In any business, one of the most challenging aspects is hiring the right people at the right time.
I recently spoke at a virtual conference for female entrepreneurs where I shared some of my lessons learned building ThirdLove into one of the largest online retailers of bras and underwear in America.
What I told them was this: your first few hires dramatically impact the culture of the company. Then, as you hire more people, the way your team communicates changes. In fact, the way your business operates with two full-time employees will be nothing like how your business operates with ten employees, and then twenty, and then fifty, and then one hundred, and so on.
To attract, build, and lead a team you can be proud of, here are the five rules for hiring I encourage all founders to live by:
1. With your first hire, make sure the individual is bringing all the skills to the table you don’t already possess yourself.
You want to find your opposite.
If you’re really great at marketing, you don’t need another marketer. If you love creating processes, you don’t need another operator. Make a list of the 10 things you love to do and are naturally good at, and then make another list of the 10 things you need help with or you don’t particularly enjoy doing.
That second list is what you’re looking for in your first hire and/or partner.
When you’re first starting out, hiring the right person also boils down to cash–how do you plan on paying your first employee? You’ll need to find someone who is passionate about what you’re building and is open to taking equity or other types of compensation versus a large salary.
2. In your early hires, generalists are a better investment than specialists.
The second thing to keep in mind is, when building a startup, everyone is going to need to wear multiple hats for a while.
Founders experience this more than anyone. In the beginning, you’re the salesperson and the accountant and the creative director and the customer service rep and more, all wrapped up into one. The problem with hiring specialists too early is that you usually won’t have the cash or infrastructure in place to get the most out of someone who can only do one thing–even if they do that thing at a world-class level. What you need are people who can bounce between a number of different skill sets, and are comfortable working in an environment where they won’t always be given clear directions.
What you’re looking for are people who can just “figure it out.”
3. When interviewing specialists, make sure you (or someone else) has enough working knowledge to get a good read on their skills.
As the company grows, and it’s time to start hiring individual employees for very particular aspects of the business like digital marketing specialists and retail specialists, it’s crucial that you or someone on your team can effectively determine their level of experience.
Otherwise, you’re going to end up doing a lot of hiring and firing.
For example, I’m fairly well versed in digital marketing, so I can usually get a pretty good read on a prospective employee by asking a few questions I know will reveal whether they know “in theory” or know because they’ve spent time in the trenches. But if I’m interviewing a data engineer, that’s not a skill set I’m very well versed in, so it’s important I have someone else on our team to help with the interviewing process. This could be a department head, another employee, or even an advisor or board member to the company.
4. Sometimes, it’s an employees’ market, and sometimes it’s an employers’ market. Knowing which you are in can dramatically impact the decisions you make.
Right now, because of the pandemic, we are in an employers’ market–in the sense that the talent pool is big, and great job opportunities are harder to come by.
Now, obviously the goal here isn’t to take advantage of people. But knowing you have a wide range of talented people to choose from, you can be more intentional about the way you bring people into the fold. For example, in an employers’ market, you may be able to bring someone in on contract if they don’t have a full-time job–where you can both make sure the fit is right before making a formal full-time employment offer.
5. When you know the fit isn’t right, call it. It’s better for them, and better for you.
One of the hardest things to do as a founder is letting someone go. Almost all of us wait too long to make the call. Why? Well, replacing employees who don’t meet your expectations is emotionally draining, time-consuming, and difficult for your broader team too. But what’s worse than that is keeping someone at your company that doesn’t have the right skill set, collaboration, or attitude. It’s better for them to find a better matched company or role where they can be successful. I also approach these situations with this in mind — as hard as those decisions are, both parties end up better off.