The hiring process — hiring employees — is an incredibly difficult, time-consuming process. It’s only slightly less painful than firing employees (or laying them off…sadly, I’ve had to do both.)
Which is why, as entrepreneurs, we tend to put hiring employees off until the point where the business is breaking down. You know that point…when papers are flying off your desk and you’re getting past-due notices and the phone is ringing off the hook and someone is yelling at you and then, only then, do you look up from it all and think “Oh, God, I could really use an assistant right now.”
That happens to be exactly the worst time to hire someone.
Today, I want to share a different perspective on hiring. Hopefully, this will motivate you to hire someone before the crap hits the fan and you decide you’ve really picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glue.
Tip #1: Hiring Employees is Like Picking Family Members
You have to go into the hiring process thinking that you’re about to pick a new family member out. And this shouldn’t scare you, because frankly, it’s the coolest thing in the world. There are billions of people in the world, and you’re picking the ones you get to spend the majority of your waking hours with.
This doesn’t mean that you have to hire only people who will be your best friends, but it does mean you should hire people you can see yourself kicking back with after work. Even if you never end up actually kicking back with them, it’s a good litmus test for someone who is able to get along well with others. Trust me, there’s always going to be that jerk who knows how to get the job done, but you will have a lot more fun hiring the person who seems more personable (and who’s also pretty capable.)
Tip #2: Listen to Your Other Employees
You think the new candidate is perfect for the job, but one of your employees isn’t convinced. “But he’s so perfect!” you think. What do you do?
You don’t hire him!
In a small business, all your employees will be working together in some capacity. Doubts before the hiring process begins will become Epic Battles later. Leave the drama to soap operas. Hire people who get along with your staff.
Tip #3: But They Still Are Your Employees
One of the things I was worst at as a boss was actually telling people to get things done. I’d feel so guilty about asking someone to go grab me a sandwich when I was in the middle of a meeting that I’d often do it myself.
Here’s a tip (for you, and for me): Get over it.
This isn’t a democracy. You’re running the ship. And while you’re probably a nice, cool person, there are those times when you have to put your foot down and say “Do this, now, and I will explain later.” If you’re on the phone trying to close a huge deal at the end of the day and you’ve been so busy that you haven’t eaten since breakfast, you are justified in asking one of your employees to please grab you some food (and use the company petty cash or credit card to do so.)
This is one of the hardest things to do as a new boss. It seems so unfair–especially if your business is really small and your only employee doesn’t have an “Assistant” or “Admin” type of role. Suck it up. But do get them the cash or credit to put the food on the company tab!
Tip #4: Make Sure They Give You Status Reports
Oh, your employees will whine about this one. “You can see I’ve been working!” Well, I still want to know what you’ve been working on. At Simpli, I instituted a rule that every employee had to email a status report to me every day. And after some chastising to employees who would write “Did stuff” and think that was amusing, we finally got it working.
Having those status reports saved us a whole lot of time. If a customer called and wanted to know what was going on with the issue they had reported yesterday, suddenly I knew, even if that employee wasn’t working today, and I could hand it off smoothly without wasting time figuring out what had and hadn’t been done.
Status reports are amazing. Get your employees in the habit of writing them from day 1.
Tip #5: Never Be The Only Interviewer
Let’s face it: Interviews stink. There are people who can bluff their way through interviews without actually knowing anything, and references can exaggerate the skill level of the interviewee, too.
Especially if you’re trying to hire far outside your expertise (if you’re non-technical trying to hire a programmer or a web designer, for instance) call in the backup. Get a trusted friend–it’s best if that person understands the area you’re trying to hire in–to interview the person, as well. It will save you a lot of hassle in the future.
Tip #6: Always Hire for a Trial Period
Start the employee out on a trial period. 30 days is good; if you already have some employees, a 30-day period followed by an additional 60-day period is best.
Write this into the employment contract: You and the employee will have a private meeting at the designated times. During that meeting, either one of you can walk away from the agreement with no consequences. (Note: Depending on your location, there may be legal consequences…run this by a local attorney or HR professional to get the correct contract language for your area.)
If that person isn’t working out, it’s usually pretty obvious at 30 days. So cut them out then if it’s not working. There is a better employee waiting out there, and it’s better to let this person go than have you both suffer and be bitter.
