Entrepreneurs Sound Off: "What I Wish I’d Known Before Hiring Employees"

by Stephanie Taylor Christensen on May 1, 2013
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Hiring employees is a rite of passage for many small-business owners, because it represents growth. But, of course, expanding your operation comes with a few financial and professional risks.

To take some of the guesswork out of recruiting and staffing, the Intuit Small Business Blog asked entrepreneurs what, given the wisdom of hindsight, they wish they’d known before hiring their earliest employees.

They offered this advice to other small-business owners:

  • Don’t limit your options. Shreyans Parekh, director of wedding supplier Koyal Wholesale, advises others to recognize the importance of keeping an open mind about where you recruit. “In the early days, we did not cast our net for potential job candidates very far in terms of distance from the company, and in turn, faced a limited talent pool. Candidates who are truly committed to your company’s vision will not mind a commute,” says Parekh, who’s since grown the company to employ more than 40 people. He recommends recruiting from nearby colleges and regional occupational programs and considering employees who don’t have a college degree. “We’ve made the mistake of sometimes bypassing candidates because of education credentials, but there is something to said about hiring for passion and training for skills.”
  • Be clear about what a job entails. Eric Scott, CEO of Dolphin Micro, a web-development firm with about 20 employees, says that having unclear job descriptions and hiring on an “experimental” basis was a painful lesson learned. “We were wishy-washy on what we needed. [We] met a nice guy with decent skills but didn’t really know what work he would do with them. We hired him anyway — and had to let him go after 60 days because we didn’t have work that fit his skills.” Hiring the wrong person under the pressure (and panic) of being short-staffed is also a bad idea, he says. “We’ve made the mistake of hiring the best person we could find . . . who [didn’t] really fit the job when we had more work than we could handle.” Ultimately, Scott says, the mismatch cost the business more than being short-handed might have. “He upset the client, cost us a lot in training and client make-goods, had to be let go — and put us even further behind on work.”
  • Understand the traits you can’t train. Jerry Nevins, CEO of the frozen-cocktail company Snow & Co., says he wishes he’d known that attitude and enthusiasm are innate traits that trump industry knowledge, experience, and connections. He now uses pre-interview “chit-chat” to get a sense of a candidate’s attitude and takes a tour of the facility to judge his or her energy level. “If they have a positive feel and can keep up as I speed through the store, they’re in,” Nevins says. Meanwhile, Bill Hazelton, founder and CEO of Optimum Interactive Media, adds that, “People who don’t have experience in startup environments are always a bottleneck, no matter what kind of experience they have. Looking back, I would always hire the hungrier people who haven’t yet had their ‘big break.’ They’re the people that will fight, scratch, claw, and do whatever it takes to succeed.”
  • Be proud of what your business offers. David Handmaker, founder and CEO of online printing company Next Day Flyers, opened his business 14 years ago. He says his early mistakes taught him how to entice high-quality talent and why that’s essential. “I didn’t understand how the entire package of pay, benefits, and work location could be used to attract new employees. Instead, I hired who I thought the company could afford.” As a result, Handmaker says he spent more time dealing with the frustrations of managing employees who had performance and reliability issues — and that it ultimately slowed the pace at which the company could have otherwise grown.
  • Go with your gut. David Wyatt, co-founder of the design, public relations, and social media company Wyatt Brand, says he’s learned to hire candidates he has a good gut feeling about. “There is a temptation to choose those who you think can deliver or who can impress in other ways, like personal presentation. But, in the cases where I hired someone that wasn’t nice and I knew it, I regretted it; it harmed our reputation.”

Stephanie Taylor Christensen is a former financial services marketer who brings more than a decade of experience in marketing and writing to her career as a full-time freelance writer and small business owner.

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