Question: When making early-stage hires, is it better they be skilled at one thing or be a jack-of-all-trades and why?
Specialized, but Adaptable People
"When we hire people for our agency, we look for people who are really strong in one particular area, but who are adaptable and can fill in the blanks where needed. As the organization grows, we'll have amazingly talented people in specific areas who can focus on their crafts while also leading teams, driving projects and advising on what is happening in their industries/niches."
Adapters and Skilled Workers
"This question really depends on what positions you're looking to hire. If you're hiring a bookkeeper, office manager, developer or anything else that requires a certain silo of knowledge, hiring the best candidate in that silo is a wise move. If, however, you're hiring a manager, marketer, salesperson or executive, being multifaceted is incredibly important when you need people who can adapt."
"In the early stages, find people who are willing to do anything and learn anything they don't know how to do. When you're first getting started, it's helpful if you have employees who are willing to do whatever it takes to help the company. I've found the most important attributes in an early-stage hire to be humility, strong work ethic, flexibility, aptitude for high growth and a team-oriented mentality."
"Although the position will determine the scope of skills needed, a more important trait is flexibility. Startups adapt quickly to the environment and jack-of-all-trades workers will need to set up and change projects quickly, while employees with focused skills will need to adapt as needs change. An HR specialist, for example, may need to switch from hiring interns to finding seven to ten developers."
"The most important factor for hiring is finding a good culture fit. The right person can multiply the output of the team with his or her contribution. Skills can be learned, so it doesn't actually matter if they're skilled at one thing or a jack-of-all-trades, but culture can't be taught."
"Jacks-and-Janes-of-all-trades are critical in a startup's early days. You want passionate generalists more than specialists. One example for us is Virginia Lee. She helps with customer support, customer development, product requirements and even planning our launch party. She did all of this and deferred much of her salary in exchange for equity. We wouldn't be here today without people similar to Virginia."
"Ideally, you want to hire a candidate who has the strengths you desire, but who also has background knowledge in a variety of skills. By doing this, you will have an employee who can adapt quickly to new training, strengthen his or her skills and be versatile for your company."
"Early on, you typically have such a small staff that you cannot hire just one person per task. Every hire needs to wear multiple hats. But that doesn’t mean that they need be a jack-of-all-trades, per se; that’s extreme. Nor do you want someone who is just a one-trick pony. You should hire for the middle ground -- someone who has multiple skill sets and can add value in different areas."
"As you grow, specialization of roles becomes increasingly important. Early in a company's life however, the versatile, Swiss Army Knife-type employees can provide a disproportionate amount of value while you are capital constrained and limited on the number of people you can add to your team."
"I think the only person who needs to be a jack-of-all-trades is the founder. For early hires, it's better that they are exceptional in a specific area so you can have them focus on that. If someone's a born salesperson, he or she should be selling. If someone's an exceptional hacker, then he or she should be programming. There's no reason to have the person spend time on a bunch of other things."
"Either skilled, focused individuals or jack-of-all-trades types will be successful in your company if they share your vision, fit in with the team, have a good interpersonal work style and are relentlessly focused on how to immediately contribute to your team. Skilled folks can help manage domains, but jacks can thrive in uncertainty and change. You need both. "
The Right Fit
"You want the right people on board before worrying about where exactly the lines of responsibility are drawn. Because the business plan, competitive landscape and technologies will be extremely different in 18 to 24 months, the most important part is getting the correct, adaptable team in place as you finalize the direction of the company. A well-rounded employee is much more valuable."