You started your business because you wanted to be your own boss. But your business is growing so fast, you need some help. So in addition to being your own boss, you’re going to have to be someone else’s boss, too. You’re going to have to hire your first team. Having the idea and putting it into motion are the beginning steps of launching a startup. However, you also need the right people in place to keep it going.
Entrepreneurs know that talented people can accelerate their success and that bad hiring decisions can sabotage the odds of survival for their startup company. But chances are, you’ll be facing the task by yourself. You’ll have to play the roles of recruiter, interviewer, negotiator, and legal counsel.
Here are some questions you should ask yourself before hiring:
What position to fill first?
This will differ for each company, depending on industry, location and the skills of the founders. A startup must narrow down their staffing plan to a handful of people who can get the company’s product or service to the market. For example, you don’t need a vice president of marketing or sales before you have developed a product. Ideally, in a tech startup, an acting chief executive officer and a chief technology officer usually suffice.
Do you really need to hire someone?
Many services can be outsourced or done by freelancers. This work may include accounting, manufacturing, website design, marketing and public relations. Deciding what tasks to outsource and what to hire an employee for, may come down to whether the work lies within your business’s main areas of strength and whether that function is needed on a regular basis.
Now that you have concrete answers to the above questions, what should you look for when staffing up at your start-up?
Employ ‘startup’ minded people
Startups are chaotic, rules change, and there is no particular “job description.” Potential earnings like stock or performance bonuses are preferred to secure earnings like salary or benefits. You already live by this ‘Code of Turmoil’ because you’re the entrepreneur as you have no choice. But normal people do have a choice and most people abhor chaos. Big companies don’t behave this way, and most people are accustomed to working for big companies.
You have to hire someone who is comfortable with the bedlam of startup life.
Hire on the basis of potential, not (just) track record
Look for someone who has a strong interest or passion for causes or missions that are similar to yours and on the other hand, evidence that the person is really good at what he or she has done before, even if that’s a variety of different things. Look for flexibility.
It might be tempting to hire candidates with big-business credentials, but they’re often not a good fit. In a big company, there are rules, regulations and processes to do everything. In a small company, there often are no set jobs and everyone may do a bit of everything. So, the ex-Microsoft guy you just interviewed may sound very promising but is he really ready to work at your unconventional business setting?
Business associations, alumni networks, former colleagues and anyone else you’ve met in your professional life will appreciate the opportunity to help you build your company. An entrepreneur’s best bet for finding employees usually is networking. These referrals will also generally be of higher quality than the applications you receive through public job postings. Those in your network will only refer people they have worked with in the past or who they know will make excellent employees.
While screening candidates, check for their writing skills
Screening resumes is not an option, because resumes are useless. Besides, you don’t have time to read hundreds of resumes. Instead, prepare an email template that asks the applicant to write a few paragraphs on a few topics. For example:
Thanks for sending us your resume. The next step in our hiring process is for you to write a few paragraphs on each of the following topics. Please reply to this email address with your response:
- Why do you want to work at [company]?
- Describe a situation in your work-life where you failed.
- Describe a time when you accomplished something you thought was impossible. (Can be work-related or personal)
Thanks for your interest in [company] and I hope to hear from you soon.
Here’s what happens: First, most people never respond. Good riddance! Second, you’ll get lazy-ass responses, which you can dump easily. Maybe 10% of the respondents will actually answer the questions, and you’ll know in two minutes whether this person can communicate and, yes, even whether they seem fun, intelligent, or interesting.
What Can You Do For Them?
Too many companies hire based mostly on what they think the new recruit can bring to them. This is the “what can they do for me” line of thinking. This is not totally wrong because part of the goal of bringing new people on is clearly to “create value” for the company. But in addition to asking yourself “what can they do for me?”, also ask, “What can my startup bring to them?”
The point is that you need to find ways that the new team member can benefit from your startup that they may not be able to get elsewhere.
Things like greater responsibility, broader use of their capabilities (perhaps they want to do technology and marketing); expanding their personal network should they want to start their own company some day and more. At some level, you are playing a passion arbitrage game.
Don’t be trapped by what you think hiring “should” be
You’re hiring a friend, a trusted partner, someone you’ll be spending 10 hours a day with for the foreseeable future. You’re not hiring a “Systems Engineer” for IBM or a “Senior Regional Sales Manager” for Dell. The “rules” of HR don’t apply to you (except the law).
Think of it more like getting married because ultimately an employee for a startup is no less than a life partner for your business (that is until he sticks around).
Hiring and employing strategies for a startup should follow your thorough business plan, which lays out which steps to take.
Once you have hired don’t forget the legal formalities like offer letters, employment agreement, HR policies and more.