6 tips for choosing the right IT staff members at your startup or small business

For many small business ventures, the difference between success and failure rests in the hands of a precious few. Finding talented individuals capable of hitting the ground running while successfully conforming to a unique company culture can be a make-or-break proposition, especially when it comes to an area as crucial as IT.

If you are looking to add an individual with the drive, skills, and entrepreneurial spirit to help your team and business grow, consider these six tips:

1. Don’t let the past cloud your future
IT staff candidates with extensive on-the-job experience commonly come with higher salary requirements, so it makes sense for a startup to place a greater emphasis on quality than quantity. Consider the extent that Internet and computer technology have changed in the workplace over the past 10 years. Do you really want to be paying someone for a vast knowledge base spanning concepts and technology that are long obsolete? While it is certainly a benefit to find people who have proven they can perform, there is also value in choosing candidates with less time in the field but commensurate experience executing the tasks you specifically need performed.

2. Test communication skills
There is a big difference between the way candidates communicate in interviews and how they listen and relate on the job. In order to make strategic IT decisions you need professionals who are capable of accurately understanding instructions, requirements, and parameters, and who have the rare skill of being able to communicate complicated technical concepts in layman’s terms. Ask candidates to not only share anecdotal experiences in which they worked with non-IT personnel to solve problems, but also give them real scenarios from within your organization. This can help you determine if they are able to make correct assumptions and provide reasonably appropriate solutions.

3. Look for resourceful candidates
Startups generally have tight restrictions on resources that are vital to organizational growth. To find the type of employees who can take your business where you want it, challenge candidates with exceedingly difficult scenarios and see if they are capable of breaking them down in ways that, at minimum, account for your basic necessities. These are not perfect-world scenarios – they are real-world scenarios. What you are looking for are people able to check any rigid preconceptions at the door and demonstrate significant resourcefulness. They should have a strong grasp of the lean philosophy that is often so crucial to early-stage success.

4. Put a premium on versatility
Anyone who has been part of a startup or small business understands the value in hiring a group of individuals who buy into the team concept and are willing and able to pitch in on multiple fronts. Not only are you looking for employees with broad IT capabilities, but people with diverse skill sets who can work productively with peripheral departments. A candidate with an aptitude for writing and communicating might bolster your ability to generate high-quality original content for your online marketing campaign, while an interest in art and design could be an asset in developing a branded visual image and online presence.

5. Look for someone willing to lead
In some business settings, employers are actually looking for IT professionals who are content operating from a position of singularity with little room for upward growth. In a startup, the ideal candidates are primed for present-day challenges, but also have the drive to tackle future opportunities. There may come a day when the folks you hire have an entire team or department working under them, so try and confirm that they have the capacity and desire to evolve into effective leaders.

6. Value experience with adversity
It is a well known fact that startups and new small businesses face steep uphill battles on the path to success, and nearly all experience a fair share of adversity along the way. You don’t necessarily need team members who have traveled the exact same roads before, but it can be reassuring to know the people you put your faith in have had their character tested in the past. While failure is an unfortunate reality in life, what you are looking for are workers who can take a shot to the chin without buckling and fight off adversity with confidence and strength.

Strong IT capabilities are essential to successful business ventures in the modern age. By valuing candidates who not only have relevant experience and diverse skills, but also possess the drive and resilience to develop as professionals, you can find the right IT staff for your startup or small business.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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