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Hire for Hunger

Everyone has that smart and talented friend who can achieve absolutely nothing. It’s the friend who was born with all the right traits minus hunger. The friend you will never hire to work for you.


Price’s law states that in a 10,000-person company, a mere 100 create 50% of the value. These precious 100 are not necessarily the smartest or the most talented.


But they are always the hungriest.


What is Hunger


Hungry people have an insatiable desire for 3 things:

  • Grow to the next level no matter their current level

  • Overachieve no matter what has been achieved so far

  • Remove the next roadblock no matter how big it is

Hunger maps nicely to the key challenges of a startup:

  • Rapidly changing environment

  • Momentum must always accelerate

  • Problems never stop coming

That’s why you need hungry people on your team. They are the people who improve your company by constantly improving themselves, raising the bar, and solving problems the moment they come up.


Identifying Hunger When You See It


Micha Breakstone is an entrepreneurial role model for me. His advice inspired the methodology below.


The hunger level of a candidate can be assessed using gut reaction, hunger history, and future plans.


Gut reaction


“We’re on an urgent mission” is Micha’s first company value. He says it to every candidate and watches their gut reaction. This reaction tells him whether the candidate’s sense of “urgent” is what he’s looking for.


Hungry people are not afraid of working hard. They know that great things are achieved through great effort. They say “work smart and hard” and seek work-life harmony over work-life balance.


Hunger history


You can identify hungry people by their history, even if they have zero work history. They constantly try to learn, achieve more, and excel. They’ve been doing this since they were kids.


Look into history by asking concrete questions:

  • What is your proudest achievement?

  • What is a hard thing you did by choice?

  • What is your biggest failure?

If they have that insatiable force inside them you will quickly notice.


Future plans


Hungry people don’t necessarily have a detailed plan for the future, but they always aim to achieve a lot and soon. Good enough doesn’t cut it for them, they want to grow at an exponential rate.


The most telling question is: where will you be in 5 years?


“Wow, this person is going to achieve something in life” is the sentiment you want to have.


Hunger & Bias


It is dangerously easy to mix hunger with traits that have nothing to do with hunger. If you do this, you will end up hiring non-hungry people while being biased along the way.


Here are the pitfalls to avoid:

  • Hunger has nothing to do with introversion or extroversion. Loud outgoing people are not hungrier than their quiet counterparts

  • Hunger has nothing to do with age or seniority. Older senior people can be voracious while many young people are dead on the inside

  • Hunger is not about wanting more scope of seniority. An engineer who wants to become the very best at their narrowly focused expertise can be just as hungry and valuable as an engineer who can’t wait to become the CTO

  • Hunger has nothing to do with confidence. My secret suspicion is that less confident people tend to be more hungry on average

  • Hunger looks different depending on the candidate's privilege. For example, getting into a good school shows more hunger if the candidate comes from an underprivileged family

Don’t generalize and don’t pattern-match. Just judge hunger case-by-base.


Conclusion


Hungry people are the powerhouse of startups.


To identify hunger, you want to look for an insatiable desire to learn, excel, and solve any problem. You can assess it in 3 ways:

  • Gut reaction - how does the candidate react to the idea of working hard on something urgent?

  • Hunger history - what signs of hunger can you find in the candidate's history?

  • Future plans - how ambitious are they about their future?

Don’t confuse hunger with any other character traits like confidence or extroversion. Look for that inner fire directly.


Hungry people don’t guarantee success, but they make your odds of changing the world greater than zero.

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