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Managing a Small Business: Tips to Make Your First Hire

Picking the right person to hire as your company’s first employee is among the most critical decisions any small business owner will make, according to consultant Lori Davila. “It really is important to take the time to define specifically what you’re looking for and hire a person not only who you can get along with, but has evidence in their history that they can do the job and succeed,” says Davila, author of How to Choose the Right Person for the Right Job Every Time.

So what should your approach be? How can you avoid mistakes? Below, experts give their advice on what you should keep in mind before and during the search for the first member of your staff.

Consider The Virtual Route

Before actively looking for an employee, Robert Wendover, author of Smart Hiring, suggests a little reflection. “First of all, I would decide whether I really need somebody,” he says. “There’s real confusion on the part of small-business owners – and I know, because I am one – to go out and hire a staff person, but they don’t necessarily realize the costs involved. It’s not only the cost of hiring, but it’s the cost of bringing the person up to speed, the insurance, the worker’s comp, and all of a sudden, they’re spending 40% more than they thought they were.”

Wendover recommends conducting a Google search for virtual assistants and determining whether this type of arrangement might fulfill your company’s need. “Number one, that would give them an idea of what they should be looking for in an employee, and number two, that may be a nice stop-gap until they really get a sense of supervising people,” he says.

Write A Detailed Job Description

If you decide you want a full-time, non-virtual employee, your next step can actually be one of the trickiest. “If you decide to hire somebody, the first thing to do is write out a short job description,” Wendover says. “People are good at selling themselves sometimes, and they will tell you anything they think you want to hear. What you’ve got to do is find a way to ferret  that out, which means if you start with a job description, what you’re doing is saying to yourself: ‘I’m going to base my questions and my evaluation on that job description.’ ”

Davila also recognizes that creating a job description isn’t always easy. “If you’re staring at a blank piece of paper and you’re not sure how to even start, a shortcut is to Google other job descriptions,” she says. “For example, you can put in a keyword of whatever the business is, along with the phrase ‘job description.’ You can pull pretty interesting job descriptions from across the country and steal some ideas. That’s one quick and easy way to think about it and get started.”

Writing a specific, detailed job description can also help you to avoid the “halo effect,” which Wendover says is a common problem for small-business owners. “If I sit down and interview you and we find we have some things in common – we went to the same college, we know the same people – whatever it happens to be, and if I get a favorable opinion of you upfront, I’m more likely to connect with you emotionally rather than objectively,” he says.

“So, the job description gives you a chance to determine what kinds of questions you’re going to ask and how you’re really going to determine whether this person is the best fit.”

Look In The Right Places

When your job description is complete, Davila suggests posting it on sites like CareerBuilder, Monster and Craigslist. But she’s also a fan of using social media and word-of-mouth.

“When I do recruiting, I find 90% of my candidates come from searching around LinkedIn,” she says. “That requires somebody to already be savvy with LinkedIn and know how to use all the different search tools on there. And of course, there’s networking. For example, I live in a neighborhood of 150 homes, and we have an e-mail list where we ask each other for anything from a good plumber to hiring someone for a small business. It’s an advertising campaign, basically. You’re looking to hire somebody and you really need to think about the different avenues.”

Davila even advises looking into local colleges for new graduates or interns, especially if you’re on a tight budget. “That way you can try somebody out, and if it works out, you can possibly hire them full-time when they graduate,” she says.

Put Candidates To The Test

When it’s time for an interview, Wendover says employers must ask questions that will reveal information about the candidate, rather than allowing the person to simply tell them what they want to hear.

“You want to test people. That means you put them in situations,” he says. “If they’re going to answer the phone a lot, conduct a phone interview as opposed to a live interview upfront. If you’re going to want them to do prospecting for customers, set that up so you can get them on the phone and observe them from that standpoint. If I need a person who deals with angry customers, I’ll say, ‘Tell me a story of how you dealt with a disappointed customer in another situation.’ There’s no one right answer. You just want to see their approach, how they communicate, how persuasive they are, and so on. Once you do that, you can say, ‘I’m going to put you in that situation and role-play with you,’ and do everything you can to screw that person up and watch what happens.”

Davila suggests asking candidates for specific accomplishments that relate to what you’re looking for them to do. “They can talk to you for three hours about their theories of what they think they can do in this job, but if you ask for examples, you can really get a consensus of their experience level,” she says.

Browse Social Media Profiles

Wendover says taking a peek at a prospective employee’s social media content is a good idea before making a final decision. “You have to pay attention to what’s common sense there,” he says. “If you see their Facebook page is full of stuff that could hurt your business, the odds of them being able to contain that stuff when they’re on the job is pretty slim. Also, if I see a Facebook page that seems to have constant hourly contact and postings, that tells me they’re spending way too much time on Facebook and I probably don’t want them on my staff.”

Davila says monitoring Twitter can also be useful in a hiring decision. “On Twitter, you can see what’s important to people,” she says. “If you’re hiring a sales assistant, maybe this person talks a lot about sales and sales techniques on Twitter, and that gives you a good sense of, ‘Wow, this person really has a passion for what I’m looking for.’ ”

Be Practical, Not Emotional

Instead of picking someone who shares all of your interests, Davila recommends hiring someone who excels at tasks that you may not be good at or enjoy. “It’s huge to be man enough to admit that ‘I’m not good at accounting,’ or ‘Maybe I am good at it, but it doesn’t interest me, so I never do it.’ Maybe you need a person who has a passion for accounting and has the background, and can help you with those tasks,” she says. “Or, maybe you need somebody who has really good follow-up skills and detail-oriented abilities because you’re weak in that area.”

Wendover often reminds business owners to hire the best person for the job, not the person with whom they have the most in common. “That doesn’t mean you’re going to hire somebody you’re at odds with, but on the other hand, you don’t want a Chatty Cathy just because you’re a Chatty Cathy,” he says. “Do I hire an accountant who loves to talk? No, I hire an accountant who’s studious and focuses on numbers but isn’t necessarily a people person.”