The tech world is much bigger these days than ever before. No longer centered in Silicon Valley alone, several startup hubs, including Tel Aviv, New York and Los Angeles, have sprung up over the years, bringing new innovations that are taking the world by storm.
Tel Aviv, the heart of Israel’s Silicon Wadi has been perhaps the most effective at cracking the Silicon Valley code of success. With more than 3,000 startups, Israel now has the highest concentration of successful hi-tech companies in the world.
But while there are huge benefits to building a startup in a thriving tech hub, there are also significant challenges – and arguably the most critical of those challenges is choosing the right people for your team in an area in which the competition is especially intense.
It’s easy to see that hiring the right people and retaining your current employees is crucial for a company’s long term success; identifying and hiring those elusive perfect candidates is another story.
Should you emphasize experience? What about background or education? How important is fitting the company’s culture? While we all have an image of the ideal candidate we’d like to see, very often we are asked to choose between people who may not fill every criteria that we consider important. Sometimes the very elements you’d once considered essential are, in fact, completely unnecessary. Understanding how to emphasize the right qualities can make all the difference in building a great team in a major tech hub.
Below are three characteristics we look for when trying to identify the diamonds in the rough deserts of the Silicon Wadi.
1. Be informal
Formality is not necessarily our strong point in Israel, and finding the situation where the interviewee “dresses the part” and the interviewer asks the typical and expected “interview” questions is rare. Instead, our laid-back culture and more casual approach create an environment where the interview is less driven by an expected Q&A setup and more about a natural, free-flowing conversation.
Interviewing in a more natural, relaxed environment gives you the opportunity to get to know the candidate on a more personal level, which in turn provides greater insights as to whether they really fit the culture of your company. Creating a dialogue and moving the candidate away from rehearsed answers is a far more effective way of gauging their potential fit.
Unpredictable questions are another great way to throw the candidate off their game and can provide some of the best and most candid responses, allowing you to get a true sense of the person. It isn’t about getting the perfect answer – it’s about gaining a better understanding of how the individual thinks and what unique qualities they can bring to the team.
2. Be bold
Bold is a gentle way of describing one of our favorite Israeli traits – chutzpah.
While perceived by some – if not many – as rude, our collective willingness to challenge authority has provided benefits in droves. Bad ideas tend not to thrive in these environments, and our willingness to listen to an opinion is based on the merits of its validity opposed the rank or age of the individual who says it. Employees feel more valued and appreciated, and the company is less likely to be driven astray by problematic ventures.
Identifying this trait in an interview can be especially difficult but critical. Ask the candidate to identify an area of the business that he or she thinks is not run as effectively as it should be. Do they have the ability to challenge authority and contest the status quo? Are they able to think on their feet?
The process of presenting their point will give an amazing indication of their thought process and ability to provide feedback. More importantly, it will show you how they give criticism. It’s one thing to be bold, but chutzpah is a wasted gift if you alienate your colleagues when you deliver your feedback. Seeing how they criticize can be as important as seeing whether they know what to criticize.
3. Find balance
There are few traits more important than a strong work ethic.
That said, there are few traits more detrimental to the long-term success and happiness of an employee than a single, unitary focus on work.
We have a tendency to obsess over the commitment an individual should have to their job to the extent that their outside life can seem like a threat to internal productivity. But our experience has shown that employees who find a healthy balance between their personal and professional worlds are more likely to produce sustainable and strong results in the workplace.
It isn’t a question of the specific hours an individual spends at their desk, but a focus on embracing the activities that round out their experience. Hobbies and extracurriculars are critical for boosting creativity, bringing in new perspectives and creating a more enlightened workplace. Emphasizing your appreciation for that balance as early as the interview stage can help you identify the type of employee that builds a personal environment conducive to a long-term and mutually beneficial relationship.
Trying to hire top-tier talent in a tech hub can be a nerve wracking experience as the competition for the best and brightest only increases. However, by taking an unconventional approach to hiring and looking for these specific traits, you’re more likely to snag those talented stars before the rest of your competition even notices.