Carefully Crafted on December 01

How I Hire Employees Who Think Like Entrepreneurs

When I brought on Geben’s first employees—a tiny team gathered around my dining room table—everything was new. Every process had to be created for the first time. We had to figure things out as we went along. Sometimes, it felt a little like that saying … the blind leading the blind.

Being involved in a startup like that—even as an employee—requires some amount of entrepreneurial spirit. Leaving a job at a reputable, established agency to come work in my dining room required some risk. We needed a team that would rise to the occasion and enjoy the variety and innovation of figuring things out as we went along.

It’s in that spirit that we created our seventh house rule:

How I Hire Employees Who Think Like Entrepreneurs

Own It. (Even if you don’t own it.)

Nearly seven years and 25+ employees, we’re not in our infancy anymore, but I still seek to hire new team members who possess some of that same entrepreneurial spirit. When we’re facing a potential hire, we aim to find out whether or not they will fit our culture and values.

After some trial and error, I’ve identified five characteristics that employees who “own it” seem to have in common.

1. They’re Proactive Self-Starters

We move quick. In fact, the pace we work is often one the hardest challenges for a new person joining our team. While we provide a lot of support, we don’t micromanage. We shouldn’t have to spell out every step. While we proactively train new hires in “the Geben way,” the time will come when they aren’t given explicit instructions for each and every task. People who thrive at Geben are skilled at evaluating the landscape, seeing what needs to be done, and taking initiative without being asked. Faced with a lull in their workday, they look for ways to help the rest of the team.

Potential Interview Question: Tell us about a time when you were able to anticipate future needs and were willing to take the first step, without first being asked.

2. They’re Personally Invested in Client Relationships

We produce results that matter because our clients matter to us. We’re very choosy about the clients we decide to work with, which means we genuinely like our clients and we truly believe in their service/product. Their wins become our wins. This is true for the entire team — not just the client-facing account manager.Of course, the person directly delivering work to a client and receiving feedback will feel more pressure, but even those who aren’t sitting in a meeting or visibly on an email chain take ownership of those client relationships. That’s what we mean by “unmatched partnership.” They want the deliverable to be well received every time, because they care about our success as a team.

Potential Interview Question: Give me an example when you felt disconnected from your team or client. How did you bridge the gap?

3. They Think Outside Their Titles

Truth: I hate titles. I mix them up all the time. I get that some people think they’re important and they provide a frame of reference; however, I have little patience for people who obsess about their title or are always angling for the next title. The quality of your work speaks more than an arbitrary title. And in our world, some days it’s just all hands on deck, and everyone needs to move the ball forward in whatever way they can —regardless of hierarchy.

I’ve seen social media managers share new client leads with the business development team. When an account manager meets an individual who seems like a perfect fit for an open position, they share details with the person leading our recruiting. Each individual wants to see #TeamGeben succeed as a whole, so they are eager to think outside their own job description for the greater good.

Potential Interview Question: Tell us about a time when you were able to anticipate future needs and were willing to take the first step, without first being asked.

4. They Want to Build Something New

Geben may not be a startup or a brand new company anymore, but we’ve gone from 4 to 26 employees in the last year alone. We recently opened an office in Chicago, and a lot goes into building our presence in a second city. We’re very much in growth mode, and every team member has limitless opportunity to be a part of building Geben’s future.

Day after day, the Geben team continues to show their genuine interest in building Geben into something that is meaningful and lasting.  They want to know how the business is doing, and they ask smart questions about how their individual roles fit within the greater context.

In the interview process, I think I learn more about the most about this characteristic from the questions the candidate asks of me. Applicants who proactively ask about the future of the business during the interview are more likely to maintain that higher level of buy-in as employees.

5. They Embrace the Crazy

Try as we might to set procedures and stay ahead of the curve, we never know when new opportunities will come up. We may get a new and exciting proposal request, requiring us to go above and beyond to create a new strategy. Over-delivering on client expectations may mean working odd or extra hours to get the job done. Now and then, a social crisis may blow up our fun Friday night.

When crazy happens, my team players step up to the plate without complaint. They embrace the crazy, figure out what needs to be done, and do so to the best of their ability.

Potential Interview Question: Tell us about a time when you had to respond to unexpected demands and quickly switch gears.

Hire Employees Who Care

What do all these characteristics have in common? At the end of the day, our most successful employees care about the business as if it were their own. They’re eager to help their colleagues, and they treat their job as more than just a paycheck. Being a business owner can be a lonely adventure, but it’s energizing to work with a team willing to “own it” right along with me.


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