Five things a startup should keep in mind when hiring their first few employees

Posted on May 6, 2020

A desk with a laptop and research materials on itFreddie Marriage

In a small company, hiring your first few employees can be terrifying. It will include some of the most important decisions you'll make as a founder but if you're deliberate in how you approach the situation and considerate in how you think about it, you'll have a much better chance of assembling the perfect team.

As a starting point, here are five things to keep in mind:

1. Your goals

Every founder knows how important it is to be able to efficiently communicate your company goals. It's the key to things like getting funding, gaining customers, and motivating your team. Being able to bring others into your vision is a great thing to take into your interviews as well.

When hiring, clearly communicate your goals-both short and long term. Encourage feedback, critique, and conversation around them with the candidate. Through engaging interactions like this, you'll begin to better understand the candidate and their level of excitement towards the role. You want to hire individuals that can go beyond a functional role, participate in, and provide value to these more holistic discussions.

Early on, you're not just looking for people to execute your vision. You're looking for driven, enthusiastic partners to collaborate with.

2. Your future needs

I'm sure you have a laundry list of immediate needs that a new hire will jump into. Yes, you're looking for someone that can hit the ground running. However, you need to think beyond that. What will this employee be doing six months from now; a year from now; two years from now?

It's important that you not only think near term with new hires. You need to have a plan for how they can provide long-term value doing work they find engaging and rewarding. This should be a discussion point during the hiring process. Talk through long term ideas and needs with the candidate. It will be a great conversation that can ensure that you are both aligned at the company and individual level.

You want to create an environment where you and the candidate are both thrilled about the possibilities.

3. Generalists over specialists

Young companies will often have to scramble and adapt to meet unexpected requirements. People will have to jump into roles that they're unfamiliar with. You'll need team players that can be flexible and adaptable while also using these situations as opportunities to learn and grow.

Early on, everyone needs to be a generalist. Even though you may be hiring for a specific role, look for additional ways they could contribute. This goes beyond the immediate capabilities or skills they may have. They need to be open-minded and curious about other opportunities. You want someone who is invigorated by the excitement that comes along with the unknown territory.

Although it's impossible to know what will come up in the future, you need individuals who are energized by the uncertainty.

4. Your culture

A company's culture isn't something you can create by yourself. Every employee plays a pivotal role in defining what the personality of your company will be. This is done intensionally through their contribution towards a common vision and indirectly through their working style and how they interact with others.

When making your first few hires, you have to ask yourself, does this person embody the attitude, mindset, and ethics you want your company to stand for? With small team sizes, a single individual carries a lot of weight in how the overall team will behave and function. You have to be especially deliberate in who you bring on.

Like how a bad apple can ruin a whole batch. One bad hire can bring much more strife than expected.

5. Being Human

Be respectful. Be polite. Be excited to meet everyone that applies. Understand that no one is perfect. Be thankful that they are open to working for you.

These can go on and on, but the important thing to remember is to just be human in how you engage with every single candidate. When hiring it's too easy to become focused on requirements, skillsets, and desired outcomes. Occasionally step back and remember that behind each application is a person who has value far beyond what's listed on a resume.

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