What do you look for in job candidates?


One of the primary job of any leader is providing the requisite resources to achieve the specific goals that evince the venture’s mission. Typically those resources are capital and people, though of course in biotech and other fields it might be equipment and laboratories as well. Regardless of the market a founder is targeting recruiting staff, along with raising capital, will rightfully take up a lot of their time and effort.

My group of mentees from the MIT Post-Doctoral Association had asked me to present  “lessons learned” in my entrepreneurial career to  them.  One topic we discussed was what qualities I looked for in job candidates beyond sheer ability to do the work. And here’s what I presented:

  • Enthusiasm
  • Curiosity
  • Intelligence
  • Ability to communicate
  • Willingness to collaborate
  • Accomplishments

Of course, this is just the short list: drive and initiative, sense of humor, and persistence are amongst other qualities I valued highly.  Since it’s virtually impossible for anyone to have every one of these qualities at the 100% or A level,  hiring is all about tradeoffs, as are many decisions in a startup.

So it was an interesting coincidence that I came across the first job ad Jeff Bezos posted for a software engineer 25 years ago:

bezos ad

Turning the ad into a list of required qualities we have:

  • Talented
  • Motivated
  • Intense
  • Interesting
  • Top-notch communication skills essential
  • Experience designing and building large and complex (yet maintainable) systems

And just to make clear Bezos wanted A++ players only. he quantified the necessary experience: “You should be able to do so in about one-third the time that most competent people think possible.” This reminds me of famous bandleader Frank Zappa’s question to a musician who wanted to join his group, “What can you do that’s fantastic?”

So I think you can see what can separate a world class entrepreneur like Jeff Bezos from a journeyman like myself, always going beyond what “most competent people think.”

I spotted the ad in an Inc. article by Scott Mautz entitled, Jeff Bezos Posted His First Amazon Job Ad 25 Years Ago. 1 Telling Sentence Within Foreshadowed the Future and sub-titled The very first Amazon job posting is telling in so many ways. As he writes,

I also got familiar with the Amazon recruiting/interviewing process in helping a coaching client of mine prepare for an interview with the Seattle behemoth. Amazon settles for nothing but the most talented, experienced, candidates. (And yes, he got the job) I know many employees that work at the Seattle HQ that tell me the expectation of continual boundary pushing is woven into the culture.

And I love it.

Do it in one-third the time our competent (at best) competitors can. Keep redefining what’s possible. The sentiment appeared in the first job post 25 years ago and carries through in the company’s DNA today.

What is apparent is that what we look for in a job candidate reflects the values and culture of the company. Bear that in mind the next time you post a job ad on Facebook or LinkedIn.






Author: Mentorphile

Mentor, coach, and advisor to entrepreneurs, small businesses, and non-profit organizations. General manager with significant experience in both for-profit and non-profit organizations. Focus on media and information. On founding team of four venture-backed companies. Currently Chairman of Popsleuth, Inc., maker of the Endorfyn app for keeping fans updated on new stuff from their favorite artists.

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