Saturday, July 26, 2008

Don’t fire them, fire them up!!

Don’t fire them, fire them up!

Startup Hiring Checklist


More often than not, the best employees are the ones that find you, not the ones you go out and look for. The problem a lot of startups have is, how do I get more people to find me? Simple — think of it as a marketing exercise. Just as you would explain the product features to a potential customer, explain to a candidate what it's like to work for you (in real language, no HR platitudes thanks), what you look for in people and then make sure people find out about it. You can even post a Web page on life at your company. It's a small investment to make but an effective tool in getting a vast audience to read about the work experience under your roof.


You’ve hired smart people already right? You think your team is the best on the planet. So put them in front of candidates! Don’t hide them in a back room. Too many people have their HR people do most of the interviewing. Let the candidates get to know the people they'll be working with, if they join your company.


Many entrepreneurs think that the simple way to hire a good team is to throw money at the problem. In choosing a place to work, people look at the company, the role, the people, the environment and the money. Pretty much in that order, but it's important to keep the balance among all the variables. As long as the money is competitive (and this is key), the other factors should decide the final outcome. Money doesn’t win people over, money prevents you from losing them. It gets you in the game. People value their time and while you might be able to ‘buy it’ with an outrageous salary, that’s a temporary measure. They’ll eventually realise that doing a boring job 10 hours a day for huge dollars isn’t the way they want to spend their life. It's not a way to build a company, it’s a short-term band aid strategy. You don’t win people with a lot of money and I’d say you don’t want to. People who chose a job purely on the larger salary are probably people you don’t want on your team anyway. That said, the corollary here is that you can definitely lose people with money. If you're not paying what the market is or your firm just pays really low salaries, people will go elsewhere. It's all about balance.


Sometimes people come along who don’t fit into any existing role. You can consider hiring really smart people, even if you don’t have a defined role for them. At the same time, don’t be afraid to redirect a candidate if you feel they’re interviewing for the wrong job. If you have a roadmap for your company’s progress, you would have created titles and jobs that you would require in the next two or three years. Many smart people will fit into these roles, current or future, but others create the job profile for themselves. Have the flexibility to include both groups in your team.


The hire-or-don’t-hire decision is critical. Why is this decision so important? The damage a wrong choice can do to morale, to your product, to your company should never be overstated. It’s a little like poker, the most important and hardest skill to learn is when to fold a hand not when to bet. Not hiring a few good people is far better in the long term than hiring a few bad ones. Err on the side of caution.


This mostly applies to software developers, but the principle is important for all. Don’t hire based on keywords in a resume. Too many companies look for “JMS”, “EJB 3” and “J2EE” and assume someone is a good developer. Look for people who are good at learning new technologies, rather than stacking up acronyms.

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