Along with making your first sale or landing your first customer or client, one of the most exciting milestones for a new startup is hiring your first employee. Finally, someone other than the founders will be joining you. Helping to make the dream of your future success a reality by putting in the hours and hard work to realize your goals. However, the importance of investing time in this process should not be underestimated. If you thought you’d just place a job ad and sit back and choose from the applicants flooding your inbox, think again.
Arguably, the first hires a startup makes are among the most important. This is because, depending on their successes, these will be the people to lay the foundations for further hires in the future. They will also allow you to continue to grow and scale your business. So, when you’re in a position to start interviewing, make sure you’ve given the following key factors sufficient consideration. Doing so will give you the best chance of finding the right people.
1. Know the Qualities You’re Looking For
There are many great qualities of good employees. A good employee has a great attitude, is capable of doing their job well, is organized, and is punctual. Good employees can also be the team members who work the hardest, contribute towards team unity, and, may also work well without needing much supervision. We would all love to have a loyal team of employees with all of these qualities. But you may need to settle for just a few of them.
Before hiring your first employees, consider the qualities you are looking for in a team member. Here are a few of the questions to ask yourself:
- What qualities are important for the position as well as the culture of the business?
- Which qualities will help the business grow?
- Which qualities, if absent, will hurt the business most?
- Are skills more important than talent?
- Is promptness more important than the ability to execute a task?
- Is personality important due to customer interaction?
These questions will help you understand which qualities you need for your business and which ones are not as important. Once you’ve identified the qualities you are looking for in your first employees, it is time to focus on their role within your company.
2. Identify the Areas Where You Need Support
No one knows the jobs you need doing more than you. This is because, most likely up to this point, it’s been you who’s been doing them. One of the great things about starting your own business is that you get to see how every aspect of the business works. From sales and marketing, to finance and legal. How well you can perform or manage each and every one of these functions, though, is questionable.
You, therefore, need to decide which areas you need the most support in. You will also need to ask yourself, “Will appointing someone to this role help my business grow, or is it a ‘nice to have’?” The first hires you will want to make in your startup will be people who can ease your workload, and at the same time drive the business forward. Remember, you’re working towards the goal of having a business that functions even when you’re not there. So, perhaps hiring a barista at this stage over a sales or marketing executive is not the right move.
3. Clearly Define the Responsibilities of the Job
Once you’ve decided on the function that this person will be responsible for, you then need to scope the role properly. And, in the process, produce a job description. Start by listing all the responsibilities that would fall within this position. Include everything relevant, but don’t just add everything that needs doing in the business. Remember, you may be happy to work every waking hour of your day to get your business off the ground. But, that doesn’t mean your employees will want to give up their lives to do the same. If your job description is too varied and tries to cover too many bases, you’re setting yourself up to fail in finding the right person.
For example, if you’re hiring a salesperson, don’t expect them to be equally involved in hands-on product development. You’re looking for someone with experience or a skill set that will perform one of your functions really well, you’re not unicorn farming. Once you’ve put together a clearly defined job description ask yourself, “does this person exist?” You can always sanity-check with a few keyword searches on LinkedIn and look at a couple of profiles to see if there are people out there doing what you need them to do.
4. Map out the Future
Now that you know what you’re looking for, think about where this person can go within your business. It may seem really attractive to new employees to join your business right now, but will these individuals still be with you in 12 months? Three years? Five years? Just as you most likely have a roadmap and business plan for the future, employees also like to know where their jobs can take them, so don’t overlook this stage.
Think through the logical career progress of your new roles and map out a career path. You don’t need to get bogged down in the details of each point at which a promotion would take place. But, it’s a good idea to have an idea of the responsibilities of each future progression so that it’s clear from the start what goals your new employees need to be aiming for.
5. Prepare to Interview and to Be Interviewed
Once you’ve got your shortlist of applicants, you now need to be prepared to interview and select the right person. Don’t think you can just wing it over a quick coffee, you need to present your business as a professional organization that someone who doesn’t have your same emotional attachment would want to join. Just being an “exciting startup” won’t cut it anymore–there are exciting startups on every corner these days–so think about what makes you unique and how you set yourself apart from your competition. Imagine that your closest competition will also interview the same individuals, how are you going to sell your opportunity over any other companies that your candidates may speak to?
If you’ve already written a job description and scoped the career development for this role, you’re halfway there. Now you have to think about how to succinctly get your company values and culture across to someone you’ve never met before. You have to do this in a way that would make them want to get on board with you. Committing the next few years of their career to helping you grow. As much as you’ll be interviewing candidates, they’re going to be interviewing you. So be sure to provide an excellent candidate experience. Do this so that even if they’re not successful at getting the job. They’ll leave telling family and friends what an exciting and promising business you have.
6. Making the Right Choice and Executing it Well
Once you’ve conducted your interviews, had the candidates meet other team members, a co-founder or you simply met them a second time yourself to sanity check your impressions, you now need to decide whether to make an offer.
The key things to consider in deciding if someone is the right hire come down to a couple of factors. Firstly, their ability to perform the role. Are you hiring raw talent with potential that you’ll need to train? Or, is this someone with proven experience that can “hit the ground running”? One thing’s for sure, you can’t teach work ethic, so make sure they possess this in abundance. Secondly, cultural fit is very important. Even if it’s just you at this stage as the founder, think about the company culture and values you want your employees to embody. Be sure your new hires see eye-to-eye with you on this.
Finally, you want someone with passion and enthusiasm for your business and brand. In the final interview, ask them if they can sell the opportunity back to you. This will quickly expose whether someone has a genuine interest in joining your business. If they come across as passionate and knowledgeable about your business (based on what they know so far), then you’ve found yourself a great first hire. Just be sure to have the employment contract ready to send out within 24 hours. Don’t risk losing a star employee to the competition just because you forgot about this fundamental step.
Good employees can sometimes be hard to find. It may be the job market. But it can also be your approach to hiring. Use these steps in finding the right first employees for your business. This will lay down the foundation for your growing team and will help you skyrocket your business’ potential.
This article was first published in 2016 but has been updated and expanded