When hiring, how do you know when you’ve found ‘the one’? Goterra’s head of people Laura Stuart shares her tips


Goterra head of people Laura Stuart.

At Goterra, we’re building an agtech company that aims to change the world through sustainable waste management.

But this couldn’t happen without passionate people, who believe in our mission, and who are invested in seeing our technology through to the end.

With a fresh funding round behind us, our hiring has never been more important, because growing the team means growing our ability to execute on our vision.

So, what do we look for in new hires?

We started by looking at the team we have and asking them what they value most about working at Goterra. We asked what stories they could tell us about what it felt like when we were at our very best. And then we built our company values around those stories.

So now, these cultural values are built into our hiring process, and we actively look for new hires who are the best fit for us.

But we are also learning that there are other qualities we need in our team.

We know this because we have learnt the hard way that people who are not strong on these six traits will struggle to thrive.

So what are they?

1. Passion

Not surprisingly, when we asked our team about what they valued most about working at Goterra, the mission came out on top.

Saving the world is more than a 9-to-5 job. It’s a calling.

We look for candidates who are as inspired by what we do as we are. It is human to want to have meaningful and impactful work.

Working toward a goal that is greater than yourself, that does good in the world, is a great motivator, and can unleash hidden energy and drive to put your heart and soul into what you do.

Passion turns work into fun.

2. Initiative

Initiative is about making things happen. It’s seeing what needs to be done and taking action.

It means taking responsibility for our broader goals and taking actions that take us closer to get there.

Initiative is nice to have in any team, but in a place like ours, it is a core capability for all team members at all levels.

Showing initiative is not always easy. It takes courage to step into an empty space, name a problem, and take responsibility to fix it.

All new hires need to be brave.

3. Flexibility

This is perhaps the most undervalued of superpowers, and the most critical.

Flexibility allows you to draw on the breadth of your experience in the moment and understand the challenges you are facing.

We need this at Goterra because everything we do is new. We are constantly iterating, pivoting from prototype to prototype, and into commercialisation.

At the same time, our processes and systems are changing as we shift and grow.

We need team members who are comfortable working in a dynamic environment.

This holds true for all startups.

Look for candidates whose experience and attitude suggest they are adaptable and can flourish in an environment in which processes and systems are not fully bedded down.

4. Learning mindset

In developing our cultural constitution, the value that stood out as core to our company is the learning mindset.

‘We are learning’ is on the top of the list of Goterra’s values.

Everything we do is new. Our people and our company are always learning. Every day.

We need our team to be open to new perspectives and actively look to learn from each other.

And building on the qualities previously mentioned, what we really need is for people to take initiative and be flexible in their learning.

This means each team member needs to take ownership of their learning process. They need to work out where the gaps are and what they need to work on or understand.

Being flexible in learning means taking feedback on board and then responding by adjusting your actions.

Look for candidates who know how they like to learn and will use this understanding to improve.

5. Values alignment

After ‘we are learning’, we have other values which are just as important. We created them as a team, using our own language.

‘We are in this boat together.’

‘Be yourself.’

‘Keep it simple.’

‘Do the maggot math.’

This last one has a story to it. Basically, it’s a trigger to remind us of the need to understand biology and technology to solve problems.

When hiring, look for candidates who align with all of your values, not just your most prominent one.

6. Leadership

Ultimately, when we put all these qualities together, we understood that what we need in our team is leadership. At all levels.

The people who grow the insects, the people who build the tech, the people who keep our facility and our company moving, all need to be leaders in their own right.

And this is true, by nature, for all startups.

You’re looking for the kind of people who take responsibility and are not afraid to step up to the plate and make things happen.

The right fit

When you are selecting from a range of candidates, how do you choose that right person?

The culture piece is key to this. We identified the culture we wanted to create here at Goterra. And we actively look for people who are going to align with our values and champion that culture.

We’ve tried to understand what it is that we need broadly, and to gain a sense of clarity around attributes such as flexibility, adaptability and initiative. These are things that we need in all of our roles. We look at candidates who’ve had a range of different experiences and we see the positives in having people having diverse backgrounds.

Our team is made up of people from a range of professional backgrounds, from biologists to tradespeople and software developers. More than one-third are from non-English speaking backgrounds. Being able to draw from multiple ways of thinking to solve problems makes us stronger.

The first step in our recruitment is an initial screening where we look at cultural fit.

We call it the ‘Dickhead Test’. Basically, we talk to candidates and try to suss out whether they seem like a nice person.

Are they easy to talk to do? Do they sound energetic and engaged? Will they get along with us as people? Do they get excited when they’re talking about Goterra?

We’ve also found that actually asking people to do things is another way of getting to know if it’s going to work. We get them in to spend time with the team, we give them something to do and we see how they approach it.

If that’s a software person, that could be a coding test. But if that’s a farm technician, it could be coming in for two hours, to meet the maggots we work with, touch the maggots, even feed the maggots. And then we’ll find out whether they really want to be here.

NOW READ: Climate change technology will boost the economy post-COVID-19, and startups can deliver it, says Goterra founder Olympia Yarger

NOW READ: “It’s not over yet”: Glaring gender disparity remains in tech, as engineering job ad receives 200 applications, but not one from a woman


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