Growing your business to the point where you need to hire someone new is a great problem to have – but it can still feel like a problem.
After all, hiring isn’t just a financial investment. It can also feel like you’re putting that part of your business at risk – not to mention making yourself responsible for someone else’s financial well being! It’s like adopting a baby, then letting that baby gamble with company stock at an Atlantic City slot machine.
Or, you know, something like that.
Point is, hiring can be scary. But after nearly doubling our team in just our first year, we’ve learned a few things about how to make hiring LESS scary – and how to hire better people right off the bat.
Want to make building your business feel a lot less risky? Here’s what we’ve learned.
Way too many job listings look like they were written in a Mad Libs book.
This is ridiculously boring.
If your job listing sounds just like the million other job listings out there, then you’re not going to stand out – and if you don’t stand out, you won’t attract the right people.
You want to attract people who are enthusiastic about your business and the job you’re offering, not someone looking for whatever they can get. Strong job listings attract strong candidates, and if you want to improve yours, you need to stop focusing on all the wrong things.
Certain skills and expertise are important to mention up front, but they aren’t what your job is, and they aren’t what your ideal candidate is, either.
What we’ve learned? Focus less on the adjectives and the bullet points, and more on painting a picture of the day-to-day demands of the job.
It may feel like you’re going in reverse order, but worry about the adjectives and the bullet points later on in the hiring process (keep reading – we’ll explain).
Use your listing to create a more holistic overview of what someone might expect coming into this job, and be specific. If you’re hiring someone to manage your Facebook ads, what kind of budget should they expect to work with? If you’re hiring a developer, what kind of workflow can they expect? If you need an assistant for your photography studio, should they expect to primarily work weddings, or shoot pet glamour shots?
Help Scout, for example, used one of its job listings to give candidates a preview of who specifically they would be working with. This is the kind of specificity that helps someone imagine themselves in that role, and what their day-to-day might be like.
Along those same lines, remember that you’re not just selling a job – you’re selling yourself.
What makes your business unique and exciting? Why would someone want not just to do this job, but to do it for you?
Don’t just think of the traditional selling points either, like pay and perks. Think of the non-tangible things that just make your business special! For example, we make sure that all of our job listings show off our sense of humor, because we want to attract candidates who have one, too.
Even the things that might feel to you like negatives could be huge selling points for someone else. Feel self-conscious that your company is small? You’d be surprised how many people actually prefer the level of responsibility that gives them. Wish you could offer someone more than just a few hours per week? For some people, that’s all they’re looking for!
Focus on what makes your business and the job unique – even if you aren’t sure that those things are positive. They might not be to some people, but those aren’t the people you want to hire anyway.
But who do you want to hire? Good question, and it’s the one you’re going to answer next.
Ever go to the grocery store without a list? You end up leaving with a cart full of stuff you didn’t really need, while forgetting half the things you actually went there to buy.
Hiring the wrong person is a much more costly mistake than leaving Costco with a 5 lb. bag of Tootsie Rolls, so before you go shopping for a new hire, you’d better know exactly what you’re looking for.
Establish clear criteria for who you want to hire before you ever even write your job listing.
What qualities does your ideal candidate have, both professionally and personality-wise? What would it be like working with that person every day? What are your deal-breakers?
For example, our team is 100% remote, and that means we know anyone we hire has to be a stellar communicator – especially in writing, because that’s how most of our communication takes place. We set up our applications so that everyone has to answer at least a few questions in writing right away, which gives us a more accurate preview of what it would be like working with them than just a resume and a cover letter.
The more you know about your ideal candidate, the easier it is to identify them when they come along. Otherwise, you’re just comparing people to each other without considering how they compare to your actual needs.
Speaking of wants and needs, though, the next step is one of the most important, but it’s something a LOT of businesses skip:
Everybody loves the idea of hiring someone for cheap. Here’s the thing, though:
There will always be someone who will do it for less money. That doesn’t mean you should hire them.
Like Sherry Smith Gray writes in this excellent post on hiring writers, the reason most web content is so terrible is that people don’t want to pay for better quality stuff. That’s true of any number of other jobs, too, from graphic design to development to project management – if you want someone to do the job well, you’re probably going to have to pay for it.
Does that mean that a person who charges more is always better? Of course not! But a person who’s amazing at what they do probably knows that they’re worth more than a bottom-of-the-barrel price.
Every person you hire represents a percentage of your company. If you’re going from a three-person team to a four-person team, that new hire represents 25% of your business – are you really comfortable with the idea of 25% of your business being lackluster?
Naturally, there’s one huge problem here. Even if you’ve done the market research, you know what quality hires expect to earn, and you’re willing to invest in your company by paying a solid wage, you might feel limited by what you can actually afford to offer, right?
That’s natural – but it’s not something you have to live with. Heck, we’ve been there! We’re successful and all, sure, but we’re not Google, or Facebook, or any one of those tech mega-companies that can offer every new hire a six-figure salary, a stock portfolio, and a pony. It’s very, very easy to give yourself an inferiority complex because you think you can’t compete with bigger, better-funded businesses.
But it all goes back to what we said earlier about focusing on what makes you and your business unique. Money matters, but it isn’t the only thing that matters.
Remember when you started your own business because you thought the freedom it would give you was more valuable than making way more money to be a cog in a giant machine? A lot of people feel that way, and are much more interested in making a big difference for a small business than they are in making a crazy salary at a job they don’t love. Just because your business can’t compete for new hires on price alone doesn’t mean you can’t compete!
So let’s say you wrote a really enticing job listing, you know what you’re looking for in a candidate, and you’ve attracted someone who fits your needs AND your budget.
What do you do with them to make sure they’re really the one for you?
Sometimes a really cool pair of shoes just doesn’t fit you right – but the only way to find out is to try ‘em on.
Odds are, the person you’re hiring has to be good at more than just acing job interviews, and that means you need to find out what it would be like actually working with them.
Usually, this takes the form of someone completing a test assignment, like editing a sample blog post or working on a development project. When we reach this stage, we do as much as we can so that the person working on it does so the same way they would as an actual hire. But in these cases and others, it isn’t just the quality of the work you should pay attention to – it’s your overall compatibility.
This is your opportunity to answer questions like:
This is where you focus on the adjectives that you left out of your job listing. Anyone can say that they have the qualities you’re looking for, but it isn’t until this point that you can really put them to the test and see if this is someone you want to actually hire. (Think of it as a “show, don’t tell” approach.)
Simulating your work environment is also a test of attitude. Skills like using a certain software program are things you can teach – and good hires are interested in learning anyway. But attitude isn’t something that can be taught, and if you hire somebody with the wrong one – even just the wrong one for you – it’s not going to be a good working relationship for either of you.
The trick? Remember that when it comes to attitude compatibility, “finding the right fit” isn’t the same as “finding someone just like you.” The people who contribute to your business should represent a range of perspectives, feel strongly about their convictions, know how to communicate and express them clearly, and have enough humility to keep the discussions constructive. It doesn’t matter if they agree with you on everything – it matters if they complement you. Putting them in a situation that simulates the actual job is the best way to find out if they do.
While steps like these can make the hiring process less scary, in the end, your instincts are as valuable as anything.
If you don’t feel like a potential hire is someone you could trust with your business from day one, or if you feel like you could do the job better than they can, they may not be the best overall fit for you. And while that could mean you’re in for a longer search, it’ll also mean you end up making a choice that’s better for the long-term – and that’s always worth the extra time and effort.
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