5 reasons why startups should hire strugglers than achievers

I have been part of a startup for the last 5 years. We have literally built it block by block. I mostly focus on talent acquisition and hiring. Everytime there is a vacancy, we are flooded with resumes. It is a herculean task to gauze a candidate’s calibre through those two pages. Being a smaller organization complicates the problem even more. Firstly, we do not have all the time and resource to interview wide pool of candidates. Secondly, we have to recruit nothing but the best. Margin of error is very low and the prospective candidate has to be very sharp to learn the skills and take ownership from the word go.

Generally when I have to select my list of candidates for interview, I run a quick round of check to select all the qualified candidates. These are the candidates who have the bare minimum qualifications that are mandated by the profile. For example, if I have to hire an editor, I expect a certain level of proficiency in the language. In this list there are primarily two kinds of people. First group of people are the high achievers. These are those who have always topped their class, graduated from premier institute and bagged the most coveted jobs. Second class of people are the strugglers. These are those who struggled all the way to the top. They may not have been the toppers or may not have graduated from best of the best colleges. These are those who were jobless or got a menial job but fought their way back to be as qualified as the high achievers. I call the former group- the SWIMMERS and the later, SURVIVORS. Swimmers are those who have just seen the breadth of water. They have always remained at  the top and know the breadth of water. But survivors are those who did not know how to swim at the onset. They almost drowned. They have seen the darkness at the depths and have ultimately survived and swam through. While they know the breadth of water, they also know the depth.

Let me elucidate this with an example. Suppose I present to you a candidate who is a college dropout, has been frequently switching jobs,was a drug addict earlier and have had a disturbed childhood, would you hire such a candidate? Most of you would definitely turn him down.Congratulation! You just turned down Steve Jobs’ resume.


While hiring for my startup, I always prefers hiring the survivor than a swimmer for following 5 reasons

1.Survivor knows how to fight back during tough times

Achievers are super talented. They always got what they wanted. While excelling in academics is great, life is a different ball game altogether. When faced with failure, swimmers might never attempt to make a come back, leave alone making a comeback. Most of the people would give up when ousted from their own company but not Steve Jobs. He had struggled all through his life. So when ousted from Apple, he must have told himself , “I have seen worse, I can bounce back”. And so did he.

2. Survivor will have a lower price tag

When you are hiring a candidate, you are hiring him for the skill set he brings to the table and not the big brands that endorse of him. Ofcourse, people from Ivy league colleges would be smart as they could get through the rigorous admission process. But that doesn’t mean that all the talents are restricted to fewer premier institutes.If I have two front end developers, both almost equally qualified, I would prefer the survivor than the swimmer because the swimmer would be overvalued owing to so many renowned tags on his resume.

3. Easy to retain Survivors

Swimmers have great demand in the market. Most companies exclusively hire from Ivy league colleges to make a brand statement. Hence, swimmers will be poached by other players in the market. Only companies who have an elaborate process to identify talent would hire a survivor.

4. Easy to connect to masses

If we assume Normal distribution (bell curve), Swimmers would constitute only 2-5% of the entire population. Hence, the rest 95% find it easy to connect to a survivor. A classic example of this is India’s current Prime Minister Mr Narendra Modi. He used to sell Tea in his childhood. This humble background made masses believe that he was one among them.

5. Better risk appetite

“He who is down need fear no fall.”

Survivors have seen worst times of their lives. Hence, they do not fear losing all. It is this fearlessness that gives them a great risk appetite.As a start-up, you need to take some big gambles and this is where survivors get an edge over the swimmers.
In the nutshell, I would anyday prefer a struggler over a survivor, given that they are equally qualified. At the same time, I am not trying to put one particular group into a certain box. An achiever could show traits of survivor as well, in which case, you should hire him immediately.