4 Interview Questions Every Startup Boss Should Ask

July 5, 2016, 11:00 PM UTC
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The Leadership Insiders network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question: “How do you build a strong team?” is written by Anthony Soohoo, founder and CEO of Dot & Bo.

If people are a company’s most valuable asset, hiring new employees should be an extremely fine-tuned process. Unfortunately, there’s no perfect formula and companies all too often make quick decisions, which may not set them up for future success.

Whether I was building out a team at companies, such as Apple, Yahoo, or CBS Interactive, or launching a new startup from the ground up, there are four qualities I always look for when developing an exceptional team:

Are they a team player?

Business is a team sport. Unless your company was created with natural competitive advantages, your business will scale faster and more efficiently if everyone on your team contributes to the same overall mission. Hiring managers need to understand that a candidate can play their role on the team, while also contributing to the greater purpose of the company.

When I founded Dot & Bo in 2013, we were still honing in on our business model, but we had cultivated a solid team of individuals who understood the greater mission of the company and were selfless in contributing to its success. In order bring our idea of creating the first home furnishings brand for millennials to fruition, we needed to collaborate closely across departments and iterate quickly.

When bringing someone in for an interview, make sure to ask open-ended questions so the candidate can elaborate, showcasing their personality and way of thinking. Observe if this person talks about their previous accomplishments as solely a result of him or herself (narcissistic) or if this person shares the praise and “wins” as a collaborative effort.

Ultimately, you can uncover an phenomenal candidate but if they operate in silo and can’t work well with others, it’s a deal-breaker.

Do they embody mental toughness?

A critical, yet often overlooked quality that one needs to filter for in co-founders and early employees is mental toughness. Here in Silicon Valley, there is often chatter about “hiring for brilliance.” While intelligence is undoubtedly part of the foundation for success, having mental resilience is equally important in my book.

Technology-based businesses are centered on problem solving.

At Dot & Bo, we are more likely to hire someone who is mentally tough than someone who is brilliant but doesn’t have the stamina to make a hard decision and live up to its outcome – good or bad.

The very nature of startups and entrepreneurism is that you’re treading into the unknown. It’s a taxing endeavor that not everyone can handle. There will inevitably be highs and lows, and it’s important to understand whether or not a candidate will be able to react in a level-headed manner even under intense pressure.

Embodying and continuing to build emotional resilience will help keep the team on track even in the most difficult of situations. Accepting that you can never completely control everything in your ecosystem will leave you better equipped to focus your energy on handling the business challenges that you can affect.

Can they pass the airport test?

Would I enjoy being stuck in an airport for 5 hours with this person? This is a simple way to test for a fit with your company’s culture.

Don’t get me wrong – you’re not hiring to find a new best friend nor are you seeking someone with the same perspective. However, you will be spending quite a bit of time with this person, and you had better like them on a basic level.

Will they act on it?

Do they have grit? Beyond talking about it, can a candidate actively demonstrate that they can execute initiatives at a remarkable level? Before bringing on any new hire, I need to truly believe that this candidate has the fortitude and determination to tackle a challenge when called upon to do so.

Startup life demands a different set of rules than corporate establishments, with employees wearing many different hats and supporting projects that aren’t necessarily in their job description. If prospective employees cannot demonstrate a proactive spirit and ability to thrive in an entrepreneurial environment, they more often than not won’t be the right fit.

Once you’re over the hiring hump, the real work – and fun – begins with empowering your employees to most efficiently work towards your company’s mission. Good luck.