So your business has reached a point where you are considering hiring your very first employee.
That. Is. Awesome.
It’s not an easy feat approaching your first hire, especially if you have investors, shareholders and your own conscious putting some pressure to make it a good one. As an experienced hirer, let me share my top nine tips to future-proof your business the right way.
1. Have the mindset that your first hire is an investment
Having an accounting background, I’m aware that from a P&L perspective employees are viewed as an expense. If you have a look on your profit & loss statement you will see wages & salaries, superannuation, benefits and all other employee related items listed under the expense column. Let accountants think that but as a leader you should never think of your employees as an expense.
Rather start to think of them as an investment to boost your business. You want to hire someone because they are going to grow your organisation and help you become more profitable. Your employees become your strongest asset, dare I say, over the technologies and the products you’re building.
So when you’re hiring, think about how your next investment will help you spread the word that is your brand. How will your next hire embody what you’ve already built and make it even better?
2. Be specific about what you want from the position
There are likely many areas across your business that needs assistance. A little bit of marketing help, a little bit of bookkeeping, some help with sales, help to raise your social media presence… you could probably write an endless ‘please help me’ list in a jiffy. After all, you have been doing everything yourself and you probably can’t wait to get some help.
But don’t fall into the everything and anything trap.
Be specific with what you want out of the new role. I’ve had many conversations around the relevance of position descriptions. Why have them if you’re a startup and you’re after someone who can help with ‘everything’? This lack of clarity often leads to a lack of perceived vision and goals. To help you along with a lean and effective job description, determine the 3 - 5 core outcomes you want delivered from the role and this will attract a better qualified candidate. It’s better that your employees do a kickass job with 3 core deliverables than a halfass job on 20.
3. Don’t hire yourself
You already have one of you, you don’t need another person who thinks and acts exactly the same as you. Sure it would be great to only have like-minded people around you, but it means you’re only going to see things from the one perspective.
Look to hire someone who brings a different skill-set and a different way of thinking. Having someone on the team to respectfully challenge how things are done will help future proof your growth as you scale. This will help with new ideas and a bit more balance to your business planning and big picture thinking.
Having said all this, the person still has to fit in with your business and compliment the culture.
4. Attitude vs. Skill
As you’re hiring you’ll be faced with the inevitable decision to hire skills over attitude or vice versa. Some candidates you meet you’ll connect with right away because they have an amazing attitude but may seem a little light on the qualifications or skills needed for the role. While others will have the right qualifications but there’s something in your gut saying they won’t be the easiest to work with.
My advice as a hirer is to pick attitude over skill every time. Why? Because when you have the right attitude & passion they are more likely to be coachable and adaptable to learning new things. It’s easier to teach someone a skill than change their attitude. Bad attitudes can ruin company culture, costing the business more in the end.
There is a caveat though… if you plan to “skill up” the employee with the amazing attitude, make sure you dedicate the time to do just that. Hiring someone without a minimal level of skill will only suit those who have time to invest in that person. If you’re low on time, think about how you’ll help your new employee grow into the role. Could you provide a learning budget or provide learning days to help them skill up fast.
5. Hire your friend
If you have a friend who get’s past tip number 4, ie has a winning attitude, then hiring a friend should not be a problem. Why? Because the benefits outweigh the potential downside.
Like with any new hire, there has to be a clear understanding of the expectations and the outcomes you want from your friend in the role (see tip 2). And sometimes you will have to talk to them like a boss rather than a friend. But the greatest benefit of hiring a friend is that you are setting a great culture. You should know exactly what your friend is bringing to the table. Plus a friend will have you back, will tell it to you straight and will get sh!t done for you.
Some success examples of besties in business: Bill Gates & Paul Allen were friends since high school, Sergey Brin and Larry Page of Google became best mates at College, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak grew up in the same neighbourhood.
Of course their examples are the 1% and no doubt there are risks in this hiring strategy like losing a friend if it doesn’t work out. But again, if you’re able to set expectations right from the beginning magical things could happen.
6. Don’t discount a candidate because they’re not a specialist
People who are a “jack of all trades” are just as handy as people who know a lot about only one trade.
For instance, is hiring someone who is an absolute Google SEO expert better than someone who knows a little about Google, Facebook Ads and email marketing? Not necessarily. Sometimes the generalist is needed more than the specialist. Both types bring different benefits to your business, so consider both.
7. Pressure test (if you need to)
What do you do when there are two people equally qualified but you only have one position?
The reality is they are not equally qualified. There are a few more steps you can put in place to help you make the decision. Consider running a case study to see how they go under a bit of pressure, think about offering them a 1-2 day trial to see how they fit in with the team, or have a few more in your trusted circle meet with them to help you decide.
Ultimately, you’re the boss, trust your instinct and make the call.
8. Hire ahead of your growth
If you foresee your business growing in the near future then make your first hire now in preparation. Proactively hiring could seem a little excessive but when the time comes to grow quickly remember there’s an average minimum of 8 weeks to hire and onboard someone.
When hiring, take a good look at your expenses, the goal is to help you grow, not bankrupt yourself. Looking at the next 12 months, are you going to exceed your capacity with the volume of work on the horizon? If the next big deal is just around the corner then anticipate what your business is going to need and hire ahead of your business growth.
9. Culture comes first
And finally, but most importantly don’t compromise your culture.
You know your business vision. You know the values that your business upholds. You have done a lot of hard work defining and refining your business to put it in a position to make its first hire. So look for people that are going to compliment and enhance your culture. Often founders forget company culture is the essence of founder values. So for as long as you can, be involved with hiring and continue to refine how to interview for culture.
So there are my nine tips to making your first hire.
Let us know in the comments below, what are your rules for hiring for your business?
Michael Poon - CEO of Tribe9
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