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How To Hire Your First Employee

It’s easy to picture the journey to entrepreneurship as a solitary adventure. The late-night brainstorming sessions, the planning, the research—I don’t know about you, but in my mind, that’s one lone figure doing it all. But eventually, all successful businesses will have to start taking on employees, and that’s when the fun really begins. Before you get there, however, you have to actually complete the interviewing, hiring, and onboarding process. For new entrepreneurs, this can be daunting.

How do you go from being a solo venture to one where you’re forced to find and rely on others to help you grow and run your business?

To answer this question, I turned to the members and asked for their advice. Their responses ranged from practical tips on hiring to what to look for in a first employee. Before you grab that stack of resumes, check out the tips.

1. Hire Someone That Is Passionate About Your Product Or Service

The single most important thing to look for in hiring a first employee or any early employee is that they love your product and buy into your mission. Any differences in intelligence, experience, and communication skills will always be overcome by passion. After all, a passionate, teachable employee can be brought up to speed and can learn the ins and outs of the position once hired. Having someone on your team who truly believes in your product or service will be an asset to your new business.

2. Favour Potential Over Experience

Hire your first employees based on the potential you see in them, rather than seeking out the most highly skilled and qualified candidates. If you only focus on experience, you are going to be disappointed, Look for potential. Do they possess the motivation and have that burning desire to be part of something amazing?

Why does this count for more?

First of all, it may be more difficult to attract the most highly-skilled employees when you’re just starting out, you lack that long-term sticking power that more established companies have.
But, more importantly, hiring someone with potential allows you to work with their motivation to do well. This relationship of working with your new employee to help them grow into their potential will give you an employee that not only cares about your company but is committed to trying their best and being a part of your new venture. That type of individual can be far more valuable to your company than someone that just looks good on paper.

3. Take Your Time And Don’t Rush

Don’t let your desire to find help fast lead you to rush into any unwise hiring decisions. Your first employee is going to be absolutely instrumental in the development of your company and it is critical that you take the time needed to bring in the right employee. This is because your first employees will help shape the future of your company. They are going to set the tone when it comes to company culture, and be instrumental to your success—or failure. It’s therefore important that you choose employees that fit well with your vision for your new business. Fit is an important thing when it comes to workplace culture. Make sure they fit the company’s needs because imbalance just leads to lost productivity.

4. Hire For Your Weaknesses

When you’re first starting your business, it’s easy to fall into the “jack-of-all-trades. After all, when your business is merely an idea, it’s pretty much just on you. However, hiring your first employee is your opportunity to change that. We each have strengths and weaknesses. Hire your first employee to balance out the things you don’t do very well, so it’s easier for you to learn to delegate. Hate answering the phone? Find someone who’s a charming receptionist. Proposals take you hours every day? Look for a sales contract.

5. Test For Culture Fit

More and more lately, the emphasis has shifted from hiring an employee with a specific skill set to hiring employees that mesh with your company culture. Before you begin the hiring process, ask yourself, what kind of company culture do I hope to create?

Once you have a very clear idea of the type of company culture you would like to build, take this into account when proceeding with the hiring process, and get a sense of how well prospective employees will fit in with the type of culture you hope to foster in your new business. You obviously need to make sure a potential hire has the right skills, but equally as important, you need to make sure they have the right personality for your company. Ask them questions about who they are as a person, not as an employee. Make sure they fit the culture you want to build.

6. Hire Someone With Integrity

Know that while you’d like to hire someone who fits in well with your company now, you also need to think long term. Is the person you’d like to hire someone you’d trust with difficult decisions?

You’ll want to ensure that the employee does the right thing rather than the easy thing. Your first employee will have a huge impact on the company’s culture, and having integrity is a great first step. It can be hard to make sure that you feel like your new employee is someone whose decisions you would be comfortable standing behind.

7. Establish A Test Period

It’s very difficult to judge character or performance after a few interviews. Trial periods for new employees. Establish an observation period before the hiring is official. This way you can get to know the person, see them in action, see how they work with you, and determine if they are the right fit.

8. Know That They Can’t Be Your Best Friend

Make sure that you have plenty of legal stuff set in place before becoming too friendly. It’s very easy to slip into a peer relationship when it’s just you and one other employee. It’s important to get legal documentation in place early, both so your company is protected and expectations are set. Depending on your business, the legal documents will vary, so consult with your attorney before taking on someone new. We’re not saying you can’t be friends, but make sure to establish the business side of the relationship first.

9. Discuss The Hiring Process With Your Stakeholders Before You Start

Don’t jump into the process of hiring alone if you’ve got outside investors, they’ll likely want to have some input, and it’s well within their rights to do so. Do a meeting with all stakeholders before starting the search. Unless you get alignment from all stakeholders on the job description, responsibilities, interviewers, reporting structure, and other filters, you’ll likely hire the wrong person or get all the way to the end of the process and not end up hiring the right person due to misalignment. This might not be the most fun part of hiring, but you’ll be able to ensure that everyone is on the same page.

10. Do Their Job Before Hiring

Do you know how to do the job you are hiring for?

If it’s a specific technical position that you’re hiring for because you lack the skillset, then maybe not, but you likely have either done the job up until this point or are at least familiar with the duties you require. This way, you’ll know what expectations are reasonable and what isn’t, and how best to help your new employee succeed. In order to manage the expectations for both yourself and your hire, you should do the job before any hiring decision is made. During the onboarding process, be sure to work very closely with them so they really get to know what you built the business on. Your new hire will be set up for success and be able to take that job to new heights.

11. Have Clear Expectations And Training

Define what you expect of your new employee, and communicate this from the start. Always clearly define roles and expectations. Keeping your new employee in the dark about certain tasks you hope they can accomplish will not do you any favours, and may sour the relationship. Make sure they know the result you are looking to achieve with them and take the time to properly train and onboard them.

12. Incentivize Them Like A Founder

If you’re in a traditional startup business, you might want to consider treating your new talent more like a founder than an employee. When you hire your first employee, I recommend incentivizing them like a founder: Low salary and high equity. This can help you build a solid foundation. Ensure that they have the right mentality of being in it for the long-run. See whether they’re willing to make sacrifices and be uncomfortable because it’s going to be a bumpy ride in the early stages of any startup. While ups and downs are inevitable, this strategy can pay dividends for both you and your employees. Our first employees are now senior leaders who fully embody our culture.

13. Find Someone With Resourcefulness And Tenacity

Aside from experience, the main attribute to look for in your first hire, especially in a startup, is resourcefulness. You want someone by your side that will be able to figure out situations and problem solve throughout the way. This will make your journey to success a little less stressful. An employee who can’t respond quickly to ever-changing situations inevitable when starting a brand-new business. Making sure that your new employee can problem solve and react quickly is essential. In the initial stages, you’ll need someone ready to hold on during the wild ride of building a company. If they’ve demonstrated a willingness to work hard in past positions, then you can feel secure that they can handle large, small, and unexpected tasks. Hiring your first employee is going to be a little different than any hiring you do later on down the road. Your first employees help set the tone for your business, for everything from company culture to how well your business response to a new situation.

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