How the Startup CEO in Zurich Hired His Head of Business Development

A few weeks ago, I spent an extraordinary day at TEDxZurich with some of the most amazing and inspiring people I have ever met. I have heard a lot about the TED events by now but have never attended one before. I always thought that there must be great people at such an event but I would never have imagined to meet so many bright minds who are chaining the world though their actions.

There are many things I have learned from being at TEDxZurich but one story in particular caught my interest when I heard it. Let me tell you the story of the startup CEO who hired his new head of business development.


All About the Money

One of the people I have met at TEDxZurich is a founder and CEO of a fast growing startup company. I just joined the conversation when he was about to tell everyone proudly that he just hired his new right hand.

Michael has been looking for somebody to join his company for some time now. He interviewed plenty of people and many of them were great on paper. However, there was always something that did not feel right but it was hard to explain what that was.

Initially he almost hired a guy named Paul a few weeks ago. They already had a great chat over Skype and Michael invited him to Switzerland for a face to face meeting.

During the two hours, they almost spent all the time talking about salary packages, bonuses, shares and benefits. Michael actually wanted to talk about marketing and where the company could be if they hired Paul. However, that was almost impossible due to the fact that Paul was so much pushing to know about the money topic.

Eventually they decided not to hire Paul since it was obvious that he was mainly in it for the money, something that does not work very well in a startup environment for both sides.


The “Lucky Shot”

After a few weeks passed, Michael had another full day interview marathon over Skype with 10 people. He wanted to interview everyone in one day so he could better compare them with each other.

The very last person to be interviewed that day was Carlo. Carlo is Italian and in his late 50s. He had done many things in different industries and professions throughout his career.

Michael somehow felt from the beginning that Carlo was different from the other people he interviewed that day. He was much more relaxed and confident about what he said. Everything that came out of his mouth seemed much more authentic and honest.

Having a good feeling already, they entered the last stage of the interview where Michael asked Carlo some of the tougher questions. Two of them were “Why do you want to join our company?” and “Why do you want to join a startup and not a large company?”.

Carlos answer to those questions were very different from other people’s answers. Most others said something like “Because the startup environment is more challenging to me” or “Because it seems like a very interesting company with a lot of potential”.

When Carlo entered the stage to answer this question he simply said “Look, I have done a lot during my career. I have worked in many different fields. Now, I arrived at the last stage of my career and I just want to do something awesome.”

Michael told me that this last sentence was the deciding factor why he hired him.


Why is That Such a Good Answer?

First of all, that exact answer most probably only works if Carlo provides it. For Carlo, this was the most authentic thing to say, it just came natural. Since Carlo and Michael obviously share similar values, this answer was the spark needed to light the hiring decision.

The words itself or the construction of the sentence is nothing special. It’s not like you can copy and past these sentences and succeed. They are unique to Carlo and you may never say something like that. The words Carlo chose resonated with Michael.

I believe that Carlo could have been talking to another startup founder the exact same way and they may not have hired him. At the same time, any other potential hire could have given this exact answer to Michael and he would not have hired him.

The reason why it worked was because the answer was the most authentic and honest one to give for Carlo. At the same time, Michael could feel that Carlo’s answer came from the heart.


What Can You Learn From Carlo?

Whenever people ask me how to prepare for an interview, my answer stays consistent along the lines of “Figure out a way to be authentic and honest. This will ensure success with the people you are meant to work with.”

Authenticity comes from knowing yourself. Many people don’t really know who they are. I had no idea who I was for a very long time. I thought I was “An HR Professional” or “A Sales Manager” or “Recruitment Consultant”.

However, you are not your job title or the clothes you are wearing. You are a reflection of your values. You are what you express. You are what you stand for. It’s on you to define who you are.

This is one of the most challenging things I do with my coaching & mentoring clients.