Kissing Goodbye to the O’Hare Test

Don’t hire for brains or personality alone in early-stage startups. Hire for resilience.


I have learned a valuable lesson that now defines the way we hire for our home & apartment rental startup Zumper.

A cursory look at AngelList — one of our preferred outbound hiring channels — shows you the common filters that most founders apply when searching for their next hire: role; current status; education; previous experience. They’re useful. As is AngelList. There are a lot of smart people using AngelList right now for their job hunt. We recently hired two: Dan and Tanguy.

But you shouldn’t ultimately hire for any of those factors alone.

You should hire for resilience. Over and above everything else. Resilience.

Brains don’t matter as much as resilience in your first couple of years as a startup. I borrowed a lot of money to put myself through one undergraduate and two masters programs so, yes, it hurts to write that.

Smart and erudite people aren’t always good at dealing with major hurdles or change. They can agonize about every decision. They can be thrown 180 by a bad day. They can slow you down. They can be contagious.

Hire for resilience. Hire ex-founders who failed spectacularly at their previous startup but who fought until the last day. Hire people who emailed you a dozen times before you had a chance to reply. Hire people who have pulled through unbelievable personal challenges to be here with us today.

98% of the beauty of an early stage startup has nothing to do with intellect. It’s about resilience, hustle, and ten thousand phone calls or lines of code a week, no matter what other turbulence you encountered. Big companies in your space will always try to knock you around, but they often won’t have the resilience that you do. They don’t care as much.

In my previous professional life at the Boston Consulting Group we used to hire people who passed the ‘O’Hare Test’. These people were supposed to be smart and well-mannered enough to be able to spend several unanticipated hours with at O’Hare airport in the event of a delayed flight.

Forget that.

Hire for the ‘Oh Shit’ test.

Hire people who will be by your side on the worst day imaginable. The day your numbers fall off a cliff. The day you get turned down by an investor. The day you start questioning yourself.

Hire the person who just sees it as part of The Struggle. Who sees it as an opportunity, a chance to learn. Who sees it as something that you’ll laugh about together over dinner in a year’s time when you’ve figured it all out.

This is now our main hiring criteria. There are going to be several more ‘Oh Shit’ days ahead of us at Zumper. And when they inevitably happen, I want to be sitting next to someone who’s going to tell me to pull my shit together. That person can help you build something really, really big.

Anth, Zumper CEO

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