Tip #7: Employees Are Like Family–But Don’t Hire Your Family
9 times out of 10, it turns out badly to hire your family. There are several reasons. One is that if they stink at a job, it’s a hundred times harder to fire them than it would be someone off a job listing. Another is that old resentments and dramas come out (and the rest of your employees have to deal with your crazy arguments.)
I strongly recommend you do not go into business with or hire a family member unless you have the stomach to look into their eyes at some point and fire them. If you couldn’t do it, don’t hire them.
Tip #8: Don’t Hire Someone Because You Feel Sorry for Them
Another one that sounds so easy when you read it but so hard when you’re in the interview situation is The Hard Luck Case. You know the one: “I haven’t had a job in 18 months and if I don’t get something soon, I’m going to lose my house and my car will be repossessed and I won’t have a place to live and I don’t know what to do…”
This person always manages to turn the interview into a “Poor Me” story. Sometimes, the story is legitimate, and sometimes it isn’t. You just want to get this person a job, because well, you need someone and you’d feel so bad if you turned her loose and then she lost her house…
Hard Luck Cases rarely make great employees. They’re stressed out, for one. Two, creditors start calling your office (ask me how I know!) Three, then the creditors start coming to your office and disrupting your work. The best part is when you get the notices from the government that are about 117 pages long requiring your signature on every page and then you have to figure out how to contort Quickbooks into garnishing people’s wages, and waste 45 minutes reading and signing and mailing back 117 pages (three copies to three different county court departments!), all the while thinking “I had no idea you had a kid! You never mentioned anything about that!” Oh, Child Services knows, though. They always know.
Yep. Don’t go there.
Tip #9: Three Employees? Time for an Office
Yep, I know there are all those cool “progressive” companies that don’t have an office, and every once in a while they fly everyone to Phuket for three weeks and eat lots of seafood and hang out on laptops and get stuff done.
I prefer just having an office.
Three local, full-time employees is when it is best to consider having an office. When there are just two of you, it’s easy to meet at a coffee shop and work from home. Three people? Then you have to start running an IRC channel or a continuous Skype chat, and it becomes a “he said, she said” Battle of Massive Confusion.
Have three full-time people and you’re all local to each other? Get an office. Sure, you can let your employees work from home sometimes if they prefer it. But make sure you’re all in the office at least a day or two a week. It doesn’t have to be expensive. A 12’x15′ room with a few desks and a white board and a coffee machine will do. (The best bet here, by the way, is to sublet from another company. You may even be able to do business with that company!)
I really enjoy working out of an office. Your employees may find they enjoy working out of an office at least a couple days a week, too. It is 100% worth it in terms of team productivity. Also, if your business requires meeting with local potential customers, an office (no matter how small) will help you sign more contracts. Customers meet you at your office and think “stability” and “growth”. (If you don’t like this, hey, I don’t make the rules; I’m just relaying my experience.)
It will be easier to get customers to sign big contracts if you have an office. So budget for it once you have three people.
Tip #10: How to Beat the Big Companies at Their Own Game
Want to know how you beat the big companies with their free lunches, 401(k)s, and great health insurance? Here’s the scoop: The hiring process is easiest when you are changing the world and you are looking for someone to come along on the ride.
If you go into the interview with genuine excitement and passion about your business, and your enthusiasm is infectious, the interviewee will be much more excited about working for your company. That person may even turn down more lucrative offers to work with you.
I didn’t fully embrace that with my last company. I mean, I ran a web hosting company. Were we changing the world? I didn’t think so, for the longest time.
Eventually I realized we were changing the world in our own way. We were a hosting company that didn’t suck. Oh, sure, we had issues. But we didn’t suck. We communicated with our customers, and a third of our new business came from happy customer referrals.
We were making the world a better place.
You have to sell the dream. That’s how to get the top talent to come work for you for the minimum they need to survive on ramen noodles for a year when they could work at BigCo for five times that plus benefits. You don’t impress them with numbers. You sell them with your heart.
Those are my hiring tips. I’m sure you have your own, too. Go ahead and add your own story in the comments!
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- Beat the Big Corporations By Delivering the Best Customer Experience. A great perspective on how to snatch away customers from the biggest companies.
- The End of an Era. The complete detail of my journey through Silicon Valley, and founding and then selling my own technology company.