October 23, 2012
You are managing a startup. It is growing quickly and you have personally become the entire human resources department. And admit it, you under estimated the time it takes to find the right person who will understand the business vision and fit in with your culture. Are you meeting one candidate after another? Asking the same questions over and over again? Are you wondering if you are too picky? If it would just be easier to just hire at random?
Ask yourself, would you decide to marry someone at random? At the size of a startup, finding the right employee is really like choosing a life partner. So here are my tips for making a good choice in hiring and dating.
Advertising – Putting yourself out there
The first step is looking at your startup’s needs. If you don’t know what you’re looking for, how will you ever know when you’ve found it? What are you willing to make concessions about and what are the deal breakers? Make sure that you can separate the skills and experience you absolutely need, and those you can train them on.
Being clear about what you want and need will help you figure out where you need to look for this person, and how you communicate about the position. Meeting someone at a club is not like meeting them through mutual friends, just like there is a difference between getting a standard response to a kijiji ad versus a colleagues’ recommendation. Sitting in your office and waiting for recommendations, on the other hand, won’t get you any results.
It’s also important to send the right message. Showing cleavage might get you a one night stand, but may be a waste of your time if you’re looking for a serious relationship. If you’re recruiting for a demanding startup environment, don’t make it sound like everyone has a casual 9 to 5 workday to attract more people. Set the right expectations so that you don’t waste your time on people who aren’t interested in the opportunity you are offering.
CV review – Do I call them back?
You don’t have time to date everyone, so some pre-selection is required. The first screening criterion is always interest in you. Check if the applicant actually made an effort to understand the position and the business, and impress you. If they don’t care enough about making a good impression, they probably don’t care enough about your company. And if they did, they don’t know how to communicate it, which will be a problem in itself. I always fall for someone who took the time to read my blogs 😉
Does the applicant’s history and career goal make sense for the startup? The serial large company IT employee will add little value to your startup of five if all they are interested in is a salaried job managing the company’s IT infrastructure. You are looking for someone who can meet your needs, and whose needs you can meet as well.
Are they currently in a relationship/job? Why are they cheating? Do some background research on the company, and try to investigate their policies. The reason they are leaving their current job can give you valuable insight into what they are looking for in their career. You don’t want someone cheating on you in a few months.
Are they stable, or have they been jumping around from one relationship/job to the other? Have they been able to keep a job for more than 6 months at a time? Red flag this as a question for the interview.
The Interview – AKA Dating
At this stage of the game, you are trying to find out where the CV description and reality meet. How much leadership experience have they had, and how much do they want? What are their ambitions and goals? Are they aligned to yours? Do they want children, how many, and when?
What personal values do they have? Do they show integrity and respect? You want your business culture to be built on the right foundation, and the people on your team, especially in a start-up, are that foundation. Talk about your company’s objectives and values. Do they show sincere interest, or seem disinterested or skeptical?
Can they communicate clearly? Everyone will tell you that communication is the key to a good relationship. Believe them, it’s true! You can never over communicate things to your team and you need someone who can understand and communicate back effectively.
Will they be there through the ups and downs, or just bail out at the first obstacle? Determination is really important in a startup. There is a lot of work, a lot of risk, and you can’t count on a short term payoff. You need someone who will be motivated by the long term vision alone and not ask you for recognition every time they pick up the dishes. Walk them through your work environment, introduce them to other members of your team, and show them in as demonstrable a way as possible what their day to day work will be like.
Are they smart and challenging? Will they teach me things? You want the business to grow, which means you want someone who can help you grow it. No one will be perfect, but it is essential that they will push you and the company to the next level.
Does my team like them? Can they work together effectively? In a startup your team is like your family, and they may spot warning flags you’ve overlooked.
So you’ve made it through your battery of questions and man, this one is a keeper! You’re both more excited by the end of the interview than you were to begin with, a clear sign that there’s some real chemistry here.
So why are they still single? Ask all the hard questions, and make sure to check their references. Did they quit or get fired? Why? Does their interpretation of their abilities match their coworkers’ perspectives? Beware of those that would accuse others for all failures and credit themselves for the successes. This is not the sign of a team player or effective leadership.
Happily Ever After
Recruit for the best, hire the best, and invest the time to build the team your startup needs to succeed. A startup team can be like family after all, you just get to choose them 😉