7 Ways to Spot Entrepreneurial DNA in Job Candidates

Companies 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. By Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey

Companies 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.  By Michael Houlihan  and Bonnie Harvey

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.

“Listen for evidence of how they used their imagination.”

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 ulture 23 Ways to Engage and Empower Your People. For more information, visit

7 Ways to Know It’s Time to Fire Somebody

While many distributors are in hiring mode right now, they should also constantly be evaluating their current staff to see if everybody is meeting the entrepreneurial standards that you’re looking for. Of course, firing employees isn’t easy, and many companies and managers tend to drag it out for reasons that have nothing to do with business goals.

Yes, it’s downright difficult – so difficult in fact that we tend to put it off long after we know it’s inevitable. Why? Because we wonder if “the devil we know is better than the one we don’t.” We worry about the cost of turnover, which includes not only the selection process, the training and the loss of productivity, but also the loss of  company knowledge, relationships and even customers. But ultimately, all good leaders know when somebody simply isn’t cutting it anymore.

So how do we know it’s time to fire someone? Here are seven signs to look for.
Asleep at the Wheel. They are in the job, but not really doing the job. They see the job as some kind of busy work but never wake up to the big picture. They want someone to tell them what to do, but not tell them why. They don’t want to take responsibility and don’t want to be held accountable. In short, they don’t own the job.

Can’t Get Out of First Gear. They get to the minimum level of performance but won’t leave their comfort zone to take on new and challenging requirements of the job. They keep asking for examples but can’t extrapolate the lessons learned in one area to a new area. They demand a copy-and-paste example for everything.

Running Out of Gas. The energy, enthusiasm and drive just aren’t there. For them, the job is a drudgery that they must do to get paid. They have not asked for, or taken on, any new responsibilities in months. In fact they are trying to get out of the ones they have.

Behind Schedule. They are unable to stay on top of the workload no matter how much of it you reassign to others. They have lots of excuses for missing the deadlines and none of them have to do with their own shortcomings. At best they are testy; at worst, haughty.

Mistakes. You start hearing from your clients, coworkers and vendors that this person is causing issues either in communication or cooperation. They consistently blame others for their problems and use victim language to describe the reasons for their failures.

Grinding Gears. You’re just plain tired of trying to work with this person. They are an energy drain. They don’t tell you where they are on projects – you have to pull it out of them. They argue a lot and try to use debate as a smoke screen to camouflage their inability to produce. In extreme cases they act like they are doing you a favor just to show up for work.

Pushing the Car. You find yourself co-depending and buying into excuses so you don’t have to face the reality that they are way past their usefulness to your company. You give them more and more help and even have others doing their job and spoon-feeding them long after the training period.

These are just a few examples of how you know it’s time for a trade in – or even better, an upgrade. The longer you put up with the employee who should be working for someone else, the more it hurts everyone’s productivity and undermines your credibility with your own people. In other words, it’s time to make the move and begin the process of identifying the next great entrepreneurial spirit to join your team. – MH & BH