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Hiring: Do You Know How to Pick Them?

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Your small business is growing, the market has a need for the product or service you're selling, and you're bringing in employees to expand your business. What could possibly go wrong? The answer is, a lot, if you don't hire the right people.

One of the differences between businesses that boom and those that limp along or founder is good employees. Obviously, your talent as an entrepreneur has a lot to do with the success of your business, but you can only go so far by yourself. As the head of the company, it is your job to find good employees, figure out what motivates them, and then place them into the job that will make them and your business thrive.

Hiring employees is time-consuming and requires a lot of patience and energy. You have to resist the temptation to fill the job quickly with one of the first few people who comes along or hire someone who is only sufficient because you want to stop interviewing and get back to the business of running your business. You also need to hire people who will adapt to and thrive in an entrepreneurial environment.

Generate a Pool of Candidates

The first step in the process - after you've determined what kind of person you need - is to generate a pool of candidates. In order to do this you can use some conventional and not-so-conventional approaches.

  • Always be on the lookout for people

    Even if you are not in a position to hire someone right now, you should be thinking about who you may need in six months or a year, and start keeping an eye out for candidates.

  • Beat the bushes

    Once you've decided what you want, contact peers, people you used to work with, friends of friends, and your trade association for leads. If you are looking for a salesperson, talk to your customers to find out who pays the best sales calls to them.

  • Look in unconventional places

    One small business owner who needed an assistant hired the waitress at the breakfast place she frequented. Why? She knew she was good with people, smart and hard working even before she talked to her about the position. Other good places to find administrative or entry level help are college recruitment offices. They can either provide you will help for hire or sometimes interns who work for free.

  • Spend money

    If you are looking for high-level people and your network hasn't turned anything up, you may need to hire a recruiter. "Entrepreneurs have to get beyond not wanting to spend money if they want someone good," said Kathi Elster, founder and president of Business Strategy Seminars, a small business consulting and seminar firm in New York City. "You can negotiate a fee with a recruiter or pay it out over time.

Evaluation Time

Once you've created a pool of candidates, it's time to start the evaluation process. This is the phase in which you should pay close attention to whether a person has the skills for the job (as opposed to just a good personality or a price tag you like) as well as the aptitude to work in an entrepreneurial environment. There are lots of highly-skilled former corporate employees on the job market now, but not all of them are suited to working for a small company.

The way to determine if someone can function in a small business is to ask some unconventional questions. Applicants are less likely to have pat answers to those types of unconventional questions, which means you'll be able to gather some real information during the interview about a person's judgment, willingness to take risks, and decision-making capabilities. Qualities they'll need to thrive in a small company.

Kathi Elster of Business Strategy Seminars recommends using the questions below, and others like them, to determine if an applicant is cut out to work in an entrepreneurial environment.

  • What risks did you take in your last job and what were the results?

    This question accomplishes many things. First, it lets you determine the candidates' definition of risk. One person may think that speaking up against the party line is daring, while another's definition is breaking from the company's longheld advertising strategy. It also enables you to see how the person follows through on endeavors he or she undertakes and how they manage change and uncertainty.

  • What methods do you use to make decisions?

    This may tell you if the person has trouble making decisions. A person who does things the way they have always been done or who relies heavily on other people's opinions to make a decision may not be an ideal candidate for a small company which usually needs independent people who can make decisions under fire. To get at the true patterns of someone's decision-making processes, pose a situational question.

  • Should employees be able to criticize the boss? In what ways?

    This separates yes-people from applicants who could enhance your business by asking intelligent questions. But you also want to make sure you don't hire an argumentative person who disagrees just for the sake of it. To figure out which camp an applicant falls into, ask them if they have ever disagreed with a boss, and what the situation was. You can also ask for an example of a time they challenged their supervisor and had the situation turn out positively.


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