In The Genes

7 Ways To Spot Entrepreneurial DNA In Job Candidates

In The GenesCompanies that want to become more entrepreneurial in nature should be hiring employees who can help fulfill the mission. Here are seven ways to spot entrepreneurial DNA in job candidates.

As the market continues to improve, companies in all industries are plugging some holes in their employee ranks and – in some cases – even creating new positions to try to capitalize on growing opportunities in front of them. Count ad specialty distributors among the expanding ranks.

Counselor’s 2015 State of the Industry survey reports that 34% of distributor companies expect to increase their number of personnel in 2015. That was an increase from 31% who anticipated hiring more people in 2014. Further, while 57% of firms expected their employee numbers to remain constant this year, only 1% said they plan on decreasing their staff levels.

And, with the Counselor Confidence Index (a measure of distributor outlooks on the market’s prospects, as well as their own) consistently sitting in record-high territory through the first two quarters of 2015, it’s clear distributors are preparing to expand their businesses.

To do that, they’re hiring more people – and mostly what they’re looking for are new employees who can help to grow their companies. In other words, they’re looking for entrepreneurial types that don’t need hand-holding and have their own ideas and strategies. But as you shuffle through résumés, don’t get too hung up on finding the perfect mixture of background and technical skills. The most important qualification a job seeker can possess isn’t always evident on paper.

Be sure your new hires have entrepreneurial DNA. Identifying and hiring entrepreneurial candidates is one of the best things you can do for your bottom line, because these individuals will be self-reliant, engaged, empowered and innovative problem solvers.

In today’s ever-changing business world, adaptable and entrepreneurial employees are your most valuable competitive advantage. Remember that you can teach plenty of new skills to a self-starter, but it’s not so easy to teach clock punchers to think like owners.

Here are seven ways to tell if job candidates have the entrepreneurial DNA that you want, so that your company can continue to grow.

Are They Willing to Bet On Themselves?
Entrepreneurs don’t have any income unless they are constantly satisfying their customers, and they’re constantly looking for ways to increase their income, profits and growth. In other words, they bet tomorrow’s paycheck on today’s ideas and effort.

Ask candidates if they want to get paid on attendance (e.g., receive a salary), or if they’re willing to bet a portion of their compensation on their own performance. Seek out someone with self-confidence and demonstrable self-reliance who knows they can add significant value to your bottom line. Of course, this means you’ll need to implement some kind of profit-sharing plan or bonus structure if your company doesn’t have one already.

Pay Attention to Body Language
Watch how each candidate moves. You can do this unobtrusively by asking them to get a file from the next office or a cup of water from a nearby table. Do they lumber aimlessly, take their time, shuffle back slowly, flop down into the chair and lean on their elbows? Is their posture like a question mark? Or do they move with hustle, determination and purpose? Keep in mind that when people sit erect and lean slightly forward, they’re indicating engagement and interest.

Entrepreneurs’ confidence shows in their posture and their body language. They have prepared themselves by learning about your company and display self-assurance when they are interviewed and scrutinized by strangers like you. These “tells” are physical evidence of your candidate’s attitude and self-esteem. A good interviewer is paying attention to a lot of details during meetings with job candidates. Their answers to questions – as well as the questions they ask you – are important to note. But their confidence, posture, eye contact and general presence can matter just as much.

Talk About Their Mistakes
Ask candidates to describe the biggest mistake they ever made professionally, and more importantly, what they did about it. In particular, discover whether they took responsibility, fixed the mistake quickly, and went on with their project, or if they blamed others and were “victimized.”

Successful entrepreneurs know that blame is disempowering, while doing what can be done to prevent reoccurrence is staying in control. Ask follow-up questions to see how well each candidate analyzed what happened and whether they took steps to prevent the same thing from happening again. Good entrepreneurs can’t afford to make the same mistake twice, and they build their successes on the backs of their mistakes.

The other thing all good businesspeople and entrepreneurs do? They recover quickly from mistakes or setbacks. See how long it took them to get back on the proverbial horse. Did they dwell on the mistake? Make them answer that question – the response may seem obvious to them, but how they respond and what they say is important. If they quantify it by saying it took a day to recover, for example, that might not be good enough. The answer you should be looking for is that they didn’t have to recover from it because they didn’t dwell on it at all – they learned from it and moved on quickly.

Look for Evidence of Resourcefulness
Ask job seekers how they solved a professional problem when they lacked the time, support or funds they needed. Listen for evidence of how they used their imagination, asked for help and thought outside the box.

Specifically, figure out if they identified, repurposed and used unlikely resources to achieve their goals in spite of the obstacles. Take note of how they rephrased the problem, saw the bigger picture and enlisted the help of strategic allies who would also benefit from the solution. See if their solution solved more than one problem. Entrepreneurs know that the ball is always in their court.

Gauge Their Preparedness
Does the candidate expect you to ask all the questions? Do they just react to your initiatives? Do they wait for you to tell them about your company, its goals, its successes and its challenges? Or do they ask you questions?

Candidates with entrepreneurial DNA will treat you like a prospect for their services. They think of everyone as a customer for them, their service or their product. They know that the best sales pitch is, “I can help you sell your product,” and they can’t do that unless they have thoroughly researched your company in preparation for the interview. Entrepreneurial candidates will be familiar with your products, your challenges and your company’s history. Plus, they’ll come to the interview with a pen and notepad and a list of questions.

Do They Want to Work on a Team?
Contrary to popular opinion, entrepreneurs are not loners. Realistically, they know that they must build, depend on and be an essential part of a team. This requires respect for how each player contributes to the overall success of the company.

Look for candidates who show an interest in understanding all the jobs, procedures, outsourced services and suppliers that keep the customer loyal. Ask them how their last job fit into their company’s big picture. And, have them describe how they worked with their teammates and improved communication both inside and outside their previous company. A good entrepreneur will have examples at the ready and will be eager to explain how they oversaw or fit into a team atmosphere at work.

See How They Perform Under Pressure
During the final portion of the interview process, tell the candidate more about what the job entails, who they will be working with and why, how the job supports the customer experience, how your company is organized, and what performance expectations are. Be sure to include how the funds get from the ultimate client to the company to cover their paycheck.

If this sounds like a large chunk of information to convey, well, that’s the point. After your explanation is finished, ask the candidate to write a one-page summary of your company, the money trail, how they will be working with their teammates and why they qualify for the job. Then, tell them it’s due by 5 p.m. the next day. This summary will tell you volumes about the candidate’s comprehension, organization, communication, ability to hit a deadline, and, frankly, interest in the job. These are all attributes of an entrepreneur.

There are other key factors that can help you spot entrepreneurial DNA, such as assertiveness, dependability, sociability, humility, practicality, tenacity, empathy and humor. If a candidate possesses them, many of these attributes will be evident in their responses to the previous questions.

Finally, remember, it’s not enough to say you are looking for entrepreneurial DNA in your candidates. You and your company have to walk the talk. You must build a culture of permission, enthusiasm, inclusiveness, recognition and acknowledgment, and have a performance-based compensation plan. If you want your employees to be more entrepreneurial, create the fertile ground in which they will bloom.

Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey are co-authors of The Entrepreneurial Culture: 23 Ways to Engage and Empower Your People. For more information, visit

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