In another Small Business Q&A post, we take a look at a common hiring question.
Q: I feel like my business can’t grow because I do not have enough people and I have to do everything. How do I make good hiring choices at this stage of my business?
A: Often, some of the most difficult situations come at this “maturing” stage of a business. That is, your business is growing up to really take on its own identity, and to survive, it needs to expand beyond you.
Hiring is tough, no one who has done it will argue with that. There are so many dynamics, from team building, to building a symbiotic arrangement of positions, to simply finding enough time to hire someone. After all, if you had all the time you needed to hire, you probably would not need anyone to help you. The key is to be smart with your time, and your goals, in order to achieve the long-term results you are after.
When I look at hiring, the first thing I think about is being clear about what I want. This may sound funny, in that, of course, you want someone to help you. However, at this stage of your business, your first few hires will probably be your hardest. Never again will you bring on staff members that have such a profound impact on your business, and on the way you interact with your business.
Albeit somewhat tedious, writing a clear job description is key. In fact, I like to write not only a job description, but also a summary of the types of qualities an ideal candidate for this position would have before I ever write a job ad. As with most other things, it is hard to achieve what you want if you don’t identify what you want in advance.
By clearly defining the role of this new employee, along with the qualities of a person that would most benefit the role (and the business); the easier the hiring process will go. After all, the job of “you” is already taken, so it is important to find someone with the qualities that will help them thrive. By taking the time to identify this, you not only do yourself a favor in being able to know whom you are looking for, but you also do decrease the likelihood of hiring someone that will not really enjoy this type of work.
As a quick example of this, I once needed to hire an assembly foreman to sit at the end of our assembly line and do final quality-assurance checks (as well as just keep an eye on the whole assembly “machine”). This person acted as a quality and accuracy gate at the end of our assembly line, and nothing went out without his/her say-so. I had identified what I wanted in this type of person, so I knew what to look for in the interviews with prospective candidates. When it came time to ask one of my favorite interview questions, “What are your hobbies?” (it is amazing how telling this question can be about someone’s personality), I knew we had found our right person when one applicant answered “Puzzles, models, and NASCAR.” That is, someone with these hobbies is likely to have a high attention to detail; be able to follow detailed, complex instructions explicitly; and be able to focus/concentrate for extended periods of time. All of these qualities were listed in my “ideal applicant profile”, and this applicant went on to be one of the best hiring choices I ever made.
When it comes to writing the job ad, I make sure I am being clear about what the job is, and what I am after. Often, business owners can get a little wordy about wanting to sell their business and their concept in a job ad, since the business is their baby. At this point, though, potential job seekers just want to know as much as possible about the job. There will be plenty of time in later stages to answer questions and give background about the company. Additionally, I also write in the language of the person(s) I am looking to attract. Just as with any good marketing, I want to know my customer (the ideal job candidate), and I want to position this job to be as clear and appealing to my ideal candidate(s) as possible.
There are lots and lots of books written about interviewing and candidate selection, so for the purpose of this article; I will keep my comments brief on these topics. The bottom-line for me is that I want to hire someone that will thrive in their given role. I want to hire someone I can trust, and I want to create a win/win situation for both the employee and the company. After all, if the employee is happy, the benefits multiply back to the customers, the co-workers, and the business (and the employee is more likely to feel like a member of the team). And, by keeping the goals for the type of person you want in this position handy, it will be easier to use a common yard stick to base the rating of the job applicants. It is amazing to me how strongly human elements can bias a selection process (bad mood, after a big lunch, after getting bad news, etc.), and the more objective you can be in your hiring, the better off you will be.
I specifically mention trust, because in the early stages of building the staff of a business, delegation and hands-off management are key. Since there is no formal management structure in place, the best employees are usually the ones who can work without being micro-managed.
I also would stick with the old adage of “hire slow, fire fast.” I typically conduct 2-3 interviews with prospective hires (often, I will add a phone interview stage if their position will be on the phone much), then I also do a try-out day. This way, the potential employee and employer can try each other on for a day, and see how things fit.
Lastly, I always, always, always check up on references, previous employment, and any other useful background element. Since bad hires can be so expensive and demoralizing, I like to take my time with hiring. If someone is right, they will always be right, and there is typically no need to unreasonably rush through the hiring process.