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How to Make Your First Hire Less Terrifying

The Grind

Editor's Note: The Grind is a weekly column that asks a revolving cast of young founders to take us through the daily rigors of running a business, as well as offer up advice on how they achieved milestones or overcame challenges. Follow The Grind on Twitter with the hashtag #ENTGrind.

How to Make Your First Hire Less Terrifying
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No matter how much entrepreneurs fight it, they eventually have to give up some control. And bringing on the first employee to help carry some of the workload can be a bit scary, as you want to make sure they will benefit the company.

But the fear of bringing someone on that may not be the right person could set your company backward instead of launching it forward. Nonetheless, if your company is going to grow, you have to hire and solicit support. 

When I was hiring my first co-worker at Practice Makes Perfect -- a nonprofit focused on partnering with schools and operating their summer programs in inner-city neighborhoods -- I was focused on finding someone that shared my values, was interested in what our company was doing and could, in many ways, see how the individual manifested themselves through our work. As a result, I wound up hiring a colleague from Cornell University. By turning to my network, I had a solid understanding of what he would and would not know. 

While going that route may have worked for me, it may not for others. That said, what I have learned is shared values and possessing a similar work ethic are extremely important. Obviously, the latter is difficult to know until they start working. 

Related: Hiring Your First Employee

For many startups, besides being concerned about hiring the right fit, bringing on your first employee can be a financial burden. For my nonprofit, I knew I had to raise the individual’s salary or come up with a strategic plan on how I was going to cover payroll. 

For those ready to bring on their first employee, here is what I learned:

Be transparent. Be upfront about your financial situation and sell the person on the vision and growth trajectory of the organization. Often people looking to work in startups are driven by more than money. If the startup is working on a mission they are passionate about, they may be willing to be on the ground floor and build up in lieu of a big salary. 

Invest in your first hire. As an entrepreneur, you need to take the time to teach and develop your first employee. The faster they can understand your business and industry, the sooner they can add value to the work you are doing.

Related: How to Afford Your First Hire

Look for a generalist. When brining on employee No. 1, don’t hire a specialist unless you absolutely have to for your startup. In my experience, I’ve found that having someone who is good at a few things is better than having a colleague that is an expert at one or two areas. The desire to learn and want to become a specialist is a better driver and can typically be much greater in the former.

Share responsibilities. If you plan on hiring someone and unloading all of your work, he may head for the door. No one wants to work somewhere they are going to be underpaid and undervalued. One of the easiest ways to show someone that you value them is to allow them to take on big responsibilities. 


The author is an Entrepreneur contributor. The opinions expressed are those of the writer.

Karim Abouelnaga is the founder of Practice Makes Perfect, a nonprofit that works to narrow the achievement gap by providing low-income students with mentorship and resources that are beyond the reach of their inner-city public schools.

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