HR · 29 October 2019

4 steps to making a successful first hire


It’s a great feeling when you’ve grown your startup to the extent where you can afford to hire another employee. While small business owners might have experience hiring people from past roles in bigger companies, the responsibility and pressure are even greater when you’re making the first hire for your own business.

Despite a variety of national concerns including Brexit delays, the UK small business population is thriving with some 200,000 small businesses being added to the list this year.

If SMEs are to continue to prosper in the UK, employers need to know how to make that crucial first hire so they can grow steadily and without the disruption of employee turnover.

The effect of a good or bad hire can be felt all the more in a small business. So it’s important that employers make the right decision the first time. Here’s what advice four business leaders had to give about hiring staff:

1. “Employ juniors to test the waters” – Jessica Morgan, Owner, Carnsight Communications

Hiring my first employee was a big step but also an exciting one. Chemistry and potential were two important qualities – could we work well together and could my employee grow into the role, given the level I was recruiting for?

I also drew on references more than I have done in the past, as I was relying on myself in interviews, but I have heard of people bringing mentors or even friends into interviews for a second opinion.

I started the role off at an intern level, which meant it wasn’t a big financial outlay at first and also gave us both a bit of flexibility to see if the position would work out. It was also part-time to start with so I could scale it up as and when.

2. “Set tasks before interview stage” – Ed Foy, CEO and co-founder, PRESS London

Interview stage
Setting tasks before the interview stage can help employers select the best candidates for the role.

Set a task before the interview. How much effort they put into that task will show you the type of employee they will be and how excited for the job they are.

It also creates content to talk about in the interview, focussing on the aspects of the task that will be important in their role.

Hiring a friend?

Hiring someone you know can work. There are multiple factors which can make or break a working relationship, so already knowing the way someone works and ensuring that you’re able to compromise and encourage one another is a benefit. On the other hand, be careful about hiring a close friend – sometimes relationships can go sour and losing a friend over a work spat isn’t worth it.

References are key. Trying to get a sense for how that person performed in previous roles is a crucial factor in the hiring process. I always try to get a sense of their strengths and areas for development. A phone call/meeting with a referee is best, often an email won’t cut it.

3. “Leave no room for being misleading” – Ricky Martin, CEO, Hyper Recruitment Solutions 

We all try and put layers of process in place to safeguard bad hires, the reality is they happen, and will continue to happen.

No robot or AI can fully comprehend the human factor in hiring (not yet anyhow) and candidates do mislead people. That being said, there are several practical steps employers can take to ensure they’re getting the right person for the job.

Ensure the role on offer isn’t misleading. If your potential hire doesn’t have all the necessary information about the job they’re applying for, how can you expect them not to mislead you? Make sure your candidate has ample opportunities to ask questions throughout the process, not just at the end of the interview.

What questions are they asking?

You can tell a lot about a person by the questions they ask, and equally, you can use this as an opportunity to determine if they understand the role and that it’s right for them. Why not start your interview process by asking them what they want to know about the business and the role? You’d be surprised by how powerful this is, and by the number of candidates that don’t have anything to ask.

When hiring your first employee, the vetting process starts from the moment the CV is reviewed with the interview to consider the appointment. Beyond these steps, it’s important to take references and do other pre-employment checks to safeguard the hire.

We live in times where you can tell a lot about a person from their LinkedIn, who’s in their network (are there people you rate in it?) Do they have positive recommendations on LinkedIn? We all have so much access to data these days, why not use it!

4. “Know what you need” – Beth Hellowell, Co-owner, Signify 

It sounds straightforward, but this is something we struggled with for our first hire. As a small business, we had so many options available, each with different implications. Freelancers, apprentices, part-time staff, full-time staff, fixed-term contracts – and the option of actually not recruiting at all.

What if we just stayed as we were? What would that look like both financially and personally?

Look at your future goals

A great way to quiet the chaos of too many choices is to look ahead to the next few years and decide what kind of team you are looking to build. The first hire should be a stepping stone to grow your team to that vision, as well as support the short term need for additional capacity.

Working through the pros and cons of each option, as well as thinking ahead to the future, we were able to narrow our choices and take steps to build a job role that aligned with our goals. Having worked through the options on the table we decided to go all-in, and hire a full-time member of staff.

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