What do startups look for in candidates?

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With startup culture well and truly entrenched in the public consciousness today, it seems like everyone has an opinion about them. While there’s undoubtedly some truth hidden within the mountains of memes and clichés, we at Geektrust thought to help clear up some of the confusion. So here’s what most startups look for in an ideal candidate, apart from good clean code, of course.

Someone who “gets it”

Most startups are founded by people who have identified a possible solution to a pressing problem. While the problems vary greatly, the underlying ambition is usually the same — an improvement of the status quo. This problem-and-solution dynamic is so captivating that the founder(s) have decided to make monumental changes to their lives, often risking everything, just to have a shot at the fix. Often these problems are ones that the establishment deems too risky to pursue, and the solutions require a complete overhaul of the way the industry operates. 

From climate-change fighting innovations in clean energy, organic food and electric mobility; to revolutionising taxi and delivery services for better access; to the blockchain-based upending of finance, it’s usually the startup that takes those first bold steps into the unknown. 

Considering the magnitude of the tasks at hand, finding the right people who truly understand the vision of the company, with all of its possible challenges and rewards, is one of the most important factors that will determine its success or failure. 

So the next time you come across a company you’d like to work with, ask yourself, “Do you really get it?”

The right fit

A far cry from the homogenous, one-size-fits-all approach that most large corporations tend to adopt, most startups have unique cultures that closely reflect the small groups of people who work there. These people have painstakingly infused their values and personalities into the firm’s work culture and this is evident from the moment you walk in the door. We often hear startup employees refer to each other as members of a family, so like most families, expect each company to have its own unique flavour, replete with endearing positives and the inevitable eccentricities as well. 

Like Sahaj Software, where the culture is so transparent and trust-based that client contracts, company profits, and even salaries are accessible to everyone who works there. Or at Quintype, whose general vibe is so open, friendly and fun that most people are hooked from the word go. 

We’ve even been told that the decision to join a startup was made based on the excellent burgers on offer during the interview! (Though we can’t in good conscience recommend this unless the startup’s trying to reinvent the burger. Or your middle name’s Jughead.)

Finding a culture that aligns with your own identity is an important factor that will decide whether you will be happy with them, and them with you. 


Much like the famed rover, the stellar startup candidate enjoys exploring the unknown in pursuit of the truth. Given the fundamentally experimental nature of many startups, deeply curious people who go searching for solutions rather than sit back and wait for instruction are a startup’s dream. Oftentimes, unlike at larger companies, you will be only told what the problem is, and that it needs to be solved. It will be up to you to do the rest.

This drive for answers will undoubtedly go a long way towards overcoming the myriad of obstacles in the company’s path and is a highly desirable trait.


One that’s not just for answers but for almost every aspect of the successful startup’s journey. The flip side of not working as a tiny insignificant cog in a giant corporation is that there’s more agency, purpose and accountability in a startup. And while the stereotype of startup burnout is often overblown – companies of all sizes can push their employees too hard for too long – there is a lot to be said for a self-driven individual who takes ownership of his or her work, and does not need to be constantly cajoled into getting things done. 

Your risk appetite

Let’s be honest, startups aren’t for people looking for predictable, routine work that doesn’t change much over time. The very nature of most startups center around experimentation and constant change, and this obviously reflects in the day-to-day. This can either be fresh, invigorating and precisely what you’ve been looking for after all those years of cookie-cutter mundanity, or all rather anxiety-inducing. It depends solely on your perspective and appetite for risk at this stage in your career.

A growth mindset

Not everyone can be the Mozart of code right off the bat, but the right mindset guarantees that you’ll develop and evolve with time. With startups, this matters more than most anywhere else, as a fledgling company with a great idea can grow so rapidly that it can be derailed by its own exponential growth curve. And as the whole is nothing but the sum of its parts, having team members who can learn, unlearn, adapt and grow is vital to it being able to stay on track. 

Furthermore, if you’re able to effectively employ a growth mindset, you will grow along with the company with every collective success contributing to the betterment of your own personality and skillset. 

It’s the pursuit of excellence, not perfection, that leads to real growth and success. No wonder some of the most famous startup mantras are, “Fail fast, learn fast”, “Move fast and break things”, and “Done is better than perfect”. 


Whilst every trait here would put you in good stead during that next interview, if we were to choose just one, it would be grit. The ability to put your head down and get over the finish line whatever the circumstances. There are times throughout all spheres of life where the going will get tough, and the startup world is by no means an exception. Those who are able to get going, and not let up, are undoubtedly the ones who emerge stronger on the other side. It’s what every sergeant would want in their squad, every coach in their star players, every leader in their team. 

It is fundamental. Strive for grit.

So there you have it! A fairly comprehensive (but by no means exhaustive) list of things startups look for in an ideal candidate. Did we miss something? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below. And if you’d like to work at a startup (or a bigger company with a startup state of mind), check out our Jobs page.

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