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Ask the Expert: Best practices when hiring for a startup

Ask the Expert

September 03. 2013 12:04PM

Hiring your first or 15th employee can be an exciting and overwhelming process.

Will they be the right fit? Do they have the skills they say they do? How will they work with my current employ­ees? These are all legitimate questions and concerns when hiring. Coming up with best practices for hiring — and sticking to them with every employee you hire — can help to keep your company culture consistent and your operations running smoothly.

The first step in the hiring process is having a clear idea of what to look for in an applicant's resume, and more importantly, in their cover letter. At Ziftr, we've found that a cover letter is one of the quickest and easiest ways to tell if a candidate is right for our culture. In this step, we're looking for how they align themselves with our company and the open position.

It's an immediate red flag if all they talk about is themselves. A cover letter is a good way to gauge a candidate's commitment to the position. Mentioning specific things from the job listing, facts about the company, and what specific skills they can bring to the table are great signs. Be on the lookout for spelling and grammar mistakes. You want someone who takes pride in his or her work, not someone who rushed through the job.

Next step is the interview process. Rather than an initial Skype or phone screening, we bring candidates into our office for the first interview. This way, they can engage with the current staff and judge if this is truly a place they would enjoy working; hiring the perfect employee is a two-way street. During the interview process, we like to focus on asking questions that will get the applicant talking. Yes or no questions rarely accomplish anything. Here are some open-ended questions we've had success with:

• Tell me about the best and worst part of any job you've ever had.

• What's your favorite app?

• How would your former boss describe what it's like to manage you?

• Tell me what your perfect day at work would be like.

These questions will all require the candidate to think on their feet. Oftentimes, unconventional questions will provide the most honest answers.

These questions will give us insight as to what type of employee they'll be, how they think, and what they value in a job.

Again, making a great hire goes both ways. We have to like the candidate, but the candidate also has to like us. After the interview, we send all applicants home with an article our CEO wrote to provide further insight into our company culture.

Startups, like Ziftr, can't afford to hire those who will strictly work 9 to 5. Often the hours are long and the work is challenging; we need someone with passion and drive. Showing them the article gives them insight into how we operate as a company and for the candidate to ascertain if they would be a good fit within the existing team.

As the applicant considers his/her fit, you need to be constantly thinking of the current team, considering which candidate will mesh with the employees you already have. Keep them in the back of your mind when talking to the applicant.

The most important thing in the hiring process is to be able to recognize quickly if you've made a mistake. In the fast-paced tech industry, we can't afford to spend time on a poor hire. Bringing in the wrong person can be bad for the company, and being able to recognize it from the start can lead to fewer headaches in the future.

The staff is the livelihood of your company. Go into hiring with a clear idea of the role and responsibilities you're looking for. It's better to take more time to conduct a thorough interview upfront than it is to correct a problem in the future.

I look forward to answering your questions and/or responding to your comments at www.unionleader. com/expert or http://abihub. org/ask-the-expert/.


Jonathan Hampson, vice president of operations at Ziftr, is focused on all aspects of business development and company operations. Early in his career, he was instrumental in the expansion of one of the first mail order computer software and hardware companies in the industry. He lives in Peterborough and is actively involved in his community as an on-call firefighter and currently serves as an agricultural commissioner.

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