How to Recognize Traits of High-Performance From Candidates with Non-Traditional Backgrounds

Federico Fregosi

Principal Consultant - AI & ML Practice at OpsGuru


The Challenge of Scaling a Startup

In a startup, I worked for previously, I was challenged to scale our company with individuals that would take ownership of our product. When I joined, the company comprised only seven individuals, and we grew rapidly. Our organization hit a point where we needed someone to help us with IT support and grow into other roles. The individual I hired I met previously during University and had an untraditional background. I knew that this individual was self-driven and able to work independently for long hours. I worked to help him succeed and created a foundation that allowed his skills to be amplified, as he now works at a major Fortune 500 company.

Setting A Candidate Up for Success

Gaining Alignment:

The first step in my hiring process was understanding my company’s needs and how I could fill them. I knew I needed an individual that would take ownership of a piece of work and drive it to the finish line. They had to be a trailblazer rather than have a clear path set for them.

Once I knew these parameters, I began to think about how they relate to an individual’s skill set. I decided that they didn’t need the most experienced engineer but rather someone that would put in the effort, take ownership, and solve their problems. In return, I could provide my hire with an entry into a fast-growing startup, meaning a quick-moving career path.

Viewing the CV:

When our company was looking at CV’s of prospective candidates, we found many individuals with experience working with the latest technologies and systems. While this was impressive, what stood out the most to me was the actionable items on the CV, whether this is volunteer work or clubs. Any activities that went beyond the day-to-day tasks and challenges meant that individuals were willing to take full ownership and responsibility for an item.

Prepare the Platform:

Once I hired the individual, our company assessed his skills. We knew that he didn’t have any direct experience working as an engineer developing the products we developed, but his soft skills and work ethic were unmatched. Our organization worked to assess his abilities and understand the problems that he enjoyed working on and succeeded.

Moving forward, I prepared the platform where he would work. I explained the goals he was looking to accomplish in detail but gave him autonomy to work on his projects himself. We set time constraints but let this individual work at his own pace, completely independently. At the same time, I ensured my company was ready to support him and pay for any courses that may be necessary for him to ramp up to speed. Whenever he had questions or blockers, we were there to answer them and push him forward.

Advice for Creating a Successful Platform for Candidates to be Able to Succeed

  • If you are looking to hire a highly capable individual with non-traditional experience, speak with them to understand how a position in your company will enable them to grow in their career. Rather than being selfish and looking to see how a candidate can help the company, try and view it from the individual’s perspective.
  • Make sure to prepare an environment that will allow an individual to thrive. While they may not need day-to-day coaching, it will be necessary to open up opportunities to gain more skills, whether this be courses or mentorship.

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Federico Fregosi

Principal Consultant - AI & ML Practice at OpsGuru

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