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The Airport Test: A Simple Rule for Startup Hiring

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Recruiting for your startup is hard. In fact, it could be even harder than raising money, closing deals, finding partners and doing sales.

Most startup founders and early employees are pretty inexperienced when it comes to hiring, and they rarely devote enough time to the process (in the early stages of your company it’s pretty hard to drag yourself away from anything that generates revenue).

Unfortunately, hiring isn’t just hard, it’s essential. The first 10-20 people that you hire will have a huge impact on your chances of making it big. Every person needs to add value in a different way - there’s no space for dead weight, you need a team of superstars.

As a startup that builds recruiting technology, it’s safe to say that we take hiring pretty seriously (we’d be hypocrites if we didn’t right?) Even we’ve had a few disasters though - one new hire didn’t even last 24 hours!

The reason? Cultural fit.

At the early stage of a company, every new hire you make has a serious impact on your fledgling company culture. Culture is organic, it’s the people that you hire that shape it and drive it in a particular direction.

[tweetery]Culture is organic, it’s the people that you hire that shape it and drive it in a particular direction.[tweetery-end]

Your responsibility as a founder or recruiter is to try and guide it in the right direction and guard against any “bad apples” that might ruin everything. You never lose this responsibility - look at Brian Chesky’s open letter to new Airbnb employees asking them not to “f*ck up the culture” as the company scales.

There’s one problem. While there are plenty of ways to test competence and screen for skills, there’s no real test for cultural fit. It’s more of a feeling that you get during the interview process (i.e. I can see myself working well with this person).

At Beamery we use a (very) simple thought exercise known as the “airport test” as a final qualifier for all potential new hires. It’s our way of determining cultural fit before we pull the trigger on anyone new...

It's a great test for startup hiring, but it can be used by teams of any size to help determine cultural fit.

Take a trip to the airport

Close your eyes.

You’ve just arrived at the airport to discover that your flight is cancelled. It’s a 5 hour wait to the next one

It’s not a good airport to be stuck at. Bad wi-fi, no food outlets, a limited selection in Duty Free for you to browse and limited alcoholic options so you can’t drown your sorrows!

It’s just you and the candidate that you’re interviewing. Can you handle 5 hours alone with them? Will you be able to find common ground and strike up a conversation? Will you enjoy your trip to the airport?

If the answer is no, don’t hire them.

This might seem brutal, but when your company is small, your employees are like a second family. You’re probably going to be spending a LOT of time together so if you don’t get on, (or if you think that they’re not a cultural fit), you shouldn’t hire them.

This could lead to a few tough decisions when you start to hire actively, but ultimately you have to weigh up someone’s talent with their fit for your company. If they’re not a fit, there are usually more fish in the sea.