I think the most essential question to ask before recruiting someone to work for your startup is to ask their main motivation to work in a startup.
Those of you that have experiences with recruiting someone to work in your startup, might be able to share with us what is it that drives people to work in a startup?
Clearly it is not salary, because some startup can not offer high salary. Pursuing for career would be too vague as some startup might be too small for a career ladder.
Is it merely to be part of the breakthrough? Or do some people work in a startup only as a stepping stone?
I think if we can identify this earlier we can get the best candidates that will aligned with your vision therefore last longer in your company.
Reasons to work in a startup.
(The traits you would look for are in brackets)
To add to mathaix's list:
6 For a chance at a bigger payout than a regular job (Money)
7 To learn how startups operate and be closer to the action (Education)
Of course, people have all sorts of different reasons for coming to work at for a start up, but I think the main theme common to many of them is that they want to see the work that they do really have an impact on the success of the business. In larger companies, it is much much harder to see the positive impact on the business when you work extra hard to make contributions and it is equally hard to fix things that are going wrong in a "you can't fight city hall" kind of way.
With a start up, your efforts matter!
As a secondary concern, but I think it is a factor, is a belief in the mission of what the company is trying to do and the reward that might follow as a result if the business is successful. Unfortunately, the reality is that while everyone has heard stories about the 100's of millionaires created by the IPO of some companies, this is extremely rare. Even for successful ventures, exits that create more than say even 10 millionaires are bordering on statistical anomalies. The book High Tech Startup talks to typical returns of successful ventures and, well the math is even easier on the unsuccessful ones. ;-)
People thrive off of the energy of other driven people, whether in startups or elsewhere. Startups simply have a higher density of them. People want to make their mark in the world. Many believe that being part of a successful startup will mark them out as successful people.
"I think the most essential question to ask before recruiting someone to work for your startup is to ask their main motivation to work in a startup."
Actually, there a lot of other much more essential questions to ask.
And of course, they should reciprocate and ask similar questions from you.
While some people do go around looking for a job and are clear that they do or don't want to be in a startup, most people are looking for a job that fits them on a variety of levels.
A more interesting question is why do you want to work in my startup? What is it about my company that sounds interesting or exciting to you?
Life is short. If I won't try out my ideas while I can, I know I'll regret when I look back.
The most important reason to work in a startup is ones personality, since some people are happier in a start-up, and others in a big company.
Asking someone what their motivations are during the hiring process makes sense, but you cannot assume that their answer will be honest. People are more likely to give you the answer that they think you are expecting then the honest truth.
Given that, you can expect them to say that they believe in the potential of the business, or that they like the startup mentality and environment.
Some people are most suited then others to working in a startup, and it is based on their personality. Its not that one personality type is better then another, but that one would be happier in a startup and the other in a large corporation.
If the person interviewing for the job understands that, and believes that working for a startup is the best thing for them, then all that is left is figuring out if they are good for the job being offered, just like every other company, startup or not, needs to figure out.
Make sure that the people you hire are capable of working independently enough, since in a startup you won't have the time to manage the people too closely. You need people that can receive complex tasks and to carry them out without supervision.
The excitement of not knowing if the startup you're working with is going to fail or be successful. I think the not knowing part is what drives a lot of entrepreneurs to dip their feet into the startup pool and see what happens. Other reasons are of course; flexibility, better career advancement opportunities, no expectations to meet.