Besides navigating cash flow issues and fending off competitors, what’s the hardest part of starting up for young entrepreneurs? Employees.
Between finding them, training them and keeping them, young founders list labor and human-resource challenges as their top difficulty. That’s according to a September survey conducted by Empact, a Princeton Junction, N.J. based organization that aims to foster entrepreneurship.
Nearly 30 percent of respondents listed labor issues as their biggest pain point, while the closest rival -- sales and customer acquisition -- clocked in at just 15 percent, according to Empact, which for its annual survey polled more than 350 young entrepreneurs (age 30 and younger) who had achieved minimum revenue of $100,000.
Why is this? Because each individual makes up a greater percentage of the overall team, the quality of each employee is emphasized dramatically. Those that would be considered average or even good in a large corporation can look more like drastic failures in the company of a small team.
Knowing you have to be pickier and that the stakes are higher, what can you do to make sure your hires bring you the growth you want? Here are some tips:
1. Stop focusing on skills. Shradha Agarwal, the 27-year-old chief strategy officer and co-founder of ContextMedia in Chicago says her biggest challenge isn’t necessarily finding people with the skills she’s looking for. “We realized attitude was the key and that the skills could be learned,” she notes. Basic job skills are fundamental, but attitude and an ability to fit into the organizational culture cannot be taught as easily, if at all. And the wrong mix of these could lead to a toxic culture that makes everyone less productive.
2. Look outside of the interview. Finding out whether a potential hire has the right attitude and passion isn’t like perusing a resume. It’s just not that easy. Instead, Shradha successfully scouts for new recruits informally at entrepreneurial networking events.
3. Try them before you buy them. If at all possible, try working with the individual you’re considering on some small project before you hire them as an employee. One entrepreneur gives his best prospective employees test projects to see how they respond to challenging situations and how efficiently and effectively they complete a task before hiring. Assuming they are giving their best work at that time, if you’re not completely wow’d you may want to keep looking. This helps in weeding out the truly great talent from the simply great interviewees.
4. Show your culture. In your interview process, make sure your culture comes across and don’t be afraid to make it lengthy. At ContextMedia, someone can expect to interview with eight to 10 decision makers before being offered a position.
Ultimately, these tips boil down to the import of not only finding stellar candidates, but also testing them to ensure their personalities fit with the company’s culture.
That culture could in turn attract other talented candidates in the future too. While startups may not have the brand recognition of a more established employer or the ability to afford the most competitive salaries, they can offer employees a place where they uniquely feel like they belong and can contribute.
What are your top hiring techniques? Let us know in the comments section below.
The author is an Entrepreneur contributor. The opinions expressed are those of the writer.
Sheena Lindahl is co-founder and president of Empact, an organization facilitating entrepreneurship throughout the world through exposure, celebration and connection. She has been named by Inc. Magazine as a 30 under 30 entrepreneur and by Business Week as one of the country's top 25 entrepreneurs under the age of 25. She is a graduate of New York University.