As a small business owner, I have the opportunity to hire new team members. I did not take any courses in college or graduate school that taught me how to hire staff. (Sidebar, I did not even know I was going to be a business owner back then!) However, over the past several years I learned some key strategies on what to do and what not to do when hiring.
Do’s and Don’t’s of Hiring New Team Members
- Do: Before you even start the application process, you have to have a clear understanding of your organization’s needs and how this role will fill the gap. If you are replacing an exiting employee, do you want your new hire to have the same skill set? Is your organization going in a new direction, and you want your new hire to have a set of skills to support that new direction? This type of analysis should help inform any revisions to the job posting and the questions you ask during the interview.
- Don’t: Use only the standard methods of sharing the job posting. Know your audience and market to determine the best methods and platforms to share the job opening. For some organizations, it makes sense to post ads in the local newspaper. For others, posts on social media platforms and trade associations works better. At TCG, we use a mixed-methods approach of paying a nominal fee to post with a trade association for nonprofit organizations, announcing it in our electronic newsletter and sharing across our social media platforms. Keep an eye on your response rate, and be willing to adjust your methods to get the results needed.
- Do: Think beyond the content skills you are seeking to the soft skills necessary to be successful in your organization. Our staff must be sharp and also have the disposition to work collaboratively internally with their team and externally with our clients. Therefore, we need team members who have the “smarts” and are also great communicators, problem solvers and partners.
- Don’t: Use the standard interview and hiring process. Rethink the traditional interview process and assess how it is working for you. Are there steps that you can eliminate and still get good results? We diligently scan the best applications and only select the ones who are possible candidates to go through to the first round, which is a phone interview. After the first round, you may be able to stop here and make a decision. There’s no reason to drag on the process if you know who to hire and don’t need more information. This will save you and your team time and money. If you are still unsure, assign a “homework” task to the possible candidates. This could include a short writing sample, data viz, or blog post – whatever is relevant to the nature of the job. A “homework” assignment could be more revealing than a second interview and show how much they want the position as well as their skills in action.
- Do: Describe the work culture and environment that you have to offer. More and more employees are looking for a job in a work environment that they will be motivated in and thrive. Do staff work in their office by themselves all day, or is it a collaborative open space environment? Not all employees are successful in a collaborative, open environment. More and more employees want a flexible work schedule, ability to work remotely, and collaborate with staff while still working independently. Do you have a clear sense of your work environment, culture and who will and will not be a good fit? To your best ability, describe it in your job description or during the interview process.
- Don’t: Use the standard interview questions: Where do you see yourself in five years; What are your strengths; What are your weaknesses? The answers are often scripted and don’t really provide the insight necessary. Really think about the skills needed to perform the job and ask questions that give you the information needed. Some of my favorite interview questions include: Is it better to be perfect and late, or good and on time?; We have to quickly learn about new industries and causes for our diverse clients. Tell me how you became informed and knowledgeable about a new issue area. What would you do differently, if anything, the next time that you needed to learn something new?; Assume that you come to work here. One year from now you finish work one Friday evening thinking that accepting this job was the best thing you ever did. What happened during the year for you to feel that way?; Some of our team works remotely while others work in the office. This means you could be working independently for several days a week and then meeting with a client or a team member on the other days. What experience do you have working in this type of environment and how would you be successful?
- Do: Be open to new possibilities. In reviewing resumes and applications, the applicant may not “fit” the part on paper, but could be great in your company. I look for skills that are transferable even if they are not in the same field or industry. I also look for increasing leadership in the projects and experiences noted. I have also learned that some more seasoned applicants are looking for career shifts and might be willing to take a pay cut to work with your organization that will help support their career shift. Others might be looking for less responsibility and more work-life balance. Don’t judge a book by its cover.
- Don’t: Ignore the applicants. At every step of the hiring process, it is important to follow up with all applicants. Don’t leave anyone wondering if they made it to the next round or not. I am shocked when I hear friends and colleagues share stories of interviewing for positions and then receiving no response. I understand that the interview process might take longer to make a decision, so I will check in with the applicants and let them know it is taking longer or tell them then if they are no longer being considered. I consider all potential applicants as possible clients or employees. They may not be a fit for the position today but could be in the future. They could also be a future client depending on their next job, so I want our company to be well represented throughout the interview process.
- Do: Say “no” when you know it is not a good fit. In general, I am a nice person and have a hard time disappointing others. For some applicants, they will convince themselves that this is their dream job, and it is hard to turn someone down. You will know almost immediately if someone is not the right fit through their application materials and the first interview. Again, I consider our hiring process an outreach opportunity to meet new individuals in the field. Therefore, I don’t want to burn any bridges, but at the same time I need to manage expectations for candidates who are not a good or right fit now.
- Don’t: Rush the hiring process. It can be time consuming to thoughtfully review your organization’s needs and prepare a comprehensive job description and posting. It takes significant time to read each applicant’s materials and respond to every applicant; to set up the interviews and write thoughtful interview questions; to determine the next steps in the hiring process (second interview or homework task); to follow-up with each applicant about next steps; to negotiate “win-win” offers; and to onboard new employees (which is a whole blog in itself!). However, getting the right candidate is worth it if you invest your time in the front end of the hiring process. This will hopefully result in more sustainability and productivity in your company, which is something we all want!
Like I said, I never set out to be a business owner hiring employees. Now that I am in this position, I consider this an awesome responsibility and opportunity. I have learned that each team member is an extension of our organization — our mission, values and priorities. I want team members who will represent our organization well and be excited about our work. Learn more about our team and culture here and stay posted on any TCG job openings here.