Being able to hire an employee is an entrepreneurial milestone. But before you celebrate, make sure you’re hiring right.
Congratulations! You’ve already rounded a few hurdles of starting a business — you’ve made the decision it’s something you’re motivated to do and you’ve set the wheels in motion to make it happen. The type of business you’re starting will determine the type of employee you need and their skill set — even whether you need one or more. (Click here to tweet this thought.)
If you’re in a position where you’ve been operating solo for a while, but you need help with the day-to-day operations, you might seek someone with similar skills to your own, but who can be your right-hand as the business grows. Alternately, you might be well-equipped to run the venture, but you need someone with a set of expertise you don’t have so you can broaden your offerings.
Either way, hiring your first — or any — employee has legal, personal and professional considerations to bear in mind.
Finding the perfect candidate
All of the above doesn’t matter until you can find the perfect hire. As an entrepreneur, you may not have a robust LinkedIn following you can advertise to, and your industry contacts could be limited. You might be leery of someone who’s quick to jump on the startup wagon; lots of people are looking for job security and like the comfort of an established business.
Start by mining your network. Put it out there that you’re looking, and have a specific and thorough job description ready. While you don’t want to poach an employee from someone in your network, you can use your network as a source for referrals.
Attending industry conferences or trade shows can also be a great way to find an employee. Use your personal social media network. You never know when a friend of a friend could be looking for a job and can be a great fit.
Share your vision
If this is your first hire, your company’s “culture” might be undetermined. But you should have an idea whether you want someone who will come to work in yoga pants or who will be more business casual. You also must be confident the employee is someone you trust in a client-facing capacity. Especially for small businesses, each person is a face of the company.
Even if you’ve hired someone to do back-end work, the reality is that if you need her in a pinch to interface with a client or the public, you should be confident she’ll represent your brand the way you want to be represented.
Try to ask questions that get to the heart of your candidate’s core philosophies. Ideally, you want someone who will complement your style, help you to grow as a businessperson and not butt heads. It’s not necessarily someone who will blindly follow you over a cliff, but who will add perspective to your growing business.
Entrepreneur gives a piece of advice that might run contrary to what you’ve heard before: Don’t trust your instincts. Trusting your gut is great in some circumstances, but conduct due diligence in hiring. If you wouldn’t buy a house with a handshake, don’t hire an employee with one, either.
Although you might get a great vibe from a candidate, do as thorough a background check as you can. You might be tempted to save a few bucks and search online for criminal records, verification of education and other background essentials, but the Internet is full of manufactured or doctored documents.
If your employee acts in a way that harms someone, you can be liable for those acts. Criminal records and other records can be fakes, though, and so can background check companies. The three trusted background checking companies are Sterling Global Background Checks, Intellicorp and Kroll. Like the “big three” credit reporting agencies, these companies are established and reputable.
Know the regulations in your industry. For example, if you’re operating a child care center, an employee likely needs to undergo additional background checks. If your employee will be driving certain classes of vehicles, other regulations need to be followed. These vary state to state, so know how to properly screen your employees based on the job description.
Certain questions are off-limits in an interview, but remain mindful of verifying your candidate’s immigration status. The U.S. Department of Labor has a wealth of resources to help you navigate the nitty-gritty of hiring.
You might need a few tries to get it right
Just like you’ve been hired for a job only to discover a few months later it wasn’t what you expected, you might hire someone who’s not the right fit. It happens. If you’re planning to sign an employment contract, make sure you can terminate the employee at-will any time. You can’t fire someone for discriminatory reasons, or for reasons that violate public policy (e.g., the filing of a worker’s compensation claim).
Hopefully, if it’s not a good fit, both you and the employee will recognize that, and it’ll make the transition smoother. If you do make a poor hiring choice, reflect on what went wrong, what you could have asked during an interview process that would have helped uncover what was problematic, and what you should have looked for but didn’t.
As an entrepreneur, you’re bound to make mistakes, but use them as opportunities for growth so that you can do better next time.
Noble McIntyre is the founding partner and owner of a personal injury law firm, McIntyre Law based in Oklahoma City. He’s dedicated to making his community better through his partnership with Lawyers Against Hunger.