5 things that suck (about hiring new employees) and 10 things companies can do about it

We hear all the time about the importance of hiring the right people and the expanding universe of advice can be overwhelming; hire slow and fire fast, only hire the “right” candidate; ask probing questions; check all references; blah blah blah. For a small business with constantly-strained capacity it can be incredibly difficult to post a job, sort through the resumes, vet the candidates, check those references, negotiate salary and benefits packages, execute the employment agreement, and complete the HR paperwork for payroll, insurance, pension plan, etc. And only when all of that has taken place can the typically months-long on-boarding process begin and the “real” job training and actual work get started. It is an expensive process in both time and treasure and small businesses can easily do themselves great disservice by not executing well and missing the opportunity  to find the right person for the job.

For businesses looking to hire a new employee, there are a number of practical things you can do, but also some adjustments in outlook which will help a great deal in finding that perfect someone. But for now you have a problem – filling that position.

So to start, here’s why hiring sucks:

1. There’s a reason you have to hire someone.
The most likely reason that you are hiring is because someone left. Now they may have left on their own, which usually means you didn’t want them to leave and you’re already sad that they will. Or (almost as likely) you had to let them go because you weren’t happy with their work or they just weren’t right for the job. In either case there will be tension surrounding the situation and bad feelings can easily arise.

2. It’s a ton of work.
Every time you hire a new employee there is a huge amount of work to be done: writing the job description, posting the job, reading the resumes, making the calls, interviewing the candidates (often multiple rounds), meeting to discuss the candidates, and then, when you’ve finally made the offer and it’s been accepted actually getting the person through the HR process. Whew. Im exhausted just typing this paragraph.

3. It takes time.
When a dog bonds with a person, that’s it,done deal. The end. Finito. They are friends for life That dog will ever turn on their friend and would never do anything to harm them. Entrepreneurs should learn to show the same loyalty to their team, to their investors, and to their customers. Fierce and perpetual, allegiances should be a priority for you and your team.

4. It’s gonna cost you real money.
Not just the implied cost of the work involved, or the opportunity cost incurred when you have something better (read, “more profitable”) to do, but actual the cash expense of hiring: the advertising cost of posting or the recruiters fees, the separation costs for the departing employee (unpaid vacation and sick pay, contractual obligations such as commissions due and pro-rated bonuses, etc.), the likelihood of an increased salary for the new employee, and the costs of benefits and fringes associated with the new employee. Ugh.

5. There’s a big risk involved.
Finally, there is a very real risk that you could make a bad decision and hire the wrong person. What if they’re just not competent or qualified in the way you thought they would be? What if they come to you with health problems you were unaware of? What if they don’t get along with the rest of the team and stir discord and angst?

So many things to go wrong, right? Well, here’s a list of 10 things you can do about it:

1. Write a great job decription.

      The job description is a chance to strengthen your company internally and, at the same time, attract the very best people to your company by helping them understand exactly what kind of organization you are. The first part is about the job itself – what does it consists of? What are the job’s requirements and expectations? What exactly will the new employee be


      ? It is crucial to list these out as well as the experience, training, and education required of the applicant to be considered. Next, the job listing itself need to include not just that information, but also information about your company: who are you? What do you do? Who else works there? What is the culture of the company and the working environment? How you write the listing is just as important as the actual content: get your best copywriter to actually write the thing – you want the tone and voice of the listing to say as much about your company as the details included. If applicants are complementing you on the great listing, you’re probably doing it right.

2. Find the right venue to list or post.
There are plenty of resources available from the big recruiting firms right down to the alumni websites and it is important that where you post the job is a good match to the person you are looking for. Among those places, both on and off the web, are highly trafficked jobsites like Monster.com or careerbuilder, and specialty sites like TheLadders.com which appeal to certain niche populations of job-seekers. A great resource is Craigslist which has become increasingly popular with small companies that have limited recruiting budgets, but which is highly popular with job-seekers of all types. For software developers 37signals has a great job board as does TechCocktail and if you’re looking for design talent Krop, Smashing Magazine, and elegant.ly are great places to post your job.

