Written By Tim Russell
So you’ve launched your business, either alone or with partners. And now you need to start hiring! Maybe you need a PA, an accountant, an admin person, a marketer, a salesperson, or a coder. Whatever role(s) you’re recruiting for, those first hires are absolutely vital to the success of your business. Get it right, and you’re on the right path to success. Get it wrong, and the effects can be very damaging – even fatal – to a fledgling business.
In this article, we’re going to look at the qualities you should be looking for in new hires to stand as good a chance as possible of getting the right people. Obviously, recruitment isn’t an exact science. There’s a fair bit of art involved too, as well as luck and guesswork. And different roles require different qualities and skillsets. But there are certain qualities that apply across the board and which are vital when you’re taking on people in the early stages of the business. So let’s have a look at the 8 key attributes to look for when hiring new employees for your small business
Hiring raw graduates can be beneficial to your business and cheaper. But in the very early stages of your business you don’t have time to teach new staff the ropes. And it’s a big gamble bringing in someone with close to zero work experience. You’re probably not going to be able to afford to hire someone at the top of their game with years of experience. But you should ideally be looking for someone with at least a year in a similar role to the one you’re trying to fill.
I saw a great recruitment website earlier this year, where the first question was “Have you ever done this?” The ‘this’ in question was a function that was vitally important to the role. If you clicked YES, you moved onto the next question. If you clicked NO, you got a polite thanks but no thanks. Whilst this tactic may seem a little abrupt, it avoids both the recruiter and the candidate wasting their time. And it ensures the company only gets applications from people who have the basic experience they require. So you need to identify the key skill that the role requires – WordPress, Quickbooks, closing deals, coding, whatever it may be. And make sure that any CVs that land in front of you at least have that experience on them.
One word we still see too often in recruitment ads is “passion”. “Must have a passion for cleaning bathrooms” and so on. But expecting passion from new hires is a little bit too much. Yes, you’re passionate about your business – you started it, it’s your baby. It’s in a field you love – but you can’t expect others to share that passion. And yet it’s one of the most common causes of frustration amongst small business owners. That their staff will happily head home at 6pm and enjoy their evenings and weekends, whilst you as an entrepreneur are working all hours!
To put it simply, whilst the business is your passion, your pride and joy, your whole life, to your employees it’s where they work. You don’t have a right to demand passion, but you should expect and nurture enthusiasm. Enthusiasm is one of the most valuable key attributes to look for when hiring new employees. So look for people who seem enthusiastic when you interview them. And who have a CV containing not just job experience but a broad range of interests and some additional qualifications, to show they’re generally enthusiastic and active people. Obviously, a keen interest in the field you operate in is a big help too. If you sell photography gear for example, then hiring a photography enthusiast is going to get you bags of enthusiasm from the start.
New businesses generally aren’t divided into departments with clearly defined roles. As an entrepreneur you’re a manager, an accountant, a marketer, a salesperson, a web designer and more, all rolled into one. And chances are, any new staff you hire at this early stage of the game will need to be similarly flexible and adaptable. They need to know this isn’t a role with a rigid job description and set 9-5 hours. And that they’ll almost certainly have to be the human equivalent of a Swiss Army knife when needed!
Again, look for people with a broad range of both skills and interests, and also look at their job experience. If they’ve held a few different roles, or worked as an all-rounder for a small business in the past, they may be just what you need. However, if they’ve only worked in a very specific role for a larger company, they may not have the adaptability you require.
Is savviness a word? Well, it is now. Whatever field you’re in, you’re going to be using technology of some kind. Whether it’s digital marketing solutions, accountancy software, website CMS, a CRM or an ERP, or some industry-specific solutions. So make sure that the people you hire are generally tech-savvy, and that they have experience of using relevant or similar solutions to the ones you do. Obviously, they may not have experience using the exact systems you run in your business. But if they display sufficient tech-savviness and an ability to learn to use new tools then that will more than suffice.
Also ask them if they’re familiar with any tools that you’re not using but should be. Having a new hire able to introduce a valuable new tech solution into the business is a valuable asset. Which kind of brings us onto the next key attributes to look for when hiring new employees.
