5 Small-Business Tips for Hiring the Right People: Taking (On) One for the Team

by Curt Moreno
- Apr 18 2014 - 4 min read
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Micke Tong

Congratulations! You are a successful small-business owner who took the leap and struck out on your own. It was scary and there have been plenty of late nights working alone, but now your business is gaining momentum and you need help. That means it is time to put on your hiring hat and grow your staff’s headcount.

Having more work than you, or your current staff, can handle should be a blessing that we all hope for. Whether you are a sole proprietor hiring your first employee, or an established business hiring your 50th or 500th employee, having more productive people opens new worlds. So why is the business of hiring such a dismally successful endeavor? For instance, Barry Deutsch, coauthor of You’re Not the Person I Hired: A CEO’s Survival Guide to Hiring Top Talent, asserts that 56 percent of newly hired executives fail out of their new positions within two years. If finding a successful candidate from a pool of top-level people already vetted in the business world has a 44 percent success rate, what hope do you have choosing from the general population?

Not to fear. The hiring process does not have to be terrible or painful if you follow these five tips to hiring the right people before you bring them into your company fold.

1. Stop Filling Holes. Almost every hiring process begins with someone saying something along the lines of, “We need to get a new drafter in here.” Drafter, secretary, or vice president—too often we begin the search for employees by treating them as objects. We are conditioned to define the people we hire by the position they fill. It makes the hiring process an exercise in shoving pegs into holes. Just find the right peg, right? Wrong.

People are not pegs or objects, so do not start your hiring process by assuming that they are. That is a recipe for disaster before the first résumé comes into your email inbox. Instead of waiting until you need a peg, start your hiring process when you feel your overall corporate workload, culture, and health can bear the new load. Then look for a person who blends well and has an attitude, general skills set, and aptitude to fit into your current business framework.

2. Open the Hiring Window. Unsuccessful hiring attempts always fail by hiring the first person that completes the checklist of requirements. It might happen on the first day and it might happen on the 30th day, but it almost always happens before the right person comes along. By just hiring the “first good applicant,” you are cheating yourself and your company of all the possibilities you could have had. You are settling for the first warm body.

Instead, set a defined period in which you will conduct your search. Perhaps you choose to set it for as little as two weeks or as much as two months, but do set it. Once you have defined your search period, commit to not hiring anyone until that period is over. That ensures that you give yourself a fair chance to interview as many people as possible and learn who is a good choice and find the perfect person to fit into your business culture.

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3. Make Them Sing and Dance. Whatever position you are trying to fill, the correct candidate should have a requisite skill set. Rather than just reading a list of bullet points off of a résumé, let the candidate demonstrate his or her skills for you.

If your company needs someone capable of presenting proposals to clients to win a job, then place your candidate in a presentation environment. If you are in search of a person with design skills, present them with a project synopsis and ask them to sketch out a conceptual layout. Whatever their skill set, asking them to demonstrate it is not rude or unfair.

4. Keep the Process Close. Unless you are a sole proprietor, the person that you hire will work with others in your company. So why do we task one person with the burden of choosing the right applicant?

If you are looking for a person with CAD skills, let the CAD manager conduct the hiring. If you are searching for a designer, allow the project manager to conduct the interviews. Better yet, get input from a group of people who will be the new hire’s coworkers. This approach, at the very least, ensures that the person hired will be qualified in the eyes of someone familiar with the daily tasks.

5. Close the “Probation” Period. Hiring someone is not the end of the hiring process. Too often we forget this important fact and want to imagine that we are done once we find someone. The truth is that every company should have an explicit understanding that new hires have a probationary period. During this time, however long you choose, they should be allowed to meet the other staff, begin production in their craft, and become part of the team in a cultural sense.

At the end of this period, a short meeting and review should occur. You and your team involved in the hiring process, as well as the new hire, should be able to give feedback and discuss whether your company is right for them as much as whether they are right for you. This long-lost part of the hiring process is critical to determining whether a person can really live up to their claimed skills and help a company determine if they have made the correct hiring choice. Some companies, like Zappos, use this opportunity to ensure they have chosen committed new hires by going so far as to offer them money to quit! People who stay achieve an instant level of trust and commitment.

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