The Best Way to Tell If an Engineer Will Fit Your Startup Culture

Expert Tips to Hire for Engineer Jobs Successfully

You’re a startup. You’re hiring for engineer jobs. You know if you get the wrong people, it will disrupt your team dynamic and harm your business. Research by McKinsey & Company has found culture is what separates the highest-performing organizations from the rest.

Of course, technical ability is essential – without it you wouldn’t be able to produce groundbreaking products. The magic that produces a sustainable competitive advantage, though, is culture. If you’re not hiring for cultural fit, you are unlikely to achieve your long-term potential.

The question is, how do you tell if an engineer will fit your startup culture?

Identify Your Startup Culture

McKinsey’s report says, “Culture is the common set of behaviors and underlying mindsets and beliefs that shape how people work and interact day to day.”

We asked Mackenna Dsouza, VP of Engineering at a series-B startup, what this means to him and his team. He highlighted nine key attributes that he looks for in a candidate when considering the startup culture:

  1. A ‘do whatever it takes’ attitude
  2. Curiosity, and the desire to question everything
  3. High energy
  4. Execution-focused, with the enthusiasm to follow through
  5. Ability to work in an unstructured environment and bring structure
  6. Ability to be decisive with limited data
  7. Ability to deal with uncertainty
  8. Servant leader
  9. Sound technical grounding

Amanda Benson, Executive Recruitment Consultant at Kofi Group, says that moving from a big company to a startup is often seen as exciting by candidates, but can lead to a culture clash.

“If an engineer is going from a big corporation to a startup it can be a challenge. When coming from a large corporation to a small startup an engineer may have to wear many different hats. Startups require a bit more flexibility and you must be able to pivot swiftly,” she says.

Learn How to Judge on First Impressions

Often, it is possible to know if a candidate will fit in with your culture. Your gut instinct tells you so because of your deep knowledge of your startup. You know what your people do, how, and why.

Amanda describes the process of gaining this intuition like a two-pronged approach. You can’t rely on an irresistible resume to tell you what you need to know.

“You just have to get to know your client’s needs and your candidate’s goals. The secret sauce is simply speaking to people and understanding what they want,” she says.

“You must have a firm understanding of what the candidate liked and didn’t like in their current/past roles, what they expect from their next role, and their ultimate career goals. Once you understand your candidate’s expectations, it is fairly easy to determine the type of culture they will need to excel.”

She then compares candidate to client.

“The final piece is understanding the culture of the company,” she continues. “It is crucial to understand the expectations of the current team to find a perfect match. This ensures the longevity of employment and complete satisfaction with both parties.”

To be fair, Amanda does have a flair for spotting cultural fit.

“When speaking with people, I catch a vibe and I can usually tell straight away if they are going to be a fit (at least culturally wise) with a company I am representing,” she explains. “For example, I connected with a small startup looking for an NLP candidate. I had an awesome NLP engineer interviewing with another client. However, after speaking with the new startup I knew this NLP Engineer would be an excellent fit. So, I contacted my candidate to describe the opportunity.

“After our discussion, the NLP Engineer agreed the role with the startup would be a better fit with their skillset and career goals. That placement was over a year ago and the NLP Engineer is still satisfied in the position and thriving in their role.”

Use Your Story as the Starting Gun for a Successful Hire

Amanda’s story demonstrates how important your story (elements such as brand, people, products, and culture) is to hire successfully. She was able to explain her client’s story to the candidate and let the candidate see that it was a company and workplace in which the candidate would excel.

Next Step: Develop Relationships with Engineers

A lot of hiring advice recommends that you should screen an employee before getting to know something about them. This isn’t necessarily the case. Often, it works best the other way around.

Tell your story, assess the candidate’s excitement, let them meet the people they will be working with, and introduce them to what they will be doing. A large part of this process is done by the recruiters at Kofi on behalf of our client. We build a relationship with the candidate as the advocate of our clients, getting to understand all needs.

This is why we are so successful at matching people to roles and hiring companies, and why we can execute hiring requirements rapidly.

Interview for Technical and Cultural Fit

When it comes to the interview, you’ll want to ensure that you interview effectively. In our article ‘How to interview engineers for your startup’, the first of six tips that we give is to focus on candidate fit first. Should you test for cultural fit or technical fit in the first interview?

“Both,” says Mackenna Dsouza. “Of course, sound technical ability is a must, but we require engineers who are team players. If you’re a prima donna with the attitude that you can do it all and don ‘t need help, you’re not for us. There’s no compromise here. We start testing for both attributes – technical ability and cultural fit – from the first interview.”

Take Your Time to Hire Effectively

Unless you benefit from a wide circle of talented potential candidates for your engineer positions, it’s likely to take you some time to hire successfully. Mackenna advises that you should, “Hire slow and fire fast. What do I mean by this?” he asks. “During the hiring process, you should pass on a candidate if you have any doubt about them.”

Often, though, hiring slow won’t help you to solve your hiring needs when you need them to be solved. This is where a staffing agency like Kofi can help.

“We take the time to get to know our candidates and clients,” Amanda says. “We don’t have ‘numbers’ that we must hit. Therefore, we would never send a candidate for the sake of sending a candidate. We value the time of both parties, and our goal is to make sure there is a solid fit on both sides. We want our placements to work out for the long term. Thus, our goal is to create relationships and not quick transactions.”

To benefit from our relationship approach to hiring, get in touch with Kofi Group today.