Hiring for a start-up is a complicated business. Getting the right people for the right job is incredibly important because you don’t have the luxury of time – or funds – to make expensive hiring mistakes. Your workforce is the bedrock on which your business will be built, and the foundational staff has to be rock-solid from the get go.
With 18+ years of ownership experience in running multiple businesses, I still find that hiring is my least favorite part of my job. It requires a lot of discipline, it doesn’t make people happy, but in the long run, a sound hiring-and-firing policy can keep a start-up venture viable – and thriving — through the first initial years of operation.
I am a big proponent of the `hiring slow’ policy. I do not make spot decisions on the basis of a glamorous resume or a gut feeling. Instead, I prefer to sleep on it. Give myself time to let early impressions settle and take shape, so I can get a “top down” view of the candidate instead of a “face-to-face” one.
“Top down” view of a potential candidate has a lot of advantages. For one, human emotions don’t impact your decisions the same way that a “face-to-face” response to a candidate would. And you give yourself additional time to do some legwork, and dig deep into the candidate’s application.
Typically, I follow up interviews with a personality test. I have the candidate interact with other members of my staff to see how this person would fit into my team environment. I actually follow-up referrals and single out that one boss or one manager who did not like the candidate.
Because I need to know the worst-case scenario, vis-à-vis a person I might bring into my business. I don’t have to believe all that I hear. But I will still have a more realistic benchmark to base my own judgements on.
Another common mistake I see business-owners make during the hiring process is get impressed by clever resume verbiage and smooth-talking candidates. Realistically speaking, most candidates will try to oversell his/her experience and skill set. As a business-owner, the onus is on me to disregard the sales pitch and find the best value this person can bring to the particular role I have in mind for him/her.
My method of evaluating a resume is not necessarily by educational accomplishments or degrees either. As a person who was taught how to balance a checkbook at the age of 13 by his mother, and given the rudiments of running a business at 11 by his father, I have a great respect for true veterans of work experience.
Grassroots experience of having worked in a particular field for enough job hours to have learnt from past mistakes and be able to tell the difference between `viability’ and `possibility’. Expecting realistic outcomes instead of fantastic ones. Less influenced by theory, and more equipped to find workable solutions to daily, professional challenges.
Experience comes in degrees – and `best’ may not always be the best. My practice is to match experience to the exact needs of the job at hand. And this is how I categorize it:
Beginner: A young graduate + some work experience.
Apprentice: 1-3 years of having worked in the field.
Journeyman: 10+ years of experience.
Master: 12-15 years of experience.
Most hiring personnel strive to hire the most `valuable’ candidate for the least amount of money. For example, a master-level candidate for an apprentice-level job.
The instant gratification from pulling off such a hiring coup is significant, but 3 months down the road – when it is apparent that the candidate and the role do not fit – you have just succeeded in wasting your company’s time and money by having this person on board.
The cost and loss to your company is way more than his/her salary. Add up the man-hours you spent trying to fit a round nail in a square hole, not to mention the hours you will now spend training the next person, and the hiring faux pas snowballs into a administrative mistake you simply cannot afford to make in a startup environment.
The opposite, in my opinion, holds true for the firing component of the process. If you feel a person will not shape up to fit the job, cut your losses and fire immediately. There is no leniency in my mind for staff members who are lazy, incompetent, uninspired, goal-less or just plain, ineffective.
Grace time, save-face time – none of these dodging tactics will make the unpleasant experience any easier for you later on. Do it now, and do it with such honesty and decency that you can still run into this person in a public place years later, and be able to look him/her in the eye.
At the end of the day, hiring is an art and firing is a necessity. There are no taking shortcuts with either, without your company bearing the full brunt of a really bad hiring decision.
Matt is a founder and CEO of Mastodon Media. He’s a Christ-inspired entrepreneur with a mission to help professionals grow and companies flourish with the Christ-led principles of Business Discipleship.