. While you want employees to be richly rewarded for their work, you also want people who care about the company’s mission or the impact it is having. Overly mercenary people will always leave for the highest bidder, or make poor short-term decisions for financial gain.
  • Arrogance. There is a fine line between self-confidence and arrogance. When I interview people for engineering roles, the smartest people write down the question and work through it. The people who think they were the smartest try to do it in their heads and get it wrong.
  • People who will likely create a bad environment for the rest of the team. That might be because they have low energy or a negative outlook, are needlessly argumentative, focused on philosophy over pragmatism, or other issues.

If people seem technically great but were a bad fit culturally, you should reject them as a candidate.

3. Optimize for the long term. Every founder has that moment of temptation: there is a big hole you want to fill. You have been looking for the right candidate for too long and can’t find her. Or, even worse, you finally find someone great for the role, but he seems borderline or outright bad culturally.

The right strategy is to not hire the person. “If there is a doubt, there is no doubt” unfortunately proves itself to be true over and over again.