Business Insights

Small Business Series: 10 Hiring Tips for Your Small Business

10 Hiring Tips for Small Business Owners 

Hiring is one of the most important things an entrepreneur will do to grow their company. For a small business, each new hire has a tremendous impact and influences the company's culture far more than a new hire at a 200- or 500-person company. The stakes are high, so you need to ensure that each of your new hires is a passionate, engaged and committed team player.

"Great people versus okay people is the difference between success and mediocrity," says Brett Lewis of Skillbridge, who says hiring is something founders spend too little time on in the early days, and believes your sixth hire should be a recruiter.

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But hiring is a daunting task, and there are very real costs associated with recruiting — cost per hire is not to be ignored. You're paying someone (in-house or a recruiter, or perhaps even yourself) to search for candidates, and the longer the search, the higher the CPH. And you want to make the right decision the first time, because it costs 20% of an annual salary to replace a mid-level employee, and it could cost 213% of a year's salary to replace a        C-suite employee, according to a study by CAP. 

Mashable spoke with a handful of entrepreneurs and small business owners to figure out how they approach hiring and how they make sure they're hiring the right people, the first time around.

1. Be Clear About the Role

Whether its on The Resumator, Craigslist, Monster, CareerBuilder or Indeed, people search for jobs based on keywords or industries, and hiring managers should keep that in mind. "You'll want something descriptive and broad, clear and concise," says Laura Hampton, digital marketing manager at UK's Hallam Internet Ltd who's currently searching for a "Search Marketing Specialist" to capture people searching for both 'Search' and for 'Marketing'."

Within the listing, write out the day-to-day tasks, how the role fits into the overall company goals and be sure to include key information like salary (even if it's "DOE"), benefits, and any necessary skills (i.e. Excel or Photoshop). "Help potential applicants to see that this is an important position for your company and that they will be making a valuable contribution," says Hampton.

But also be aware that roles evolve quickly at a small company, and positions tend to be stressful — if you're in a rapid-growth phase, make that clear. "Employees wear many hats at a startup, and the only constant is change," says founder Kellee Khalil. "Employees need to be very comfortable in a flexible environment. During the interview process, we work to determine how the candidate handles change. Can they be a team player and a collaborator without feeling territorial? If it doesn't come out in the interview, we'll grill their references."

You want to be as transparent as possible — be open and honest about the challenges the company is facing and any potential roadblocks the candidate might face. You don't want a new hire to start working and then feel as though she's a victim of a bait-and-switch, and the last thing you want is to let someone go because you failed in the recruiting phase, says Shon Burton, founder of HiringSolved. Be clear about the role, what you're looking for and what the goals are before you sign a contract.

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2. Fish Where They Fish

Figure out where the best candidates for your company would be hanging out, whether virtually or physically. If you're in the market for technical talent, drop by a hackathon or demo day. If you're looking for someone in sales, a trade show would be a great place to see someone in their element and get a sense of how they deal with customers. Looking for someone with a niche passion? There's likely a meetup for it.

As boring as they might sound, conferences can also be a great way to attract talent by letting you pitch the business in a more conversational way. "It gives you a chance to express the vision behind the company in a non-interview setting and to meet one-on-one casually," says Ethan Song, co-founder and CEO of Frank & Oak. "We've started sending our team members to various conferences because it gives the company a voice and a face, and that's much more attractive for employees."

3. Offer Flexibility

No one wants to be chained to a desk from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. "Recognize flexibility as a selling point," says Kevin Kuske, chief anthropologist of turnstone. "Generally speaking, top talent wants the option to crunch numbers at a coffee shop or stay in their slippers at home. As long as your team can meet its goals and collaborate when needed, offering flexible schedules and office hours is a huge selling point." A little remote work here and there will do great things for employee happiness and retention while not hampering in-office culture or productivity.

4. Show Off Your Company Culture, Make Values Clear 

When you're hiring, keep in mind that skills can be taught, but attitude, personality and passion can't. "I would prefer to bring someone on who is slightly less talented but fits the culture perfectly than someone who is supremely talented but not a fit with our team," says PureWow CEO Ryan Harwood, who says it's essential to uncover how candidates communicate, how they react to difficult situations and how they navigate conflicts. "Above all, we look for integrity — high-integrity individuals make the best teammates, and with such a small office, trust and respect are musts," says Harwood.

You should work to get a sense of the candidate's personality from the get-go. While job interviews tend to be intense and nerve-wracking, you can lighten the mood by defying interviewing conventions. "One of our core values as a company is to not take ourselves too seriously and have fun, so we have questions baked into our interview process that help us find out if people are going to embrace that culture," says Sean Cohen, COO of AWeber, who asks questions like 'If you were a superhero, who would you be and why?' and 'If you entered a room and a theme song played, what would it be and why?'

"There's no real wrong answer to any of these questions, but they do give insight into the type of person a candidate is," says Cohen, adding that these kinds of questions help the candidate feel comfortable and understand that your team isn't afraid to let its hair down.

Strive to make your business a place where people want to work. At teen activism non-profit Do Something, the summer interns create a culture book, which is posted on the jobs page, and gives prospective employees a sense of the company's culture and purpose. "The day the culture book gets sent out is one of the best days of the year," and it's a great recruiting tool, says Aria Finger, COO at Do Something.

