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From start-up to scale-up: 10 considerations when hiring to grow

From start-up to scale-up

15-06-2016
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Recruitment can make or break any enterprise that is looking to grow, but it is especially important to secure the right talent when you are taking those crucial first steps from a start-up enterprise to one that is building market presence and share.

Here are some do’s and don’ts based on my experience with companies looking to expand:

1) Consider the alternatives to fixed term employment (FTE) hiring:

FTE alternatives such as: temp agencies, part-time work, outsourcing, freelances. Be flexible, maybe a short-term contract or trial period.

You will be unable to get by without hiring some full-time employees but for a small company, remember that every one of them is a big investment and that you owe an FTE the same loyalty that you expect them to give to your company. Moreover, you probably need a very broad range of skill-sets.

Remember that every one of them is a big investment and that you owe an FTE the same loyalty that you expect them to give to your company.

For all-round assistance, especially in busy periods, you might consider engaging a temp with the option to make him/her full time if things work out and the workload demands it. For specialist skills, whether this be marketing, book-keeping, IT or whatever, there are plenty of well-qualified and highly motivated contract workers and freelances out there.

These are less likely to be attracted to converting to full-time employment however – in most cases they have grown to enjoy the lifestyle and freedom of not being tied to one company.

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2) Define the position precisely and set the right expectations. Avoid vague generalisations and management–speak

Think long and hard about what you expect the new employee to do, what technical skills will be required, and, perhaps most importantly, what you want to say about the company, its vision, culture and objectives.

Terms such as “highly motivated”, “good team player” and “hit the ground running” are not particularly helpful in conveying what the job actually entails and in the absence of specifics might give the impression that you don’t really know what you are looking for. 

3) Look at who the competition is hiring.

Look at who the competition is hiring – but that does not mean you should copy them! They are probably as inexperienced as you are. You might learn something however, for example, what experience and skills you can expect to get at what salary, and you might benefit in a “negative” way, i.e. get an idea of what not to say! 

I would strongly advise against directly trying to poach good employees from a competitor.

By the way, I would strongly advise against directly trying to poach good employees from a competitor. It is full of pitfalls: you get a bad reputation and you may run into legal problems as most employees are bound by non-compete contracts. On the other hand, a good recruitment company will know a number of good candidates who might like to make a change, and can steer you through the legal and practical issues. 

4) You might try your network first. If that doesn’t work, get professional advice from a recruitment consultancy.

Let it be known through your network (online and offline) that you are recruiting, and the sort of person that you are looking for. It is worth a try and sometimes it works. In fact, sometimes the best hires are right under your nose and if there is a personal contact already you are likely to get better results than advertising through job boards.

On the other hand, it is a mistake for a small company to rely on its personal and professional networks in the long term. For a recruitment specialist like Morgan McKinley, on the other hand, building networks of candidate communities is our core business, so we will probably be able to introduce you to several suitable individuals immediately, as well as providing advice on what makes a suitable candidate for a particular role that you are looking to fill.

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5) Identify people with the right personality set for a small enterprise. Exposure to a big-company environment may be a bad thing.

You can’t build and maintain a great culture without the right people.

It’s essential to identify if a candidate “fits” with your company culture. Generally speaking a small company has a strong entrepreneurial culture, one that is evolving as you go along, one that is less tied to process than a large company, and one in which people need to manage with limited resources.

Not everyone is going to thrive in this environment. Every new employee will either strengthen or weaken your culture, and when you’re building a vision-based company that is trying to stand out above the competition, there’s no middle ground.

Some high quality candidates who would make the perfect fit might be put off by the thought of working for a small company. If this is the case, work to dispel the myth.

 

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Bear in mind, however, that some high quality candidates who would make the perfect fit might be put off by the thought of working for a small company because they value “job security” which they think is greater with a large company.

If this is the case, work to dispel the myth. Remind them that working at a large company can be highly impersonal and nobody’s job is secure these days, even at a large company, which probably has a “last in, first out” firing policy if things get tough.

Again, the help of a professional recruiter can be invaluable here as it will have oodles of experience in conveying the benefits of working for a smaller organisation.

These include the ability to make a large and visible impact on the company’s development, an open, highly collaborative environment, less time spent bogged down in tedious meetings, less irritating office politics and proximity to the company’s senior leadership.

6) When interviewing new employees, use your own experience as an entrepreneur 

The person you are hiring may be stepping into your shoes (or taking some of the responsibilities off your shoulders). You obviously know how to handle awkward situations. It has probably already become second nature.

So when interviewing, ask questions such as:  “What would you do in X situation?” As well as helping you to determine whether the candidate will sink or swim, you are likely to pick up a few ideas and new perspectives yourself. There's a lot of new interview techniques out there that you can use to better assess soft skills. 

7) Be clear about the role. Don’t oversell.

Be clear about your company’s vision and objectives and highlight its success to date – but be honest, or else high quality hires will soon be disillusioned and may even leave at the first opportunity.

Be honest, or else high quality hires will soon be disillusioned and may even leave at the first opportunity.

A lot of companies will try to impress candidates by, for example, unveiling an impressive client list of big name companies and brands – who then turn out to be little more than fiction. If the role is going to involve long or unsocial hours or a lot of travel, be up front about this. Some people will be put off but it is better if this happens before they start. Others will find such challenges highly motivating.

8) Take your time – and if you don’t have time, rely on a professional recruiter.

Small businesses are often too inundated with their own work to be able to conduct a thorough recruitment process including first and second round interviews.

They can also be indecisive when it comes to making an offer or, due to distractions, which makes the job seeker feel unimportant and causes the recruitment process to become too long. These are all good reasons to engage a professional recruitment company. When I set up my first company – which itself operated in the recruitment space – we relied heavily on expert advice on staff selection.

9) Remember to onboard new employees, maybe with a “buddy” system.

The first day can be make or break. The worst thing from a new employees’ perspective is to be sitting at their desk, wondering what they should be doing and why nobody is paying them any attention. (The second worst thing is to be dumped on with a lot of work and not knowing where to start.)

So clear your diary for some quality face-to-face time and talk frankly about the challenges that lie ahead.If you already have a formal on-boarding process, see that it happens in the first week. If you are too busy to do all of this yourself, appoint a “buddy” for the new employee who can present a friendly and welcoming face for the company over the first few weeks.

If you already have a formal on-boarding process, see that it happens in the first week.

10)“Always be hiring” – because it is a slow process, you need to stay one jump ahead.

Hiring is a process, not a one-off. So always have a Plan B.

For example, lots of companies say to strong candidates who made it to the last round of interviews “we’ll keep your details on file” and then forget them. It often pays to stay in touch – who knows, just three months down the road you might need to get someone in fast and in the meantime the rejected candidate has picked up some useful experience elsewhere.

Likewise, you should work with your recruitment agency to ensure that they always keep you posted on new talent as it becomes available, even when you are not actively seeking to appoint someone straight away.

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