Celebrating the people behind British small businesses

How to hire your first employee

By Alex Lawrance,  Head of Recruitment Advertising at ThatRecruit.com 

Hiring your first employee is an exciting step for an entrepreneur.

As a small business owner you have likely been doing the work of two people already!  Your own job, and the work of the new person – so you know you have enough regular business to make it affordable! But hiring someone to work under you also means that your income will drop as you are now paying their salary… which previously went to you!

This sounds bad… but when they make the right hire, entrepreneurs invariably say they “wish they had hired them ages ago” as a huge amount of work and stress is suddenly being looked after by your new best friend! But a poor recruit adds to your problems, and in the worst cases acts as a costly millstone.

Hiring people, whether employees or freelancers, is unavoidable if you are to grow your business. So, aim to get things right from the outset to maximise your chances of always selecting great candidates.  And for the time being, none will be as important as your first recruit!

Avoiding the number one recruiting mistake

The biggest hiring mistake is to appoint someone “who is the best of a bad bunch”.  Everyone makes this mistake at some point, thinking there is so much work you need to get someone (anyone!) to take the strain off you.  It always backfires!

How do you avoid this?  By having plenty of choice.

You do this by firstly making the job sound as attractive as possible.  Often small businesses make jobs sound really off-putting or samey.  Don’t be one of them.  There are plenty of benefits a small business can offer that will be really attractive to the right person.  Maybe it is responsibility, maybe it is training, maybe it is flexibility for people with childcare or other commitments.  Pay is important, but for many people there are other things that will make your job attractive.

Secondly, you should promote your job as widely as possible.  A couple of social media posts and one online ad is not enough.  There are hundreds of online recruitment sites (ThatRecruit.com deals with over 1,200 for instance!), and many suitable candidates won’t be actively looking so you need to be reaching them too.

Getting the right person for the right job

Carefully think about the job the person will be doing.  What experience will they need, where will you be providing training, how much work will be unsupervised.

You may have a long list, in which case differentiate essential from desirable because the more you gold plate the requirements the harder it will be to find the right person for the job.

Think about the person as well as the skills as the two of you are likely going to be spending a lot of time working together.

In a small business there isn’t the same support available as in bigger firms.  In a small business you have to sort out problems yourself, whether the internet is down, the printer is busted, or a new chair is needed.  Can your candidate work in such an environment where they must be self-sufficient?  Many can’t make the transition!

Assess thoroughly

Don’t appoint someone solely based on a warm chat, especially if appointing someone from your social circle, such as a friend’s wife, or it may well backfire spectacularly too.

Always assess thoroughly.  Put the person to the test with some practical exercises, question them thoroughly about their experience, what they have done and how they would handle particular situations.  Consider a trial day, and why not invite a trusted person (spouse, mentor, another business owner) to sit in on the second interview to give you a second perspective.  Follow up references by phone as people are more candid.

Good recruits need a good boss

Even the best recruit will flounder without support and direction from you.  Too often entrepreneurs are so busy they don’t spend the time onboarding and instructing their new recruits.

Have clear written expectations about what the recruit will do, communicate them and make sure you play your role by inducting and mentoring the person thoroughly and regularly (not all at once) so they can meet your expectations.

Recruiting is an art as well as a science, and even the best firms let in poor candidates occasionally.

Treat hiring your first recruit as one of the most important things you will do.  Being systematic, investing the necessary time and getting plenty of candidates to choose from will maximise your chances of getting a great recruit who frees up your time and grows your business.