One of the most stressful roles for most entrepreneurs is that of Employer. Finding the right people with the right skills, personality, and attitude is a challenge, to say the least. The hiring process provides some opportunities to sift through the candidates, but only if you know what you are looking for and how to find it.
Before the hiring process begins, it is critical to define exactly what you are looking for in a new employee. General work responsibilities should obviously be defined in each job description, along with any specific skills or experience necessary to successfully fill the position. Writing job descriptions for each staff position should be completed prior to recruiting as this will help you target your help-wanted marketing effectively. In addition, consider the personality traits that will best fit in with the culture your company has developed. New hires do not need to be just like everyone else, but should be able to fit in and complement the staff you already have.
The resumes and applications that come in are your first line of evaluation. Some employers elect to use a checksheet, comparing the resume information against the experience required in the job description and selecting those with the highest score. Unless the job requires identical experience, this is not the best way to find the right employee. Instead, look for evidence of the fundamental skills the job requires rather than someone who has done exactly the same thing. For example, if you are seeking a worker to sell widgets, the sales experience is far more important than widget knowledge. A talented salesperson can sell ice to Eskimos, so don’t reject a resume simply because they are new to your particular industry. If the resume includes a cover letter, read it. It is common for employers to overlook the cover letter, but they can reveal quite a bit about a potential worker. Misspellings or poor grammar may indicate a lack of attention to detail…if they won’t put forth their best work on trying to get the job, they aren’t likely to give much more once they are hired.
Once the resumes are narrowed down to a few qualified candidates, the next step is the dreaded interview. Interviews are tough from either side of the desk. Both parties have a lot at stake and both are trying to leave a good impression. Your questions should be developed before you begin interviewing candidates. Only include questions that are designed to elicit specific information related to the job you are hiring for. Keep in mind that the candidates are going to be slightly more anxious and slightly more serious than normal, so don’t expect the responses you see in the interview to be the final answer on that candidate.
Try to be creative in finding out what you need to know, but don’t subject your interviewees to ridiculous “tests” to see how they handle a situation. There was a recent trend of leaving candidates alone in an office for a long time, or staging catastrophes, or asking silly “what three items would you want if you were stranded” questions that were supposed to reveal some deep dark evidence about the candidates’ personality or character. These methods are not only ineffective, but lack integrity. Ask what you need to know and try to elicit a conversational tone to the interview. Both parties will be more comfortable and you are far more likely to see the “real” person on the other side of the desk.
If the position you are filling includes any specific job requirements that can be easily tested, consider requesting samples of work from the candidate. If the job requires communicating with customers and suppliers by email, shoot an email to each candidate and evaluate the responses you receive. If they will be writing ad copy, ask them to come to the interview with ideas for improving your current marketing campaign. If they will be joining the sales staff, ask them to sell you an item from your desk. These methods can be very revealing as to how the candidate gets work done and how they will fit in with the established culture of your venture.
For example, one small business owner was looking for an IT worker to revamp the company website. He asked each candidate to review the website before their interview and tell him the first three things they would do if hired. Several candidates listed changing the image, adding content, and other basic site alterations as their top three. One candidate said she would spend a few days getting to know the employees, customers, and products before suggesting any content changes because the website should be a pure reflection of the image and culture of the business. She got the job.
Finding the right employees for your startup is critical. They will not only be representing your business, but they will also be representing YOU. Never hire out of desperation. If you can’t find the right candidate, consider hiring through a temporary labor service to test out employees before you commit. Also, don’t expect the perfect employee to just show up from off the street. Keep an eye out for good employees of other businesses and target any recruiting to the pool of people most likely to fit with your image and culture. Most importantly, prepare yourself for the legal and procedural issues that come with being an employer long before you plan to hire.
K. MacKillop, a serial entrepreneur with a J.D. from Duke University, is founder of LaunchX and authors a blog focused on starting a business (http://www.blog.launchx.com/). LaunchX has developed an Employer’s Manual to help new and existing businesses prepare to hire their first employees (http://www.launchx.com/unit-5.html). Check out the complete line of business startup kits from http://www.LaunchX.com/
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