On the other hand, Quirky's #1 core value is "Get Shit Done," and the company evaluates candidates based on their ability to do so, in addition to being a futurist, agile and selfless. "These values guide us through the process and serve as a filter to choosing the right candidates," says Jason Medley, Quirky's talent acquisition manager.

Whatever your company's mission and core values are, own them, live by them and hire in accordance with them.

5. Always Be Hiring (Or Thinking About Hiring) 

Start thinking about everyone you meet as a potential hire. "I keep a pool of names in a database of people I've met that I'd like to work with someday; they're coded in our Salesforce as 'prospective hires,'" says weeSpring CEO Allyson Downey. She takes the "long view" and says she's casually building a relationship with someone who would be a great CTO candidate in 6 or 12 months. Downey taps her hit list when she's ready to hire, but if she needs to cast a wider net, she uses Cream.HR, which provides stats on candidates based on problem solving, innovation, task management and other dimensions. "We've found it 100x more reliable than a resume screen — it's like Moneyball for hiring," says Downey.

The team at AWeber makes a point to reply to every single applicant, which might seem like a daunting and fruitless task. "They may not be a fit for the job they applied for, but you never know when you might have another open position that would be perfect for them," says AWeber's Cohen, who says individual responses build goodwill. "Maybe that person will apply with us again down the line, or maybe they'll speak well about us if they know someone else that's interested in a position with us."

6. Don't Settle

The last thing you want to do when hiring is settle — there's no reason you can't find the perfect candidate. It may take some legwork and a cocktail of tools (TheResumator, Cream.HR, etc), but your white whale is out there.

"We look for A+ candidates at every level from entry to executive," says Quirky's Medley. "When you hire A+ talent, they bring a wonderful talent circle that we are able to pipe into and network with."

Brandon Kessler, founder and CEO of ChallengePost says his team is "willing to wait in agony until finding the right person for the job." The perfect candidate, he says, will have the right skill-set (and a get-it-done approach), will know what makes her happy professionally and have a long-term career goals, and will be a cultural fit for ChallengePost.

Because you're going to be spending a lot of time with this new hire — likely in a small-ish office — don't underestimate the importance of simply liking someone. The Muse CEO Kathryn Minshew has a basic litmus test for hiring: Look for people you want to come to work with every day. "We often ask ourselves the question, 'If I suggested going out to lunch, and everyone said no except for this person, would I be excited or bummed to go to lunch one-on-one with him or her?' If the answer is 'meh,' we pass on the candidate," says Minshew.

7. Recruit Your Team to Help Recruit

Of course, promoting from within is a great way to incentivize and reward hard work, but sometimes you need fresh meat, and you should empower your team to help bring in great candidates. After all, no one knows your company better than your own team, so they should be on the lookout for talented, interesting people who would bring new talents and skills to the team. You can reward successful referrals with a cash bonus or with other prizes, like gift cards or perks, says Cohen of AWeber, who adds that "engaging your employees in the recruiting process is also a really cost effective way to find good candidates." Even if your team isn't bringing in the candidates, they should be involved in the interview process — they're the ones who are going to be working with the person every day.

8. Remember to Impress the Candidate 

You might think it's the candidate's job to impress you, but recruitment is a two-way street. Odds are, your company isn't the only one the candidate has her eye on, so you need to step it up and prove that your company is the best fit.

"We take the recruitment process seriously," says Quirky's Medley, who emphasizes respect as a key component of successful recruiting. "It's important that candidates feel valued when they spend time with us." Quirky flies many candidates to New York — Quirky books flights and car service, puts them up in a nice hotel, takes them out to nice meals and always assigns one of Quirky's People and Culture reps to with them, to answer any questions. The last step is a dinner with the hiring lead and a team member to ensure the candidate is a great cultural fit. "It's important that we get to know our candidates as the people they really are, and we want them to truly know us as well," says Medley.

9. Don't Be Afraid to Take 'Em for a Test Drive

It's expensive to hire someone, but it's even more expensive to replace someone. So before, you commit, it might be worth it — for both parties — to test the waters with a short-term contract.

"In my experience, no amount of 'looks-good-on-paper' or 'great-references' replaces my live, in-action assessment of a person's work ethic, work product, and ability to work on a team," says Leslie Bradshaw, COO of Bradshaw is a huge advocate of hiring people with whom you've worked previously so you can attest to their output and attitude, or hiring on a contract basis to ensure there's a fit for the individual and the company before there's a long-term commitment.

The Muse takes a similar approach — the company has candidates complete a task or project or brings them on as freelancers for a few weeks or months before sealing the deal. "There's no better way to find out if someone's going to be the right fit for your team than to actually give it a whirl," says Minshew.

10. Remember to Onboard

Recruitment doesn't stop once the contract is signed. "Onboarding is probably the most important aspect of retention, and we work hard to make sure new team members are introduced to our culture on day one," says Rachel Karten, manager of people operations at Plated. It's hard to be the new person who doesn't know all the processes and can't find the kitchen, so the HR team should ensure a smooth transition from candidate to employee. Plated has new hires fill out a fun questionnaire that's circulated around the office before the new hires' first day to help the team get to know their new co-worker and encourage conversation. The new hire's desk is decorated with a personalized chef's hat and Plated t-shirts, too. "This is a great way to let other team members know someone new is starting, as well as make new hires feel like part of the team," says Karten.

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