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Hiring someone for the first time, how hard can it be?

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Well it depends. Do you know what you want and is it the right time? Being a one man band in a startup is in a way great because you have total control and you have full information, you know when you’re working hard and when you’re procrastinating but once you step into the world of being an employer you’re going to have to trust someone else. That can be a lot trickier than you’d think especially if you’ve never done it before.

Right now every job is yours and you have your ways of doing things, a new person will disrupt that, they won’t just have to adapt to you but you to them not to mention all the regulatory hoops you’ll have to go through but we’ll get to that.

Is it the right time?

If you’re a small business you’re unlikely to be planning for ten years into the future when it comes to hiring, your focus should be on more immediate concerns. The rule of thumb you should follow is what do I need doing now that I can’t do myself anymore because of some constraint, say time.

A simple example would be let’s say you’re a landscaping company and you’re starting to really grow in popularity but you’re having to turn away business because you just don’t have the capacity to manage all the requests you’re getting, in addition you are spending more and more time on sales and less time on actually landscaping. Might it be time to hire another gardener?

An employee is an expensive addition, they’re a risk. At this stage you’re small so take that risk when you really need it.

Who do you want and how much are you willing to spend?

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail”.

-Benjamin Franklin-

It seems pretty obvious but you need to write down an in depth job description and personality profile. This isn’t simply for the benefit of potential job candidates but also for you. You’re not just hiring a generic job title and some qualifications you’re hiring someone who can fit with you, with your business culture and who can add value to your business too.

The purpose of this is to force you to really think about what it is you need so that you make the right decision, there are problems specific to your business that you want this potential hire to be able to solve. Thinking about them now in depth will allow you to tease out whether prospective candidates really have what you need.

In addition, you need to research what the salary is generally for the job role you’re offering in your geographic area and whether you can afford it and whether it meets minimum wage requirements. Perhaps, there are other benefits you can offer in lieu of more money like flexible working hours or other perks. Many people value time as much if not more than money.

Where do I find the right person?

You can try generic job boards like Monster.com but that might not be the best for you especially if you don’t like having your inbox inundated with mail or if you’re looking for a specialist. If you still want to go down the job board route a better bet would be to go for an industry specific one for example, if you’re looking for a developer going to somewhere like talent.io would make more sense.

There’s a way to avoid all that though. In fact we hired a developer by this method. It’s quite simple; take advantage of your network. A contact of ours was interviewing Ben for an IT support role but as the interview went on it was clear Ben had more interest in software development. As it happened we were looking for a developer at the time for RealtimeCRM.

That was around two years ago and Ben has been here ever since.

Leveraging your personal network for employees can be a lot cheaper and a lot less risky as they come with the backing of people you respect and trust. You should also start reaching out to well respected people in fields that you are not an expert in now whether it be human resources or marketing to build a connection, even if you don’t need a marketing person at this moment having someone who knows that industry well in your pocket ready for the future when you do need a referral will give you a huge advantage and make your life a lot easier, they have a network in that industry that you don’t, so build the connection to gain access to it.

But what if you don’t have a network or time to filter all the job applications you’ll get from a job board? Well then there is a third option. You can outsource the task to someone else, there are many recruitment agencies who can do the job of narrowing down your candidate list for you, and if they’re specialists in a certain field that you’re not they’ll be better than you at gauging the abilities of potential candidates making sure only the best see you.

A quick tip on filtering

One trick we like to use is to ask applicants to answer a random question in their cover letter, for example what is your favourite drink? The answer to the question is not important it’s that they answer it. You’d be surprised by how many people fail to follow instructions properly and that’s a quick way to filter applicants alongside the traditional spelling and grammar errors test.

The interview

Interviews are important because you meet a living breathing person not a document and there are intangibles that you’ll be able to see that might make one candidate who looks great on paper be in reality not the right fit for you.

It allows you to test what they claim to know, and also see how they work when given curve balls. We always have a problem to solve that we throw at interviewees. It’s not so much whether they solve it perfectly but how they approach the problem. We want to see how they think and how they break down something complex into simpler parts that can then be tackled.

Whenever we’re interviewing someone for a job we don’t just bring in members of our team who have some knowledge of the job the candidate is applying for but others too. You’re probably wondering why bring a developer into an interview with a potential administrator? They’re eventually going to have to work together, they’re going to have to get along. It’s good to see now if there is any lack of chemistry.

Introverts, don’t be afraid of them. Not everyone is an extravert. It can take time for someone to open up but what you’re looking for is potential and someone trustworthy.

Although it’s not a perfect system it helps weed out a lot of potentially wrong fits for us. We also prefer to call references rather than email them, asking a question and then saying nothing is a great way of getting a truthful answer out of someone. Without that follow up you don’t give them time to think but to simply answer the question and in that way you can get a lot more information out of someone then you otherwise would.

Trial but not by fire

Hiring someone is a lot easier than firing them. An interview is great but it’s really not enough time to see if someone will really fit in with your business that’s why we believe in trial runs. We usually have a probationary period of at least three months but it depends on the job role we’re offering and your trial period can be as long or as short as you need.

For example, we once hired a guy as an apprentice developer. It didn’t work out, it turned out he wanted something else in life. He wanted to work outdoors on a farm. The trial period lets you and the candidate figure out whether you’re a right fit for each other with an option for a clean separation. There’s no point in keeping someone you don’t want or who doesn’t want you so do the right thing and break it off.

The Contract

There are some basic features of all employment contracts listed below that you should include, but there are others that are just as useful such as a non-compete clause which prevents an ex-employee from working for a rival company in a similar role to the one they left with you and potentially taking confidential information about you with them to your rival.

  • Name of the employer.
  • Name of the employee.
  • Job title and description.
  • Rate of pay, and payment cycle.
  • Working hours.
  • Start date.
  • Holiday entitlement (You should be really clear about this, we weren’t and it’s been a real headache getting it sorted out but that’s a story for another day).
  • Where the job is located, and if the employee may have to relocate.

Regulations, as far as the eye can see

This is the not so fun part, we briefly mentioned it before but now that you’ve found someone you’re going to have to do some stuff because bad things will happen if you don’t. We’ll just make a list and you should check them off:

A note on part timers and apprenticeships

We’re a big fan of them, you might not yet have the funds for a full time new employee right now but there’s nothing stopping you from hiring someone part time or on an apprentice, and then later down the road you can turn that part timer into a full timer.

You get the advantage of extra capacity with lower risk and cost and you have the option down the road to turn them into a full timer without having to invest a ton of time and money into getting them up to speed as they will by that time be intimately familiar with your business and you’ll know they’re the right fit.

Whatever you decide to do have a plan of action and execute it, with experience you can improve it and sooner rather than later you’ll have the smoothest hiring and onboarding procedure around.