Updated: Feb 16
Hiring decisions are some of the most crucial decisions you will make as a small business owner. A great employee can take your business to new heights and open up new opportunities for growth, while a poor hire can set you back months and thousands of dollars, causing undue stress and frustration.
In this how-to article, I’ll lay out a hiring process for small businesses that will help give structure to your decision-making and increase your odds of bringing on a great employee.
1) Write a detailed job description
The first step is to describe in writing exactly what you are looking for. At a minimum, this should include
A description of the job responsibilities or tasks the employee will perform
The job experience or education requirements potential required to perform the job well
Some of the soft skills or personal qualities you are seeking
A description of your business, including your mission and vision. Make it as inspiring as you can for potential employees!
Have a look at some of the other job postings out there and see which ones stand out to you. Copy the format or even some of the language that you feel works best and work it into your job description.
I generally do not include salary details when posting a job even though I usually have a range in mind. I prefer to get a sense of the market while casting as wide a net as possible.
2) Post on a credible platform and circulate to associates
While a business owner should always be mindful of costs, if you are seeking the best talent, I would avoid Craigslist and other free platforms in favour of the most credible job search sites most frequented by serious job seekers. We have generally used Linkedin’s premium job postings and have seen good results. The only downside to LinkedIn is that you may get a lot of applications, making your job of sorting through them more difficult.
You should also let your personal and online networks know that you are hiring for a specific position to see if they have any people they might recommend. In addition to acting as a reference, They may know excellent people who are not officially on the market but may be open to a new opportunity that appeals to them.
Reviewed Job Candidates and Filter
LinkedIn sends an email every time someone applies for a position, so I will typically start to sort them into separate inboxes based on their qualifications. Here’s what I would suggest:
Eliminate anyone who doesn’t meet your stated requirements in terms of education or job experience
Unless you are posting for a highly specialized position or have already factored this in, eliminate anyone who is applying from a foreign country and would require a visa or immigration approval to work for you.
Eliminate anyone with poor spelling, grammar, or a generic cover letter that is not aligned with the job
Note anyone who has clearly taken the time to research your company and prepared a personalized cover letter
Note anyone who has worked for your direct competition. Whether or not you choose to hire them, you may get useful insights by interviewing them.
3) Call at least 20 candidates for initial screening
Advise them it will just be a 5-minute call and ask them if it’s a good time to speak
Ask three questions
Why did you think this position would be a good fit for you?
Describe a work problem you had to solve and what the outcome was
What would an ideal job situation look like and how much would you expect to earn?
Rank the responses for each person from 1-5 using the following rating system
Did they communicate clearly?
Were their answers thoughtful and intelligent?
Did they answer quickly?
Were they enthusiastic?
Do they have relevant experience?
Some notes on how to handle the call:
Ensure you get their salary expectations:
This can sometimes be an awkward question so just ask it and listen without speaking. They’ll definitely be gauging your response. If they’re way out of your range, thank them and explain that you simply aren’t able to meet their salary requirements at this time.
If they are a little out of your range but otherwise they seem like they could be a fit:
Ask them what the most important factors for them are in choosing a job and employer. If you are able to satisfy these other requirements, ask them if they would be willing to accept a slightly lower salary if these other conditions were met.
If you really like the interviewee and get a strong positive first impression:
feel free to extend the conversation and go a little deeper. Ask them about previous positions and what tasks they’re best at. Go ahead and build some rapport with them.
If they clearly did not research your business before responding:
you should eliminate the candidate from further consideration.
4) Conduct at least 5 in-depth interviews
After you’ve done your 20 quick interviews, you should have a short list of at least 5 potential candidates. If not, keep soliciting new applications and calling new applicants. This should be an in-depth conversation that lasts at least 30 minutes. You may choose to have this conversation in person but I’ve done many follow-up interviews by phone.
Some high-level topics and questions for the in-depth interview:
Have them review each of their previous positions and describe their job responsibilities as well as what they liked and disliked most about them
Ask about their approach to organizing their projects and their time
Ask them how they like to be managed
Ask them about their experience with specific software and how they go about learning to use new tools
Ask them about their formative years and what lead them into their field.
Feel free to make it conversational and hone in on specific elements that would relate most to the position.
Take notes of the conversation and record your impressions. You may also want to have another member of your staff or someone whom you trust join you on the call or schedule a separate call.
5) Have your top 3 picks complete a selection survey
After the 5 interviews, you can hopefully whittle it down to 3 top picks. At this point, I would strongly suggest using an objective selection tool to help you in making a final decision. We use the Kolbe A index, which gives you a good idea of how each person's working style will fit into your overall team or complement your own. Predictive Index is another good tool.
This quantitative data will add some objectivity into the mix and may help you make a tough call if you are down to 2 strong candidates.
6) Have your three top picks come in for in-person interviews (Zoom for remote hires)
A second in-depth interview can be more free-form. In this meeting, try to get a better idea of the candidate’s personality and who they are as a person. Give them a tour of your workspace, introduce them to other employees (if you have any), and let them ask questions they have of you.
7) Call references
You absolutely have to call at least 3 references. These should be people that the candidate reported to directly - not friends, associates, or people that they themselves hired. Make sure to ask them if they would hire the person again.
8) Make an offer to your top pick
Once you’ve made a decision, call your top choice and make them an offer. Give them a list of reasons why they were the top pick and make them feel good about being selected.
You should already have a good idea of your candidate's salary expectations, so hopefully, there won’t be a drawn-out negotiation. However, you should be prepared in case there is some pushback and have an idea of how high you are willing to go in terms of salary.
If you reach an impasse or have any doubts about whether or how to proceed in the negotiations, don’t feel that you have to make a decision on the spot. Tell them you'll think about it and get back to them by a specific time.
9) Call your runner ups
Wait until you have negotiated salary and have a contract from your chosen hire before contacting your runner-ups. You never know what might transpire in the negotiation process and it may turn out that your second or third choice is your only viable candidate.
Once you have your new hire confirmed, contact anyone who went through the entire process with you but we're not ultimately hired. Thank them for their time and review your decision in detail with them. Ultimately, you want to leave them with a positive impression of you and your company because you never know if your new hire will turn out to be a poor fit. If that situation does unfold and you need to make an abrupt change, having backup choices who still want to work for you is invaluable.
There is no foolproof method for hiring great employees. However, having a thorough process in place will go a long way toward increasing Your odds of making a positive hire that will help you reach your goals and grow your business.