No matter how awesome you are at what you do, there comes a time when you have to transition from being exceptionally good at what you do, to being able to hire and manage a high performing team that’s not just as good as you, but better than you.
Hiring a stellar team is one of the top three things managers need to get right to secure the business’ long term success. Most business owners/founders/managers make the mistake of using just gut feeling when hiring. Definitely, that has its place, but it is not scalable, nor is it sustainable as a solitary requirement for hiring.
Put in a process that is designed to ensure you get the best of the best talent no matter how small or large your existing team is. Here are a few tips that have helped me over the years.
1. Write a brief job description: Simply put, what will this person do day to day? What will they be responsible for? This is the foundation for measuring their performance. Try not to lump in too much and also not too little. Write here your sense of the ideal skills expected for this role and previous experience as well.
2. Select a hiring committee: Fancy words for pick 3 people (an odd number to break ties), whose competence and professionalism you trust, to vote on this person after they do whatever tests and interviews. I know for small businesses you simply don’t have resources in-house, so ask your friends who you know are professionals in their fields, and are competent. Trust me, competence recognizes competence.
3. Do a phone screen: Phone screens say a lot about a person. They also help you not to waste your time meeting in person. Do they pick up or not? Do they send a message when they don’t pick up? What was their etiquette over the phone (critical for CS roles, the small things matter). Once you’re okay, invite them for a technical test.
4. Carry out a technical test: This is particularly useful for entry level roles; how well can they use basic tools, or write emails, and for the more artisan type roles, have them do a simulation of what they will be doing on a day to day basis. I like this, because it very quickly replaces any assumptions I make about their competence with hard evidence. Before you hire, you already have a sense of their technical strengths and where they need to be empowered/trained to improve.
6. In-person interview: Ideally face to face, as there are lots of nonverbal cues to assess. Once candidates get to this stage, I’m pretty confident they can do the work and I’m just testing for culture fit and doing a little verbal retest of the technical test on areas I need clarity. Sometimes you simply can't meet face to face and tools like Zoom and DropQue can help do that virtually.
Key things you want to find out: How well will they ease into your existing team (if any)? What is their personality like? How passionate are they about the company values? I personally place preference on people who have strong culture fit, are passionate about the company, and passionate about self-improvement etc., because those things really matter in the long run.
7. Decide and make an Offer
I typically rank the final 3 candidates on 5 above and give an offer to the top one. I always have at the back of my mind that my offer could be rejected for reasons beyond my control and have a backup plan — Candidate 2, and so on.
A few things to have in mind here:
Aim for congruence across hiring committee:
Pick the candidate that ALL people on the hiring committee feel passionately about. That’s usually a strong sign the person is exceptional. Where there is lukewarm feeling across the committee, this is usually a red flag.
Make your offer competitive
There is scarcity of top talent, and when you get a good one that has strong skills or is trainable, try your hardest to make the offer competitive. As a startup I know this is hard, but this is where giving staff postdated equity options is helpful to motivate. Let your employees be a part of your business.
Include a probationary period
Yes, everyone may have been excited about this candidate and something odd happens that makes them a terrible fit for your company. This is rare if you picked the right hiring committee but it does happen. Including a probationary period allows you to terminate the agreement if they do not meet certain requirements (typically pre-agreed) before the date. This also signals to the employee that they have to prove the skills they have demonstrated during the interview process in actual practice, before they are confirmed.
Properly onboard your new staff
Recruitment doesn't end when they accept your offer and sign an agreement. It ends when you have properly eased them into your current system and they are empowered to do the job. Have a process around on-boarding. Create a schedule, introduce them to the team they will be working with, train them on the tools they will use, and set KPIs that let you know when they are ready to do the work on their own. Do this right and you don’t have to continuously fix mistakes that could have been avoided early on. This is your responsibility as an employer and saves you quite a lot of trouble down the line.
So, do you have work to do? Do you already implement these above or do you need to get grinding? Remember, leading a team and/or managing a business can be effective with the right tips, behaviors and processes. Implement these gradually and see what they do for your team.
Tools That May Help:
Lever: Manage your job descriptions, recruitment process step by step, scheduling emails and interviews, capture feedback and prepare offers.
Zoom: Video conferencing that allows multi person interviews through a local phone number, and also unique zoom link.
DropQue: Recruiting tool that helps candidates record video answers to interview questions, helps to pre-screen candidates before an in person/live interview.
Learn more about the broader conversation: Putting Structure To Your Team