Hiring Your First Team Member


You’ve been running your own business for a while now and you’ve built up a sizeable client list. So far, you’ve done the work yourself and your clients have been more than happy. But now you’re beginning to wish you had an extra pair of hands to help. You’re working 10 hours a day or more and there still never seems to be enough time to get everything done.

You need someone to answer the phone, greet customers, sort the mail, do the filing, and pay the bills on time. Or maybe you’ve got so many new orders that you need another skilled team member to help you meet delivery deadlines. Whatever the reason, you’ve decided it’s time to hire your first team member.

There are some important tasks to do first: determine what kind of person you need and what you need them for. Like marriage, hiring your first team member is a step fraught with peril. It can work beautifully, with varying degrees of difficulty, or not at all.

Joan Brannick, co-author of the book, Finding and Keeping Great Employees (AMACOM, 1999), says the most common mistake made by small and medium business operators when hiring is that they don’t figure out what they need before looking for team members.

That may sound like an obvious statement, but HR consultants are constantly amazed by the number of business owners who fail to ask and answer those simple questions before rushing out to hire someone. Take for example a job ad that reads, “Person wanted for busy pool shop. Phone such-and-such a number”. Is it a part-time or full-time position? What wages do you expect to pay? Will the person be working under your supervision or autonomously, or will it be a mixture of both? What sort of work will they be doing?

Answering these questions helps you identify whether the person you’re looking for is someone who wants and needs direction, someone who can think on their feet and take responsibility, or someone who is looking to upgrade their experience.

All jobseekers have different needs and expectations that will affect their suitability for the job and how well they get on with you. If you’re having trouble deciding what sort of person you need, ask yourself what their main tasks will be. Where and how do you mostly need help?

Once you’ve done this, craft an advertisement that accurately reflects your needs and what you’re prepared to offer in return. This could be placed on notice boards in shopping centres, colleges and universities, or posted on employment and industry websites. Most high schools, colleges and universities also have student placement officers who will be only too pleased to help you find the right person.

You might also show your advertisement to friends and colleagues and ask if they know of anyone who might be suitable. Don’t overlook employment agencies affiliated with the government. Many people registered with them are highly skilled, motivated and experienced workers who have simply been victims of corporate downsizing or company collapses.

When you’ve compiled a list of suitable candidates, it’s time to start interviewing. One of the single biggest mistakes made by small business operators at this stage is being too enthusiastic about their business (or too nervous about the interview) and doing all the talking. Let the interviewees do the talking while you draw them out with open-ended questions.

If you’re looking for someone with experience, you want to find out how they handled similar work in the past and how they dealt with any problems. If you’re interviewing entry-level candidates, you need to know how quickly they can learn. You need evidence of enthusiasm and motivation and a genuine interest in the work they will be doing.

Once you’ve selected your team member, remember they are a team member, not a business partner. They are not there to share the risk with you, but to help you in return for a salary and other benefits.

On The Business Journal website, Joan Lloyd urges business owners to “nail down expectations regarding salary, work hours, sick days, holiday pay” and other benefits as early as possible in the relationship. She also warns against expecting your team member to be as keen as you are. Your business may be your life, but for your team member – no matter how enthusiastic – it is a job that they must balance with family and social lives. They may be happy to stay back late to finish an urgent assignment, but probably not every night.

These are just some of the tips available for small business operators thinking of hiring their first team member. For more advice, simply type “Hiring Your First Employee” into any major web search engine and take your pick.

Until next week,
Mike Reddy