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These Kinds of People Make Terrible Employees

Businesswoman playing in beanbag chair in officeBusinesswoman playing in beanbag chair in office

The Entrepreneur Insiders network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in America’s startup scene contribute answers to timely questions about entrepreneurship and careers. Today’s answer to the question “How do you build a strong team?” is written by Erik Severinghaus, VP of personalization at Rise Interactive and founder and CEO of recently acquired SimpleRelevance.

Building a strong team is undeniably among every entrepreneur’s most important tasks, as it will help to form the backbone of a growing enterprise.

There are foundational hiring elements that translate across both a startup’s hiring strategy and hiring best practices in established organizations. While Rise Interactive has grown well past the startup phase, cultivating my team within the company has required me to borrow many principles I used when I was first building a startup. Similar to how I approached hiring at a startup, I’m seeking out employees who are proactive rather than reactive in order to drive projects forward, as well as those who align with the company’s mission, vision, and values.

There are three extremely important qualities to look for, whether hiring your earliest team members or building out a team or practice within a larger organization:

  1. Able to pass the airport test

Do you generally like being around the person? Do you feel your energy rise when you spend time with him or her? This is what I call the airport test. Simply put, would you mind being stuck with the person in an airport for a few hours? Building a company is hard and energy-draining no matter what, but it will be excruciating if you are trying to do it with people who don’t inspire you to achieve greatness.

See also: Here’s What Managers Should Never Do When Looking for Job Candidates

  1. Shows potential

You want to hire for future potential rather than past performance. The ultimate goal is to find a diamond in the rough who can really shine within your organization. It is crucial to seek out proactive tendencies that indicate potential and eagerness to grow within your company. Apathetic employees simply will not thrive in an entrepreneurial organization. It’s too challenging. If someone doesn’t impress you as being smart, talented, and proactive, then pass and keep looking for someone who is.

  1. Flexible

No matter what position you’re hiring for, the job description could change with the rapidly expanding goals of the company. Your employees might have to adapt from building processes to building teams of their own. They might need to grow from “doing” to “leading” and be comfortable working in ambiguity and white space with constantly evolving roles. Look for people who have previously done something entrepreneurial, whether at a company, an open-source project, or a school club. Some people thrive on showing up to the office every day and doing something different, whereas others will be much more effective in a structured work environment with consistent expectations and direction. Look for the former, not the latter, and make sure they can provide evidence of these skills.


Candidates who are toxic to your team dynamic or have an air of entitlement reflect the opposite traits as the ones you should look for. These kinds of people often aren’t the ones you’d want to get stuck with at an airport. Toxic applicants might have a resume stacked with achievements, but when it comes down to it, their potential for greatness when given workplace freedom is severely lacking, and they’re not flexible enough to handle ambiguity within a role. No matter how tempting it is to bring those people over, it’s most important to focus on A-player characteristics to build a strong infrastructure. Those A-players will deliver remarkable experiences for both your company as well as your clients.

Hiring is a sport that you may fail at as much as you succeed. Be prepared for that and learn from it. If you avoid the temptation to hire the “hotshots” too early, and look for people who show potential, are flexible, and with whom you will enjoy working, it will make your journey that much easier.

Erik Severinghaus is a graduate of Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. He is the VP of personalization at Rise Interactive and the founder and CEO of the recently acquired startup, SimpleRelevance, which uses machine learning to turn customer data into recommendations for relevant digital marketing messages.