Startup Hiring: Uruk Hai Don't Make Good Account Managers
Uruk-Hai are incredible at many things. But perhaps not account management.
Back to the generalist vs. specialist debate .
There are two key issues in this context of generalist hiring vs. specialist hiring - and one is a significantly bigger challenge than the other. Problem 1 is mastery, and problem 2 is the big, hairy Uruk-Hai problem.
Let's start with me, for context: I am (largely) a generalist. And admittedly not great at most things. Good at many things, just not great. This issue of mastery is simple: It takes quite some time to get proficient at a job, and longer to attain expertise.
There's another challenge, a much bigger one: that of strength discovery. The Uruk-Hai problem. To be clear, on this aspect, there are horses for courses. I've come across a few examples in the past few years that made me wonder if the MBA route just led to terrible career choices:
- A creative, idea-driven person stuck in an account management role that demanded deep deadline-discipline and a "don't rock the boat too much" attitude. It's a struggle.
- A disciplined, number-loving, detail-oriented operator in a pure strategy and ideation role.
The strength discovery problem has led to many an unhappy employee/employer, and the "MBA-type" stereotype. Both startups and folks joining startups for these roles are equally at fault here.
There are personalities for roles, even if they look the same on paper. And it's best to focus on this aspect at the hiring stage for a startup. I do hope startups stop hiring "generalists" in the hope of miracles.
And if you're an Uruk-Hai, don't try to be an account manager. Play to your strengths. Go to war with Saruman.
EDIT: Got a more nuanced view from Bill Grosso on the topic. His view: "Specialists are optimizations, and are really more for bigger companies. In startups, you want people who do "good enough" work, and do so with the big picture in mind. Maybe that's the true statement: I prefer generalists who can do deep dives on occasion, and who can follow other people's deep dives. But who are, generally speaking, not inclined to diving on a regular basis.". By the way, Bill runs a phenomenal startup called Scientific Revenue.