6 Winning Traits of Startup Employees

Startups are constantly in flux, demanding an innovative environment and adapting around it. New clients sign, clients leave, product improvements are made, mission pivots, company grows, company shrinks. Never the same as the day before, working at a startup can be exhilarating for some and a nightmare for others.

Being able to balance ever-changing work responsibilities, learning on the job, jumping into new projects and rolling with the punches takes a certain type of person. Accenture Research surveyed the class of 2015 and found only 15% wanted to work for large, corporate companies.  If most of Gen Y employees want to work for small companies or startups, which ones will succeed? While not all-encompassing, a top startup employee will encompass a mélange of these 6 traits:


The future of the company is not set in stone or predetermined. There are chances for immense growth at the risk of job insecurity. An individual who sees the uncertainty as a wide-eyed opportunity is someone you want on your team. Hire a risk-taker who doesn’t mind jumping into the deep end.


Some procedures and processes have yet to be established in the startup, pending challenges have yet to be tackled. A good startup employee is stimulated when running into a problem, only seeing it as a way to learn and win. 90% of startups fail. Hire someone who sees how things should be improved and isn’t turned off by the potential obstructions ahead.

“I’m convinced that about half of what separates the successful entrepreneurs from the non-successful ones ispure perseverance.”  – Steve Jobs



Startups really offer an incredible opportunity to learn about a lot of different things – it’s a velocity that’s hard to imagine until you’re in it.” – Caitlin Strandberg @strandby, Flybridge Capital Partners

Formal job training, succession planning and concrete work responsibilities are not cornerstones of startups. Jumping into a new role, learning on the job and picking up a new process in a week is essential to keep thestartup running. With a small, flat team, there is always room to grow and enhance your position. Value someone who is self-taught and encourage interest in picking up skills and new tech.


A strong startup requires strong input from each member of the team. 86% ofemployees and executives cite lack of collaboration or ineffective communication for workplace failures. Collaboration and communication are pillars of startups, no silos here. Viewing every member as a working part of the whole and not separate, unrelated segments spurs ideation, creativity and progress. Hire a natural team player, someone who won’t get offended with pushback and is open to opposing viewpoints.


There won’t be a manager to train and guide the employee’s way through everything. Good startup employees have opinions and won’t be afraid to share them. They will dive into client communication, speak up in brainstorming sessions and give direct and lucid feedback. Don’t hire someone who will need constant guidance and handholding, instead grab the self-starter. 


Markets shift, products are scratched, new services are provided all in a flash. There is only a little time to feel overwhelmed, then get to work. An employee who needs structure and stability will feel uncomfortable with the constantly changing dynamics. Hire the chameleon, someone who can wear many hats and someone who gets bored with monotony.

“Some people thrive in this fast-paced environment and relish the potential success, financial reward, experience and contacts that are gained. To mix clichés, if you like to be a big fish in a little pond, especially a big fish wearing a lot of different hats, then a startup is the right environment for you.” – Bill O’Niel @willoneil72, Principal Consultant at WinterWyman


Startup Growth

Plucking and developing who will work with your company- not against it- is the mantra of company culture today. A winning employee will have a balance of these traits fit for the workstyle of startups. Taking a smart and scientific look at what your employees possess. Don’t waste valuable startup time and money with employees better fit in a different style of company and industry. An aligned team can strengthen, even in small numbers.

Bio: Ryan Mead

Ryan Mead is the CEO and Founder of Vitru, an employee assessment tool that provides recruiters, hiring professionals, coaches and managers with the insights they need to manage their teams and make better hiring decisions. Powered by science, yet practical and easy to use for a variety of teams, Vitru work for organizations of all size. Want to learn more? Visit our blog or sign up for a free team building personality test account to assess your team today! Tweet me at@GoVitru

adapting around it

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Comment by Nicole Antonio-Gadsdon on October 8, 2015 at 11:37am

Golden tips and rationale for attracting and recruiting employees who are best suited for a start up - definitely a niche skills-set. Thanks for a top post Ryan


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