As an investor, founder, CEO and business book author, I write about startups, design, how to build a good business, and I like to muse about culture in any form.

Hiring for “original” and not for culture fit

That's the guy I want to hire

That’s the guy I want to hire

Hiring is the most important activity of any startup. Yet a lot of the conventional wisdom does not sit right with me. There’s always such an emphasis on culture fit. But my own recruiting leans towards people whose personality and background do not particularly “fit” with the existing team. They add.

As such I really liked this piece by CK Lin called “Why ‘Culture Fit’ Means Nothing (And How Startups Can Hire Correctly.)”  The key quote:

The corporate behemoths need employees who can fall in line—who fit right in, get along, and play nice with fellow employees. Startups, on the other hand, need employees who are more inspiring, more original and more impactful.

It was the word “original” that particular grabbed me. I am always probing for independent thinking when I interview. I want to hear that a choice of a college major, or a career decision, or a career detour comes from a strong personal viewpoint. Not conventional wisdom. Not a person’s parents. Not as a passive reaction to an inbound opportunity.

Here are a couple ways that can work for me.  If a candidate went to an Ivy League school, I find myself really torn. On one hand I know they have a certain level of intellect and/or work ethic. But I worry that they just followed an obvious path, or a family legacy, rather than really explore the best choice for themselves. Of course we’ve hired people from those schools, and I even went to one myself.  But I find myself fighting an internal fear of convention in evaluating an Ivy League candidate.

On the other hand, I can be overly attracted to candidates with unique and even rogue resumes. I gravitate towards the ones who “threw it all over” to see the world, or switched from being a lawyer to a marketer, or took a detour to start a nonprofit. I impute that they can deal with the ambiguity of high growth, that they will have the confidence to challenge, and that they will also be interesting to their colleagues.

When I think of the people who are additive at Grommet they do meet many of the criteria outlined by the post’s author:

Culture contributors love what they do. You’ll see a lot of infectious smiles, positivity, and humor that spreads to those around them.

They won’t be afraid to question things that are misaligned with your culture and values, and to suggest growth opportunities when they see them. By their very example, culture contributors hold up a mirror and reflect what you’re doing right or not doing at all, day in and day out.

It’s a balance of positivity, work ethic, and questioning that creates a magic combination in a startup employee. We are not looking for “yes” men/women.  We are looking for “yes, and….” people.  They consistently say yes to the demands of the mission (day in and day out) but are not complacent. They approach a challenge or problem with an additive attitude, even if they are fundamentally disagreeing with the matter at hand.

This takes confidence, independence, physical stamina, originality, and belief.

And as CEO, these people give me the energy to work hard to make Grommet worthy of their time.

7 Responses to “Hiring for “original” and not for culture fit”

  1. Nicholas Pieri

    Makes total sense to me! I love reading this perspective. As a Geography/English major who went on to carpentry and social entrepreneurship, I’ve always wanted to work with diverse teams of interesting people who have taken different paths to get where they are and contribute in original ways. It seems like a great recipe for making the sum of a team greater than its parts.

    • julespieri

      Nicholas, Thanks for chiming in here. Life is to short to just work with clones of yourself. But…you did not mention the most interesting part of your being here: your last name! I rarely “meet” Pieris!

      • ntp4

        You know Jules, that wasn’t lost on me and it is interesting! When I was first introduced to The Daily Grommet several years ago, I was asked if we were related (don’t think so, but you never know)! I just recently began reading your blog and think it’s great, as is your business, of course!

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