3. Ask around.
The first place to start when looking for that certain someone is within your own network. Check your rolodex (do people still have these?), look at your LinkedIn and Facebook contacts, Tweet it out to your followers, ask at dinner parties and call up trusted associates and other business owners. Every study shows that employees found through a direct networking connection are the most likely to succeed in a company.

4. Recruit continuously.
The best way to make sure you have someone to fill that job is to alway be on the lookout for someone to fill that job. This is true whether you have a current opening or not. We all know that great talent is really hard to find, so why wait until the last minute to start looking? Keep your door open at all times and you will increase the chances that you will be able to find that next great team member.

5. Don’t waste your time.
Don’t waste time looking at candidates who don’t or can’t show you what you need to know in 30 seconds; so as the resumes start coming in, vet them well and vet them quickly. One way we do this is via the cover letter “test.” Cover letters are quick and easy to read and if a person takes the time to write a great cover letter, it will tell you several important things about them: 1. they know how to write (a critical differentiator when choosing between two otherwise qualified applicants), 2. they took the time to understand the position and the company, 3. they are looking for the best fit for them and not simply spamming hundreds of employers. I will usually not even look at the resume if the applicant fails the cover letter test. Beyond this phase of the process, it is also important that you not waste time interviewing people who should not have made that cut – be merciless: if an applicant doesn’t show you that they’re right for the job via their cover letter and resume, then don’t take the time to meet. Period.

6. Triage!
Do the needful and learn how to sort incoming applications. I start with three piles: “No way in hell,” “Possibly, interesting,” and “Wow, gotta meet this one.”  The last category will represent a very small fraction of the whole, while the first two will probably account for 95% of the applications you receive. Spend the bulk of your time sorting through the “Possibly interesting” group as you whittle it down and start to schedule the first round of phone calls.

7. Give yourself time
Make sure that you budget the time and energy that will be required. If you have a time-certain start date for the new hire, make sure that you start the process far enough in advance to meet that deadline. Depending on the position you are trying to fill, figure on the entire process taking anywhere from 3-10 weeks and plan accordingly. First, if an employee is leaving try to get them to stick around as long as possible; second, don’t dilly-dally with the job listing – get it out there and start harvesting applications; and third, start scheduling those first-round calls as quickly as you can. Sometimes it takes forever to find the right person and you should start on it today. Now. This moment.

8. Give yourself choices.
Try to leave the job posting up as long as you can manage and harvest as many applications as you can. The richer your choice, the greater the likelihood of success in finding a great candidate.Then, try to speak on the phone with as many candidates as possible – again the more you can interview (as long as they’re worth the time it takes) the better your options. And finally, meet in person with as many as you can stand – the bigger the pool, the better the swim. This is not to say that you should be lowering your standards or meeting with folks who aren’t qualified, but rather that you should do everything you can to increase the number ofgood candidates.

9. Ask the right questions.
Take the time to develop a great list of questions to ask when you speak to your applicants. You’ll want to understand their work history (in their own words, not just off the resume), their personality and personal working style, their impressions about your company and the job itself, and finally about their hopes for the future and their own careers. If you can craft questions which cover these areas you will be able to get a good feel for the person you’re interviewing and whether they will be a good fit with the job and the team.

10. Trust your nose.
Be sure to pay close attention to your own instincts – if someone just doesn’t “feel” right, there’s a good chance that they aren’t right. remember, there is no one who knows your company better than you, and no one who understands more clearly just what you’re looking for. Sometimes we can clearly articulate why a person is right for the job, but sometimes it’s not so easy to express why they’re not. Trust yourself in these situations and, if you don’t think they’re “it” then move on until you find the one who is.

There are of course plenty of resources available to you as you go through the searching and hiring process, but for employers these are a good place to start. But remember that for job-seekers, there is even more at stake: i.e. a paycheck and the power it brings with it to pay your rent, buy your groceries, fill your gas tank, clothe your children, and maybe, just maybe, advance your career. Next week, I’ll write about things candidates can do to improve their own odds, market themselves effectively, and communicate to employers (you) just why they really are the right person for the job.

Photo: hmcadams