Finding and hiring your company's
Congratulations! It's a new employee.
In every small company's life, there comes a time
to hire the first employee. Generally, as a business owner, you'll
sense when the time is right. "It's when you can't sleep at night.
You're working 23 1/2 hours a day. It's when you feel if you only
had two more hands, you could grow your business better," says Dian
Griesel, chairman and chief executive of the Investor Relations
Group Inc., a New York City firm that handles investor relations
In the case of Griesel's company, that moment came
sooner rather than later. The day after she set up shop, Griesel
knew she needed a helper to answer the phones and to file paperwork.
She also knew that she only needed part-time help. So Griesel called
a local high school's placement office and recruited a high school
senior to act as her gofer.
That was five years ago. Since then, her firm has
grown to about 13 full-time workers with an additional eight to
10 part-timers. The company bills more than $1 million a year and
its revenue growth wouldn't have been possible without a little
help from its employees. Well, actually, a LOT of help.
Here's a step-by-step plan that your company can follow
to hire wisely.
Step One: Figure out what
Before you start pounding the pavement in search of employees, figure
out what you need. What are the skills required? Does the position
require a full-time or part-time person? Does it make sense to hire
someone? Or would it be better to outsource or hire someone on a
contract basis -- that is, for a set project and period, rather
than as a permanent worker.
"The mistake that most small and medium-sized businesses
make is upfront. They don't figure out what they need BEFORE looking
for employees," says Joan Brannick, co-author of Finding and
Keeping Great Employees (Amacom, 1999).
Along those lines, it's a good idea to write a job
description before you start trying to fill a position, advises,
John R. Gaffin, president of HR Associates, a Miami human resources
consulting firm. That upfront work will pay later by helping you
find the right person that fits the job and your needs, Gaffin says.
Step Two: Finding workers
who fit the bill
Once you've figured out what you need, you need to find job candidates.
If the position is part-time and entry-level, a good place to start
is with the placement offices of local academic institutions --
both on the high school and college level. Eric Vinje, owner of
Natural, a Bozeman, Mont.-based mail-order catalog of natural
products for the home, lawn and garden, often needs extra workers
in the spring. He goes to the local college, Montana State University,
to find them.
Another free source of job candidates is your state's
local unemployment office, specifically its placement services.
"The old misconception is that these people are unemployed because
they lack initiative or skills," Gaffin says. "It's not true. Many
are unemployed because of organizational changes."
Asking fellow business owners for help also can't
hurt, Gaffin says. Try to ask people in related, not competing,
fields. In addition, ask friends, family and other acquaintances
for help. Particularly during today's labor crunch, a small business
owner can leave no source untapped in the quest for qualified workers.
That includes turning to the old standby -- a classified
advertisement. The trick to making such an ad work is to really
craft the copy. "Be as specific as you can," Gaffin says. Specificity
is necessary to ensure the best match of job candidates and job.
"For example, you'll probably want to mention salary," the human
resources consultant says. "If the position pays $10 an hour, you
don't want someone that's already getting $15 applying for the position."
It also pays to be creative. If you come across someone
who impresses you -- whether it's the waitress who served you superbly
or a store clerk who handled a grumpy customer with grace -- give
them your card and tell them to look you up when they're looking
for a new job.
If you already have employees, use them to find new
hires, says Brannick.
Retirees can be another great source of workers. Many
have outstanding work ethics and would prefer some part-time work
to total retirement. Find them through your local chapter of AARP
or, if your Small
Business Administration local chapter has a Service
Corps of Retired Executives program, that can be another good
Finally, there's the Internet. For the Web to work,
you need to fill a job that's high enough up on the ranks to make
it feasible to spend money on listing it online and/or to relocate
the person. After all, the Internet is international, and if you
post a job on a job site such as Monster.com,
you can expect to get responses from outside your immediate area.
That said, if you have a Web site, it can't hurt to post job openings
Step Three: Evaluate job
Probably the trickiest part of the employee hunt is screening applicants.
You need to find someone who's both qualified and a good fit with
your organization. Here are tips from the experts on how to evaluate
- Have candidates fill out an application. Your company
can buy a "canned" form, but if your needs are specialized, draw
up your own. Applications level the hiring playing field by ensuring
that every applicant answers the same questions and provides a
- Ask for -- and check -- references. Many companies
fall down on the checking part, but talking to former employers
weeds out liars and misfits. Given today's litigious times, ex-employers
may not be able to be frank, but if you read between the lines,
you'll be able to tell a lot. For example, if an employer won't
answer the question, "Would you hire Jane again?" there may have
been a problem -- particularly if you get that same response from
all previous employers.
- Test a person for the skills that the job requires.
For example, if Dian Griesel knows she's hiring someone who will
work the phones, she'll conduct the first interview on the phone
to get a sense of candidates' phone manners and presence. If the
worker will be writing a lot, she'll scrutinize resumes for typos
and grammatical errors and give applicants a writing assignment.
- Interview more than once. It's hard to get a sense
of a person from one brief encounter.
- Let the interviewee do the talking. "The mistake
that many business owners make is to do all the talking," says
Gaffin, of HR Associates. "To get a sense of the person, you have
to let them talk."
- Invite current employees to help conduct interviews.
It can help to get other people's opinion of candidates and find
the best fit with your company.
Keep in mind your company's "personality," too. In
the case of Eric Vinje's mail-order business, he has little time
to help new hires get up to speed. So he needs people who are self-motivated
and independent. At the same time, his Planet Natural is a casual
work environment. "I don't care if somebody's got long hair or how
they dress," Vinje says. "It doesn't make a difference as long as
they do the work and have the right attitude."
Jenny C. McCune is a freelance
writer based in Montana.
-- Posted: Dec. 6, 1999