Startup hiring – attitude will determine altitude

Jason Martin knows the ins and outs of startup hiring.  I joined his professional services team at VMware back in 2003 – a team he grew from 3 people into an organization of 450 people.  I’m excited to have him share career advice with us that draws from his startup as well as his Big 4 consulting experience.  –John

You worked at Accenture/Andersen Consulting before jumping into the startup world. What were the most transferable skills and what were the least transferable skills in that transition?

Whenever I hire for startups, I always look for individuals with both large company experience and startup experience.

The startup experience tells you they know what they are in for and can work in a self-directed way with maximum chaos. However, the large company experience increases the likelihood that they will have had better training, more methodology and structure, and probably a better understanding of working in teams and sharing responsibilities.

This large company experience is probably what I took most with me from Andersen Consulting. Andersen Consulting excelled at providing technical and methodology training. I still use a lot of the techniques I was taught back then.

Probably the least transferable skill was programming with Cobol. 🙂

When you’re doing startup hiring and building an organization of technical sales and services professionals, what separates the good hires from the great hires?

I think that old saying of ‘attitude, not aptitude, determines altitude’ is very true.

With startups, what you need to know, what you are selling and delivering to clients, and who you work with, are changing every day. Obviously, you need a certain level of knowledge and experience to do your job, but your attitude will dictate most of your success.

You need to be not only willing to learn, but excited to learn new things. You need to not just be knowledgeable about your product and solution but passionate about how it helps your customers and changes the world. You need to not just be a team player, but consistently optimizing every decision for what is best for the company and your team. You also need to be resilient in face of the inevitable ups and downs you’ll face.

If someone wants to work in technical pre-sales or professional services, but have never worked in one of those roles before, what experience or skills do you think it’s critical they build before they apply?

By their very definition, pre-sales and professional services roles require customer interaction. Any experience you can get that is customer facing is critical. I wouldn’t underestimate the value of direct experience in operating a technical solution as opposed to just selling or delivering solutions. If you can marry creditable operations experience in your solutions domain with good customer facing skills (e.g. strong communication ability, attention to detail) you’ll be unstoppable.

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