From LBB
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From LBB

On Hiring & Why There Is No Such Thing As “The Best” Candidate

The advice I lean into and take seriously on the internet is that around a. hiring, and b. building the right company culture. The single best post(s) I’ve read is this one on Carta’s blog, and Stephen Schwarzman’s interview on Farnam Street here. (If you read and listen to these two, you don’t have to read my post. If you’re looking for Spark Notes, read on.)

Side note: The most insipid advice I’ve read online? “Hire the best”. Don’t get me wrong- this isn’t because it isn’t fair advice. But “best” is very subjective, and “best” is not always necessary. More on my #unpopularopinion in just a bit.

At LBB, we’ve grown from 1–50, 50–100, and 100–150 employees in about 2 years. Though that’s not breakneck speed by any estimation, we’ve had our fair share of making great hires, making hires that weren’t product & culture fits, cutting our losses, and ensuring we don’t lose “the best”.

Here’s a couple of things I’ve learnt along the way:

A. The Basics

  1. Having a giant team is nothing to gloat about

This is how Carta’s blog post starts- and it is fundamentally the best piece of advice I have received and will pass forward. Humans are complex. There’s a cost associated with managing teams that most excel sheets and business plans do not account for; especially when you’re early on in your lifecycle, I would highly recommend not burdening your human operations by throwing people at your problems. Prioritise your problems instead.

2. Have your business objectives clearly articulated before you start hiring

If you can’t define your hire’s KRAs, don’t hire them. If you can’t define what their day to day, or at least week to week tasks will be, don’t expect them to “figure it out”. 90% of your team is likely to be spending 80% of their time executing- they need to know exactly what they’re executing, and how they’ll define success or failure for themselves.

3. There is no such thing as hiring the “best”

I could write a separate post on this, but in summary:

  • You won’t always be able to afford “the best”
  • You may not be at a scale where you can absorb the ambitions of “the best”
  • “The best” for you today could be “meh” for you tomorrow. Companies change, people don’t always adapt, and that’s life.

“The best” does not exist. “The best” needs to be built- they need to be given context, trained, mentored, sent articles/podcasts/books. “The best” also needs help from time to time. In an effort to find this elusive “the best”, don’t not get the job done. Your Plan B’s can surprise you (as they have surprised me!)

B. On Experience

What’s helped us is defining what kind of roles one needs experienced folks for- these are usually roles where sticking to processes is paramount, and there are fewer rules that can be bent. For a business like ours for example, I’d over index for experience in roles that are heavy on operations- eg. Cat Ops, Merchant & Customer ops, Merchant on-boarding teams etc. Here, we need minimal margin of error, the ability to build and train large teams fast, & keep them motivated. On the other hand, roles like UI/UX, Brand Marketing, Videos & Content, we’ve found incredible talent and willingness to learn amongst folks who are early in their career, and are comfortable being more agile.

Experience needn’t always be measured in terms of years, it could even be in terms of scale…. or even in terms of failures- how much risk has this person taken/seen over the course of their career. An example- one of the more exciting Product Managers I interviewed recently was a failed entrepreneur who was working on building products for SMBs. In this case, his experience with failures- not his experience in years- was more consequential to measure his suitability for the role.

C. On Culture Fit

Your team is not always to empathise with your mission… and that’s ok. Culture fit- often incorrectly confused with like-mindedness- is, in my opinion, the most important thing to evaluate before you roll out an offer. When evaluating for culture fit, what I’ve found helpful is asking questions that help me understand the environment within which the candidate is likely to thrive. So, “what kind of manager do you like working with”, “what’s your working style?”, “what does your ideal team have?”, “narrate an example where you’ve shared context, not an opinion (this is one of LBBs values), to make a change in a project”… questions like this have helped me define a candidate’s work values, and gauge their alignment with LBB’s cultural values.

Training solves for mostly everything else.

D. When You’re Unsure

… Of who the ideal candidate is for a role, don’t be afraid to play the field- just be clear about this with the candidates you’re interviewing. A mistake I’ve made is pursued a role and interviewed 10s of candidates, only to realise that the sample set that I was interviewing from wasn’t correct.

Especially for roles you may not have ever hired for in the past; if you’re unsure, talk to a bunch of different types of candidates, get a lay of the land, speak with folks from different companies, get a sense of the skill sets you need, and get closer to articulating the candidate pool you want to dive deep into.

Take your time to figure it out. (and do not let any recruiter hurry you up.)

E. Know When To Settle, And When Not To

My thumb rule here is- roles where thorough training can iron out the kinks, don’t overthink the candidate. If they’ve demonstrated success in the past, have worked on interesting projects and at credible companies, are aligned with your company’s values, and match the CTC bracket? Great.

The trouble is with roles where training isn’t always an option- L1 roles to founders, senior execs, folks leading verticals. In these cases, even if you have the slightest of doubts, don’t settle. I’ve made this mistake twice, and in both cases it’s cost us time and money (the prior more valuable). Don’t second guess your instinct.

Hiring is tough, but self-awareness helps. Especially if you’re a founder, you’ve got to be clear about your organisational priorities, budgets, timelines, business model and culture. Your own clarity (which comes with time), will reflect in your ability to hire the right candidate. Be clear about your working style, be clear about the compensation, and be clear about expectations.

Finally, I don’t think there are such things as a terrible hire/employee or terrible companies. An under-performer in another company could crush it at your organisation; a 7/10 in your company could be a great CMO in another organisation. Sometimes, 2 great entities could come together and shit could still not work out, and that’s ok.

Don’t beat yourself over making that hire that didn’t work out. When you do (make a hire that didn’t work out), write down what went right and wrong in the hiring process… and just keep getting better.

(but seriously, we are hiring. And if you’re awesome, write to preety@lbb.in)

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Suchita Salwan

Suchita Salwan

co-founder at LBB. interested in content x community x commerce x brands & everything in between

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