Startup Life: 3 Tips on Making Your Very First Hire
Running a startup is simultaneously exciting and exhausting, especially during the early days, when you have to be a jack of all trades – and probably a master of only a few. If yours is like any other growing startup, you’re probably juggling dozens of tasks a day. Those that you don’t finish today get added to tomorrow’s list.
Eventually, you’ll arrive at a point in your startup’s life when you’ll realize that to continue growing, you are going to need to hire more people – people who can help with sales, marketing, support, accounting, and any other functions you’re currently trying to perform all by yourself. This is a major event. This is when you begin putting your dreams in the hands of others.
When you bring the right people on board to your startup, you’ll be able to hand your tasks off to incredibly talented team members. If you hire the wrong people, however, they may end up ruining all of your hard work.
Like many entrepreneurs, I tried doing everything myself in the early days of my company. After putting in months of 20-hour days, I realized I needed to fill some key roles if I ever wanted to take my company to the next level. Here’s how I did it:
1. Identify and Prioritize Roles That Need to Be Filled
First, I identified which roles needed filling and prioritized them according to which hires were most urgent. Then, I wrote down the 10 most important skills I needed for each role.
Depending on where your startup is located on the growth curve, you will have your own specific needs. My immediate goal was to find people who had strengths in areas I didn’t. Some founders prefer to hire people to do the jobs they hate, but I think that’s a shortsighted strategy. Just because you may hate doing something doesn’t mean you’re not good at it!
2. Be Picky
As the resumes started arriving, I tried to find five candidates who looked strongest on paper. If I wasn’t happy with the current batch of resumes, I was ready to post another job ad and start the process again. Even if I’ve met with each candidate and haven’t found the right person, I’ll start over again.
This is a key point that many companies miss. Some founders are in a hurry to fill a position, which means they’ll compromise on too many important areas. This can only hurt the company in the long term – and possibly in the short term, too. Carpenters live by the motto, “Measure twice, cut once.” Entrepreneurs should follow their lead: It’s better to hire the right person from the get-go than suffer the consequences down the road.
3. Talk to Your Candidates
Once I narrowed my candidates down to five, I invited each in for a conversation.
I dislike the term “interview” because it feels very one-sided. The best candidates are inquisitive. They will ask me questions in addition to answering the ones I ask them. This tells me the person is engaged and wants to learn. It’s tough to discover this inquisitiveness via a standard interview.
Also, I find having the conversation in an office to be intimidating. There’s always a desk or table in the way. It’s not a natural environment for talking with anyone. I prefer to take a walk. It’s relaxing, the conversation flows easily, and I learn far more about the candidate’s background and personality.
When discussing skills, I always ask probing questions. I need to know the depth of a candidate’s knowledge. If it’s an area I’m not very familiar with, such as sales, I’ll ask my sales friends what the important questions and right answers are.
Over the years, I’ve learned the best hires are those who tell me how they’ve created something and how they’ve overcome obstacles. It’t not enough to tell me the time; I want the person who can also tell me how the watch is built. This shows me a great deal about how well the person has mastered a given skill.
Something entrepreneurs often overlook is how engaged candidates are – or aren’t – when discussing their work. If they’re excited, you’ll hear it in their voice and see it in their body language. This tells me they care about their work; they’re not chasing just a paycheck.
People often ask why I place so much value on personality. My response: If you’re going to sit next to someone for eight hours a day, wouldn’t you rather sit next to someone you like? No one wants to hire a bull-in-a-china-shop personality. They can drive out valuable people and sink your company.
Aytekin Tank is founder and chief executive officer of JotForm, a drag-and-drop online form-building software.