Small businesses that grow into big businesses all have one thing in common—they hire great employees. If you talk to the CEOs of successful companies, they’ll tell you that one of their most important jobs is finding the right people for their team.
If you’re ready to hire, it’s because you’ve got too much on your shoulders and you need help. But if you make the wrong hire, things can actually get more stressful. For example, I recently saw a massage therapist pulling his hair out after bringing on an office manager. The new hire caused several scheduling mix-ups, resulting in angry clients.
On the other hand, bringing on a great person can catalyze rapid growth in a business. One marketing consultant I’ve worked with brought on an assistant, even though she wasn’t sure she could afford it. Business jumped 50% in two months. With administrative tasks off her plate, the owner was able to focus on sales and landed all this new business.
To help my small business clients improve their chances of finding the right candidate, I developed the following seven-step process.
1. Get clear on what you want help with
Congratulations. Business is going well enough that you’re overwhelmed, and you have the income to get help. When you’re so busy, it can be tempting to rush headlong into trying to find someone, but this is where a misstep often happens. I’ve seen too many people hastily hire someone who isn’t able to help in the right ways. For example, a journalist hired someone who was great at managing his invoicing, but realized later the person didn’t have the skill to help with marketing. So, the first step is to slow down for a moment and figure out exactly where you need help.
I recommend that my clients make a bulleted list of the tasks they want their employee to do. After that, I ask them to estimate how many hours per week each of these activities will require. This second step is important, because it will give you a sense of how big the role is, and what type of person you want. Do you need a full-time person? A college student for 10 hours a week? Or a flexible, virtual hire who can adjust hours based on your needs?
2. Write an awesome job description
Take the list of tasks and turn it into a written job description—one that is awesome, and by awesome I mean one that will encourage the best candidates to apply. This is a crucial step, and one where many people fall down. There are great people out there looking to work for you, but you won’t ever get the opportunity to consider them if they read your job description and don’t get excited enough to apply.
To find out what you should include in your job description and for advice on how to make sure it reels in the best candidates, read my article here.
3. Share the job description widely
No matter how awesome your description is, it won’t do you much good if you don’t get the right kind of people seeing it. Because you don’t know where the best candidates are, it’s best to get as many eyeballs on it as possible. Fortunately, in this interconnected world, you’ve got lots of options. You can post your job description on public job boards, like Monster or Craigslist. However, the safest bets are people who come recommended by someone you know. So post your job description on your social media sites (both your business and personal pages). Include the job opportunity in your business newsletter, if you have one. An email blast to friends and colleagues is a good idea too. Don’t be shy—people love to help their friends find work.
Some industries have specialized job boards, which can be great resources. If you’re not sure what sites are in your industry, ask your peers for guidance.
4. Interview based on past experiences
Pick people that seem qualified based on their emailed applications, and contact them to set a time to interview. Don’t forget about Skype for interviews—it’s a great, efficient tool for local or remote candidates. (I’m not a big fan of phone interviews. I find it hard to get to know someone.)
The best way to assess whether someone is a fit for what you need is to ask them to share relevant, past experiences. Need someone who can work with deadlines? Ask for specific examples in the past when they had to deal with tough deadlines. Need someone who can coordinate a big team? Ask for details of past projects when they coordinated a big team.
The most common interview mistake I see is asking general questions without getting specific proof. Q: “Can you handle scheduling?” A: “Sure, no problem. I’m good with that.” Don’t base your evaluation on the confidence with which they say “yes.” Base it on specific examples of what they have done in the past.
5. Make a compelling offer
After you’ve found someone you want to hire, it’s time to make an offer. Now the tables turn, and you need to start selling them on coming to work with you. I’ve seen too many occasions when excellent candidates (who seemed super jazzed in the interview) say “no” after being offered the role. Don’t let yourself be surprised. Great people often have great options, so you need to inspire them to join you.
Call them up and congratulate them. Tell them how excited you are to have met them, and share your vision for the opportunity they can look forward to. If you see a path for their responsibilities to grow and evolve, share that with them.
Now is also the time to get into nuts and bolts. Hours per week, wage or salary, start date, remote or on-location, etc. Avoid two common mistakes. First, make sure you discuss all of the details. Before you invest time in training someone, you want to be sure they’re happy with the whole package. Otherwise they may quit and leave you hanging. Second, put it all in writing. Relying on the other person’s memory sets you up for a potentially nasty “he said, she said” confrontation down the road.
6. Start with a trial period
Once a new person comes on board, and you see how things are working out, inevitably you’ll want to make some adjustments. Perhaps you’ll want them to do certain things differently. Maybe you’ll want to change their number of hours. Or maybe you’ll discover this person isn’t really a fit. Any of these things can be hard to communicate. Giving negative feedback is never easy, and letting someone go can be really tough. I’ve seen some people keep an employee who isn’t pulling their weight for months, or even years, because they’re (understandably) uncomfortable having that tough conversation.
Make it easy on yourself and on your new hire, and start with a trial period. At the time you make the offer, let them know that they will be starting with a two-week trial period. Explain that this is time for you to get to know each other, and see if it’s a good fit for you both. Two weeks is enough time to see your new hire in action. It’s also enough time to have given them feedback, or taught them new skills, and to have seen how well they learn. By letting them know up front that you’ll do a two-week check-in, you make it easy to discuss any significant course corrections, before any problems fester.
7. Make course corrections during your two-week check-in
Take advantage of this opportunity to talk to your new hire about how things are going, and make any adjustments needed. First off, if it’s not a good fit, this is the time to end it. (Or even sooner, if it’s clear sooner.) Delaying would only make life aggravating for you both.
Assuming things look good, say so. They are probably nervous and wondering if they are doing okay. You want to reassure them so they feel good about their work. Share three things that you like about their work. And then share three things you’d like them to do differently. This way they know exactly which activities or behaviors to continue, and which to change. You’re teaching them to be the best team member they can be.
You’ve successfully brought on your first employee. This is a huge step for your business. And it will take a lot of the pressure off your shoulders, as well.
Following these steps makes hiring much less daunting, and maximizes the chances of finding an incredible person. Good luck!
(If you’re wondering whether you’re ready for that first hire, read my guide for help making that important decision.)