A question I often get asked as an advisor to startups is how to recognize and attract the best people to grow the business. The reality is that entrepreneurs usually do not have the money or time for executive recruiters to do the filtering and selection for them. If your primary source of candidates is friends, family and Craigslist, is it possible to get any high-quality team members?
In my experience, these sources are viable, but the process with them requires even more effort and time, and you have to know what to look for. First, you need to carefully define and advertise your requirements in terms as specific as possible to your startup. Next comes the more arduous process of reviewing every applicant, looking for key attributes including the following:
1. Good communication skills. On a business team, the ability to communicate verbally and in writing is more important than technical depth. Thus, applicants who have poorly written resumes or verbally communicate poorly should be filtered out, no matter what the skills. For new businesses, communication inside and outside the company is critical.
2. Motivation and commitment to results. The most effective and productive team members are positive, driven and want to be measured by results rather than hear work hours, perks or stock options. Look for indications of these attributes in the resume and phone interviews. If you see and hear a focus on past job descriptions, skip to the next.
3. Personal character and chemistry. You can find the smartest and most experienced person in world, but if he or she is not trustworthy or unable to work with you, you have a liability — not an asset. Honesty and belief in the same values as the culture you are trying to build are crucial to a happy team and a successful business.
4. Willing and able to collaborate. Today’s business world generates too much data and changes too rapidly for any single individual to be effective alone. Teamwork inside the company and interacting with customers and partners outside the company are mandatory activities. Find evidence that new candidates have collaborated successfully.
5. Already possesses key skills required. It is tempting to believe that friends, family or eager newcomers can learn quickly with your coaching and training, but entrepreneurs often do not realize that coaching new employees will double the leader’s workload at the worst possible time. Additionally, this will leave a critical position not fully filled for many months.
Recognizing the right attributes is actually the easy part. The hard part is finding the time and diligently following a process to attract people who are a good fit for your requirements, evaluating them against key attributes and other candidates, negotiating and closing the deal and integrating them into your organization. Here are the key process steps I recommend:
-Create a one-page job description on the position you want to fill.
-Get it reviewed and approved by peers, including salary and perks.
-Communicate job opening via your web site, Craigslist and personal emails.
-Filter all digital responses to a list of the top-5 candidates through phone screening.
-Conduct on-site interviews for each of the top-5 with you and at least two peers.
-Compare rankings, reference check and prepare an offer for the selected candidate.
-Follow-up personally with the candidate to close the deal.
-Iterate as required, until the position is filled.
-Provide required team integration, training and ongoing coaching.
I suspect that many of you will see these process steps as intuitively obvious, and yet I find them rarely followed by new entrepreneurs. As a business advisor, I regularly hear excuses such as, “My first candidate was so great, I hired her on the spot,” “I was so busy that I had to delegate the hiring to another team member” or “I hired a bright intern who agreed to a salary I could afford.”
Attracting, evaluation and hiring direct reports is a task that should never be delegated. There is no more important task than making your team and your business successful. You cannot build a business alone, and the right people are always as important as the right funding. If you have not yet focused on attracting and managing the right people, it is still too early to look for funding.
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