6 Steps to Hiring Your First Employee
March 26, 2015 | Business and Careers
By Katie Morell
It was early 2013 when Kerri Quigley realized she was in desperate need of a full-time employee. Three years earlier she’d started The Fashion Class, a New York City-based fashion design and sewing school for children, and had insisted on doing nearly everything herself except for the help of a few freelancers. But a move to a permanent space in Midtown got her thinking about building a daily staff, starting with a receptionist. She put the word out and quickly received a referral for a woman who sounded perfect for the role.
“I didn’t post a job anywhere,” remembers Quigley. “I just heard about this woman, sat down with her, had a very casual conversation, lightly grazed over her resume and right there in the interview told her, ‘You’re hired!’”
Things went well at first, but before long cracks started to show. A few months in, her new employee began circulating gossip among contract employees, showing up late, frequently calling in sick and making mistakes in the company’s accounting documents. Six months later, Quigley had to let her go.
The experience rattled the entrepreneur and forced her to re-evaluate her hiring procedures. Today, she employs five full-time workers and 10 freelancers, and she’s happy with all of them.
Quigley’s experience is not uncommon. In fact, many entrepreneurs face similar challenges when hiring their first employees. Here are six tips to help you make better decisions when growing your workforce.
1. Take your time. “Don’t rush into hiring just because you desperately need someone,” says Quigley. Following her first-hire blunder, she posted a job ad on LinkedIn and received around 100 responses. She set up first and second interviews, asked for work samples and gave homework to each candidate. The process took several weeks but was worth the extra time to find people who fit well into her company.
2. Cast a wide net. Talk with your network about your need for an employee. Reach out to your LinkedIn connections, post on your social media pages, mention it in your email signature and ask people with whom you don’t usually talk to about work.
“Think about whom your children are friends with—they have parents who may know someone or who could be a good fit themselves,” says Roberta Matuson, a human resources expert and author of Talent Magnetism: How to Build a Workplace That Attracts and Keeps the Best. “Next time you are watching your kids play sports, turn to the person next to you and start chatting. A lot of people don’t realize how much business gets done on the soccer field.”
3. Narrow the job’s role. Spend time clarifying exactly what your employee will do before talking to anyone about the job. This task can take time, especially if you are in search of your first staffer.
“One of the biggest mistakes I see with solopreneurs hiring their first employee is that they are looking for what I like to call the ‘singing and dancing employee’—someone who can blog, make sales calls, do marketing, clean the office, you name it,” says Barry Moltz, author of How To Get Unstuck: 25 Ways to Get Your Business Growing Again. “That is just not possible. Hire an employee only when you can identify a single point in your company where he or she can help you.”
4. List your requirements. Quigley breaks up her job requirements into a few categories: skills, personality traits, bonus traits and absolute no’s. Her first-round phone screens are to make sure a person fits her required skills list. The second round, in person, is to see if the candidate is a personality fit.
Throughout the process she notes anything she doesn’t like about the candidate—from demeanor to a lack of specific skills. Quigley usually ends up narrowing her list down to two candidates, and “that’s when I start doing social media searches,” she says, “to make sure they don’t have a weird background. I can usually break the tie pretty quickly that way.”
5. Drill the references. Calling a candidate’s referrals is a necessary task when hiring. Matuson recommends calling at least three references and making sure none of them are related to the candidate. Then, ask two very important questions.
“‘On a scale of one to ten, ten being high, how would you rate this person’s overall performance?’ Usually when you ask this, the person referring will say something like an eight or a nine,” she says. “Then, follow up with, ‘What would it take to make this person a ten?’”
6. Keep quiet in the interview. “Most small-business owners talk way too much in an interview because they are used to selling their company,” says Moltz. Instead, he recommends asking pointed questions and then letting the candidate talk.
Start several of your interview questions with the phrase tell me a time when … “People can make up generalizations, but if you ask them about a specific time, they will have to give you a real instance,” he says.
Once you’ve brought on your first employee, be careful not to micromanage. “The likely reason that you left corporate America was because you were tired of working for micromanagers,” says Matuson. “Make sure you don’t become that person.”
Mike Koehler knows this reality well. He decided to go out on his own in 2010 and founded the social media and digital strategy firm Smirk New Media. He hired his first employee—an intern—about a year later. While she was doing a good job, she wasn’t executing exactly like he did.
“I’ve had to learn from her that different people have different styles of how they complete tasks. As an entrepreneur, you live in your head long enough that you think everyone will execute like you do,” he says. “I’ve learned to let her figure out what works best for her as long as she gets the work done.”
For entrepreneurs, hiring the first employee can be a nerve-wracking and exciting time. Follow these tips, and you will be on your way to finding the perfect person for your fledgling company.
Katie Morell is a writer and editor living in San Francisco. She specializes in business, travel, human interest and social justice topics. Her work has appeared in Hemispheres, BBC Travel, Crain’s Chicago Business, American Express OPEN Forum, USA Today, and other print and online publications.
Originally published on Northwestern MutualVoice on Forbes.com.