Especially at a young, bootstrapped company, hiring can feel like a high-stakes gamble. Use these three hiring how-tos to improve your odds of snagging a stellar hire:
Go with your gut.
Admit it. When a hire doesn’t work out, you often realize you had concerns or unanswered questions all along. The solution is to put more trust in your instincts. That’s easy to say but difficult to do when you’re filling a critical position and everyone has the advice to share.
I’ve learned that when it comes to hiring, red flags always mean something. The very first week I hired an employee, his attitude toward me felt off. My instincts told me it wasn’t going to work, but I ignored the signs and stayed loyal. Several painful months later, I had to terminate him. If I’d listened to that little voice in my ear, I’d have done it the first week.
Reference the references.
Instincts are powerful, but they can’t tell you about an employee’s past. Take every opportunity to check candidates’ references. No matter how well you think you know someone, talking to the people he’s worked for in the past yields new insights and clarifies existing ones.
References are invaluable free resources that prevent costly mistakes. We once hired a capable candidate who then didn’t show up for work the first week. Checking his references might have prevented us from paying to onboard an employee who technically never started.
Add an outsider’s perspective.
Bringing in a third-party perspective such as a seasoned advisor or an employee from another function can help add valuable perspective. Especially for hiring into a function that may not be in your wheelhouse, this can be very helpful.
When hiring for a head of customer success, a very cross-functional role, we had an incredible set of candidates interested. Given how cross-functional this leader would be, I involved members of our operations team in the process. This offered an additional vote and level of analysis that proved extremely valuable in selecting the right candidate out of many amazing ones.
Date before getting married.
Structure your interview process so it’s representative of the actual scenarios this person would need to succeed in. For example, when hiring Senior Account Executives at Node, we have them present one of our sales tools in a role-play scenario with very little preparation. This allows our team to evaluate how this person would handle themselves in a room of executives while under serious pressure.
Another option we’ve utilized is setting up a trial period so the candidate can start working with the team for up to 30 days before converting to full-time. This allows both sides to evaluate the fit and give a good sense of what the longer-term partnership would look like. This won’t work for every candidate and should be utilized carefully since a small company and team can’t handle the burden and impact of contractors coming in and out.
As a company grows, this method can prove useful. For example, Weebly requires new hires to trial for a week before getting hired full-time.
Set clear expectations (and fire fast if they’re not met).
An early-stage company isn’t the place for employees to grow up. When company survival is on the line, employers simply don’t have the luxury of forgiveness. I’ve learned to discuss roles, responsibilities, and set clear, numerically grounded OKRs — objectives and key results — for all new hires in their first week. Then, if the expectations aren’t met, there are no surprises on either side when we take action and move on.
Here’s the hard truth: Every CEO will make a bad hire in his or her life, and there’s no formula to ensure every new employee is a great one. But when you treat recruitment with the reverence a company-altering decision deserves, you stack the deck in your favor. Hire carefully and fire quickly, and you’ll get it right more often than not.