How to Hire the Best People for Your Startup
I have a confession to make. Historically, I’ve sucked at hiring. And though I didn’t see it at the time, this lead to a lot of headaches and heartaches during the first few years of my business. I was young. I had drive and a dream, but no experience in hiring and managing people. I began to think that people were lazy and had bad attitudes, when really I was the one with the issue – I had a hiring problem.
In the beginning I hired people that I thought would be fun to be around, that I would get along with, and that would (and did) make great friends. But when you hire for great friends, that’s what you get – great friends. If what you want is great employees, then you have use a different tactic.
It took me years to gain the skills to hire the right people for the job. I want to save you the agony and give you the simple guidelines I use now to hire my rockstar team.
Hiring your first (or tenth) employee is a big deal. These people shape your business in so many ways. An assistant that supports you and your business is worth their weight in gold (my assistant certainly is!). A customer service specialist that gets your values for excellence will skyrocket your reputation. Even an amazing babysitter can make your life easier and more serene. So, while hiring, follow these simple guidelines and you’ll end up with a dream team:
1. Determine your core values. In my business our core values are: integrity, respect, compassion, commitment to self-growth, and selfless service. It’s essential to know your company values before you start hiring, because you seek out and interview candidates with these core values in mind.
2. Be clear about what you want. Have a job description with a list of tasks and key skills. What are you offering and what do you need? Some things are coachable, while other skills are not. Decide what skills your ideal employees must already have, and which ones you are willing to train them on. My rule: if it is something they should have learned from their parents – kindness, work ethic, manners – then it’s not something I’m willing to teach them on the job.
3. Hire slowly. Even if you need someone, like, yesterday. Hurrying to fill a position is never going to turn out well. If you rush, you will not be able to clearly access what the applicant is truly capable of. It’s like a romantic relationship. Desperation = settling. Don’t do it.
4. Test their skills before you hire. If you are hiring a graphic designer, for instance, you may ask them to send you their resume and cover letter as a pdf that reflects your brand. This allows you to see three things: whether they are capable of following directions, how creative they are, and how they currently envision your company. Be creative with this and get comfortable doing it. You can have people do a number of different variations of working interviews, where they actually perform the tasks. You can learn a lot about your potential hire this way – before you’ve hired them and it’s too late!
5. Be proactive. Call all of their references, call their past employers, and Google them. If you’re hiring a contractor, ask if you can call his or her past or current clients. You are trying to fully assess whether they have the key skills and core values that you require.
6. Interview. It should go without saying that you need to interview someone before you hire them, but an interview is only as useful as the questions and energy of the interviewer – that’s you! Come prepared with questions that will, again, help you assess if they have the core values and key skills you are looking for. This is the time to be very clear about your expectations. Leave lots of time for them to ask questions. You often learn more about them from their questions, or lack thereof, than their answers.
7. Shape the future. During the hiring process, get them on board with your company’s big picture vision. When I interview, I am very straightforward about this: This is our mission, this is why I am here, and this is why we do what we do. If this is not something that you want to do with your life, then this is not the right job for you. The people that want to be part of your purpose will be inspired, and the people that are looking to just pay the bills will run for the hills (which is exactly what you want!).
8. Start with dating. When you decide to hire that perfect person, start with going steady – but don’t leap into marriage. Set up a time frame (like three months) to work together and then plan to meet at the end of that time to discuss what is working and what is not working, for both of you. If you refer to this as a probationary period, with their full hire being conditional upon satisfactory performance, you also limit your liability (somewhat) if you choose to terminate them at the end of this time.
As I have developed and refined these hiring practices over the years, my business has become more profitable, better for our clients, and more enjoyable to work at. Become a hiring genius and you will end up surrounded by people that support your business and mission, and you might just end up with some great friends after all.