Skills You Don’t Have
As human beings, we often have fragile egos and we don’t like to admit when we don’t know stuff. Or that some people know more stuff or are better at certain things than us. But when you’re running a small business you have to accept that you don’t know everything. And you can’t do everything. Rather than hiring people who know less than you, you need to hire people who can add to the company’s skill set by having abilities, talents and skills that you don’t. As Lorne Michaels (probably – its origin is the subject of some debate!) once said, when it comes to business, “If you’re the smartest person in the room, then you’re in the wrong room.”
Which basically means, try and hire people who are smarter than you. When put that way, it sounds obvious doesn’t it? If you hire people who are less smart than you, you’re lowering your business’s average intelligence right off the bat. So when hiring, identify what skills are missing in the business. What skills or knowledge you and your founders lack, and find people with those skills. When I started my mobile app business in Thailand in 2015, one of my first hires was a Thai admin/accountant person. I speak very little Thai, I’m totally disorganised and I am numerically challenged. So I wasn’t too proud to look for help in these three areas, and the person I hired stayed with me for four years and was arguably the most essential person in the business!
Honesty & Realism
I put these two together as they’re two sides of the same coin. When hiring, it’s important for you to be honest with the candidates you’re talking to. Don’t paint an overly rosy picture of your business. Be honest about the lack of money, the long hours, the possibility that the business might fail within a year. The tiny, low-rent office space, the fact that you’re not Apple or Google. That way you’ll weed out the people who are expecting a big salary, a coffee machine, table football and stock options.
Managing expectations is vital here and you need candidates who can do the same. The key attributes to look for when hiring new employees works both ways. The old question “tell me about your weaknesses” is a cliche, but at the same time it’s a valuable question. Provided it’s asked with the right intentions. Not to judge people on those weaknesses, but to assess their honesty in admitting to those weaknesses and seeing how they view themselves. And you also want employees who will be honest with you. Who aren’t scared to voice their opinions and point out when they think you’ve made a mistake or they’ve spotted a flaw in your strategy. Whilst we don’t always like being questioned, the worst thing for an entrepreneur to do is hire a team of compliant yes-men.
Sales, Customer Service & Networking Skills
In the early stages of a business, pretty much everything revolves around generating revenue. Sales, sales, sales is the name of the game and everyone, whatever their role, is involved in it to some degree. Even notoriously reclusive coders may have to meet with potential clients or investors!
Therefore anyone you hire at this stage has to be comfortable with, if not actively selling, then at least having conversations with potential customers. Attending trade fairs, exhibitions or other networking events, and providing service to new customers to make sure they stay. So make sure you’re hiring people who are personable, polite, friendly and outgoing, and who have some experience in customer-facing roles. Maybe they worked in a shop or restaurant while they were studying? Perfect! A few months waiting tables or standing behind a counter is the perfect experience when it comes to dealing with potential and existing customers and should not be underrated. But whatever that experience is, when interviewing, just imagine the candidate talking to a big potential customer.
In an early stage business, all those involved are going to be spending a lot of time together, much of it high-paced and stressful. So it’s important that everyone gets along. You aren’t necessarily going to be lifelong friends with everyone you work with. But it’s important when interviewing people to establish what the chemistry is like. And like it or not that usually happens in the first thirty seconds or so.
You’re going to be seeing this person every day for the next few months or even years. So ask yourself, do I like this person? Can I work with them? Am I going to be happy seeing his/her face every morning? Am I happy introducing this person to my founder team or my customers? Does anything about this person rub me up the wrong way? How is their body language? And how do they feel about me? There is little point hiring someone with a stellar skill set if you simply can’t get along with them and they’re going to be a source of conflict. So make sure you – and your partners if you have them – can get on with candidates personally before you hire them. A second interview or an informal meeting over lunch/dinner is a good way to establish this and see how the rapport is.
Of course, hiring and firing isn’t an exact science and there is a lot of gut feeling, intuition and crossing of fingers involved. But if you focus on the above key attributes to look for when hiring new employees for your small business, you give yourself a better chance of making sure that they help grow the business and fit seamlessly into your team. For more advice on how you can run a successful business, visit the Booming Businesses free business advice blog.