How to Be a Good Salesman: The Qualities You Need

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What are some things you, as a business founder, should know when hiring for a startup? Why is it important to hire the right person from the get-go?

Effective hiring for a startup business is crucial to the future success of your venture. As your staff begins to grow beyond the founding team, every hire will have an increasingly greater effect on both company culture and performance.

The following guidelines spell out when and how to hire (and when not to) for a startup.

Principle 1: Don’t Hire Until You’ve Done the Job Yourself 

As a business owner hiring for a startup, you should know how to do every job in your company before you recruit someone else to do it. That’s the only way you’ll know if the position should be full-time or part-time, what questions to ask potential employees, and whether the person you hire is actually doing a good job. 

It may feel uncomfortable to do a job you don’t know how to do, but do it anyway. The knowledge you gain will pay off: You’ll develop a deep understanding of every aspect of your business. 

Principle 2: Don’t Hire Unless You Have To

Only hire an extra employee when you consistently have much more work to do than you can accomplish—when you are so busy for so long that you feel like the quality of your work is declining. Don’t hire just because you feel overwhelmed for a short period of time. 

As a corollary, if someone quits or gets fired, don’t replace them right away. If you wait for a few months, you may find that you can get along just fine without someone in that position. 

Ask yourself if you really need to add to your staff. What would happen if you didn’t? Does that job really need to be done, or can you get by without it? Is there a machine or a piece of software that can do the job instead of a person? 

Principle 3: Don’t Hire Just Because Someone Is Awesome 

You might meet someone who you think is brilliant, energetic, hardworking, and just plain great to be around—the ideal employee in every respect. But that doesn’t mean you should hire them. Ask yourself: 

  1. Does your company have a genuine need for this person? 
  2. Exactly what duties will she be taking on? 
  3. Will you have to come up with projects for her, or is there a genuine void that she can start filling right away? 

Define whether or not you have a need for an additional employee, then go find someone great to fill that need. Don’t hire someone great and then try to figure out what they should do for you. 

Principle 4: Hire One Employee at a Time

If you hire a bunch of new employees simultaneously, your workplace will be the equivalent of a politely boring cocktail party. Because your multiple new employees don’t have the trust that comes with long-standing relationships, everyone will try too hard to be “nice.” When the group is discussing problems with your product, no one will take a contradictory or controversial stand. You don’t want to create a culture of appeasement. You want a culture of radical candor. 

Principle 5: Don’t Trust Resumes 

A resume is not an accurate reflection of who a person is. Writing an impressive resume is a skill that has nothing to do with how well an employee can perform in any position: Most candidates have been schooled on how to pad their resumes with action verbs and inflated job titles. Employers have very little means for checking a resume’s exaggeration factor—and the people who are applying to your company know that. 

When reviewing resumes, don’t be swayed by an applicant claiming “10 years of experience.” In just about any industry, there isn’t much difference between 10 months of experience and 10 years. Once someone gets past a minimal baseline, it doesn’t matter how long they’ve been doing something—what matters is how well they’ve been doing it. 

Also, don’t be overly impressed by fancy academic degrees. Intelligence isn’t necessarily born in the classroom. In fact, too much time in the academic world can actually impair key business skills like the ability to write concisely. When hiring, don’t be afraid to consider candidates who didn’t go to a prestigious university or didn’t even go to college. 

The research: According to a 2006 Wall Street Journal article, of the top 500 American companies, only 10 percent of the CEOs received undergraduate degrees from Ivy League colleges. The other 90 percent graduated from state colleges or less prestigious private colleges (the University of Wisconsin had the highest single school total, 9 out of 500). 

Instead of reading resumes, read cover letters. That’s where you’ll find out if the applicant can communicate clearly and in full sentences, whether or not she knows anything about your company, and whether or not she might fit in with your company. 

Principle 6: Hire Doers, Not Delegators 

Hire people who do the work rather than delegate the work. A lot of time management books advise people to manage their time by delegating tasks to others, but in a small company run by a small team, every employee needs to be hands-on. 

Principle 7: Hire People Who Manage Themselves 

When hiring, look for candidates who have managed their own projects or run their own companies. You have a company to run, so you want employees who set their own goals and figure out ways to meet them—employees who don’t need or want to be managed. 

Principle 8: Hire People Who Can Write

Whether you need to hire a programmer, marketing guru, or mechanic, make sure that person is a great writer. Writers think clearly and keep their audience in mind. They make sure people can understand what they’re communicating. Since much of today’s business happens via email and instant messaging—not by phone or face-to-face—solid writing skills matter now more than ever. 

Principle 9: Hire Regardless of Geographical Location

Remote work is the new normal, so hire the best people no matter where in the world they live. To ensure the efficiency of your remote team, make sure that for two to four hours each day, everyone works simultaneously (regardless of time zone). Also, hold an in-person meeting every few months. When everyone is in the same room, you can discuss big-picture concepts and get to know each other a bit better. 

Principle 10: Give Potential Employees a Tryout Project 

Since interviews provide an extremely limited view of who someone is and how well they’ll fit into your company, hire the top candidates to do a small project, perhaps something that will take about 20 hours. You’ll get a better picture of their potential.  

Model for success: The airplane manufacturer Cessna creates a workday simulation for prospective managers. Each candidate has to handle imaginary customer service issues and respond to other fictitious company problems. 

Hiring for a Startup: 10 Guidelines for Success

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  • Why the old-school process of starting a business doesn't work anymore
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Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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