Is your startup hiring?

If it is, you are likely asking yourself who it is you truly need to hire.

You often have many needs, but you also have a limited payroll budget. The temptation is always to hire the most technically skilled person for the job, for the least amount of payroll. Getting the biggest bang for your buck sounds logical, but is it?

If you have started your hiring search by developing job descriptions that incorporate both hard skills and soft skills, you’re off to a good start. When those resumes start coming in for review, there are other things to consider. For example, are you looking for generalists or specialists? Do you want individuals with a small company background or big company background? How about experienced versus inexperienced? It depends in part on your business needs.

If your business operation has formalized processes and procedures, you will likely want to hire a specialist because they are likely to be focused on maintaining efficiency in their areas of expertise. If your business is more flexible than formalized, you might find that a generalist is a better hire because they can tackle almost any task with some degree of efficiency and effectiveness (Wasserman, 2012). Generalists bring a broader skill set that may help you get your business off the ground, but as your business grows the job requirements will likely become more specific, and you may find the need more specialists to support your day-to-day operations.

Related to the consideration of a generalist versus a specialist is the place at which the applicant’s prior experience has occurred. While some argue that those with a lot of experience in a small company are a better fit for a startup because they have been in the trenches and likely understand the challenges (Wasserman, 2012). Conversely, those who have a big company background can bring a wealth of knowledge about operational processes that might be beneficial to a startup (Wasserman). The experience that comes from each background can add value to a startup founder, but the big company versus small company experience is just one part of the equation.

Perhaps the most challenging question is experience versus inexperience (or limited experience). Some suggest that those with inexperience bring a passion for the job and the founder or manager can teach the specifics of the job. This allows the founder to hire someone with the necessary hard skills for the position, without committing significant payroll dollars that would otherwise be offered to a more experienced individual. An experienced individual, others suggest, often brings more overall skills, contacts, credibility, and perhaps stability; however, the downside is a bigger paycheck for that individual and the inability for you, the founder, to shape the company culture as well because those with experience have different expectations of the company (Wasserman, 2012). Experienced versus inexperienced hires may be one of your most significant considerations because of what these hires may bring, or may not bring, to your business. The benefit of each type of hire is not always apparent.

So, who do you hire? I can’t tell you.

Who you hire will depend on you’re your individual business needs. I can tell you this, though: Start by framing what you need this new hire to do. Then, ask yourself if you need someone who can be flexible and tackle many things or someone who has specific skills to get the job done. Next, consider the value of their background and the location of that experience (big versus small company) and, finally, develop a job description incorporating both hard skills and soft skills based on your prior decisions. And don't hire someone like you.

I can also tell you that framing your hiring decision solely by available payroll capital is short-sighted. There are many ways to frame a compensation package, and it’s not always about that bi-weekly paycheck. Focus on the fit. Everything else will fall into place.

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Who would I hire? For startups or small businesses, I tend to hire people who are curious, flexible, self-disciplined and comfortable with decision-making, have the basic hard skills necessary for the job, and have a high degree of comfort with ambiguity. In most cases, these individuals are experienced, have one specialty area (or an area where they have several years of progressive experience and responsibility), and a mix of large and small company employment. In my experience, these attributes result in the best staff for me because of my style and how I lead and manage businesses in startup mode. Keep in mind these attributes may not work for you because you and I lead and manage differently.

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References

Wasserman, N. (2012). The Founders Dilemma. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

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David Harkins is a business strategist, speaker, and teacher.

He is the founder and executive consultant at David Harkins Company. In his spare time, he writes hikes, explores, and creates art. Although, not necessarily in that order.

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