Four Mistakes To Avoid In Hiring Your First Employee

Updated: Jan 25

For a new business owner, hiring that first employee is a significant milestone that all too often ends up feeling like a millstone…tied around your neck. Why? Hiring someone is time-consuming; and time is the one thing you don’t have. The temptation then is to shortcut the hiring process in order to put someone in position as quickly as possible with minimal effort. Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts to the hiring process and, as a small business owner, it is imperative to give it all of the time and energy it requires to enhance your opportunities for success.

In this article we’ll cover four mistakes, in hiring your first employee, that you can avoid to improve the odds of hiring the right person for the position available.

1. The 5-Minute-Completely-Unprepared Interview

We’ve all been to at least one of these, as an applicant. The employer comes in the room in a rush ten minutes late, doesn’t know your name, hasn’t looked at your resume and plops down in the chair. They hurriedly look you over, ask a handful of questions, most of which may be vaguely applicable to the hiring process and some of which are technically off limits. In the meantime, they’re checking their phone or computer messages incessantly. After five minutes, there is an abrupt close to the interview and off you go! This happens with alarming frequency and with all too familiar results. If you don’t invest the time to understand the prospective employee, you have no chance to uncover the landmines that likely exist with someone who will take the job. More importantly, however, you won’t hire the right person for the job because they will perceive the lack of genuine interest and look elsewhere for employment.

Interviews are a critical component to hiring the right person for the job. Do your due diligence. Make time for the interview process. Prepare for the interview by thoroughly reading the resumes and preparing questions to better understand the applicant. Prepare a list of appropriate questions relevant to the open position. Call the references if provided. Make eye contact in the interview and fully concentrate on the person across the table. Don’t allow any distractions to the interview. Shut off the phone and turn off the computer monitor. Why? Because, you are engaged in the most important process for the future wellbeing of your company!

2. I Need To Fill The Slot…Yesterday!

By its very nature, the need to hire is built on a sense of urgency, particularly for a new business. Often you’re overwhelmed with work as it is, so the goal is to hire someone for the position as quickly as possible to relieve the pressure. Your goal is to hire the RIGHT person; not just any person. Any person will turn into multiple persons, which means multiple interviews, hires and never-ending training. Think you’re overwhelmed now? I have seen this pattern in small and large organizations repeated over and over again. Patience is key here, so slow down. Take the time to learn your applicant’s abilities and assess whether they translate well to the position offered.

3. Hiring Decision Limited to Skills-Based Assessment

A few years ago I helped a client hire an office manager for a small business. The individual was perfect on paper, albeit unemployed at the time. Her experience couldn’t have been a better fit and the reasons for her unemployment logical. Excited by the opportunity to pick her up, we hired her immediately. Oops! Within the first few days, signs began to materialize that something wasn’t quite right. Soon we learned she wouldn’t take instruction and was completely ineffective in fulfilling the her responsibilities. Within six weeks, we terminated her employment for inappropriate use of company resources.

Hiring for skill alone can come back to bite you, because it doesn’t account for attitude or initiative. I would challenge you to hire for character first, then hire for skill second. You need someone engaged, passionate about what they do every day! While the interview process isn’t fool proof, it does provide opportunity to uncover potential landmines before you hire the wrong person. Again, slow down the process, ask more behavioral questions. Involve your spouse in the interview or a trusted friend or advisor. Multiple viewpoints can be invaluable to ensuring a good hire.

4. Fail to Perform Background Checks

This is a common mistake for a small business owner. I think there is something in our human nature to want to trust our instincts about people. When combined with the pressure to hire, it convinces us that performing background checks is an unnecessary step. Considering the situation above, had we bothered to call prior employers and perform a simple background check (these can be found for $20 or less), we would have discovered all we needed to know to eliminate our highly-skilled candidate from the list of eligible applicants. Unfortunately, this information we learned only after we terminated her employment.

There are no guarantees when hiring employees, however, we can significantly increase our odds of success by avoiding the four mistakes above. Remember, also, the care you take in this process will be the very first impression your first employee as of you has an employer. Don’t mistake this…you’re being interviewed and evaluated, as well. Put your best effort into the process!

What is the biggest mistake you made in hiring an employee? What did you learn from it?

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