30 Secrets to Hiring the Right People
We're searching for top company cultures to be featured on our annual list. Think your company has what it takes? Apply Now »
The success of your business depends on the quality of your employees. Small businesses, especially, know that one bad hire can ruin their entire team's productivity. That’s why entrepreneurs obsess over hiring.
We've compiled a wee guidebook of hiring tips from the small-business owners honored on Capitol Hill during this year's National Small Business Week. Almost every respondent emphasized the importance of hiring employees who organically fit into corporate culture and who are passionate about the brand. Overall, personality trumps credentials when entrepreneurs are deciding who they want to bring onto their team.
Here’s a look at some of our favorite bits of advice. Responses have been gently edited for clarity and grammatical correctness.
1. Blake’s All Natural Foods
Entrepreneur: Chris Licata
Headquarters: Concord, N.H.
Hire people that genuinely believe in your mission and are passionate about your products. This business has been in our family for four generations and it is so important to make sure the people we hire are a great cultural fit with our team. It’s a given that everyone we consider for a position at Blake’s has the requisite background and experience for the job but we prioritize cultural fit over deeper experience every time
2. Janska, LLC
Entrepreneur: Jan Erickson, Owner, Founder & President; Jon Thomas, Co-Founder & Vice President
Headquarters: Colorado Springs, Colo.
The most important criteria for hiring are competency and fitting the company’s culture. The book Topgrading, written by Bradford Smart, recommends hiring only “A” players, and we agree. Bringing new employees into an organization really should be a thoughtful process and in some instances, finding the best candidate for a company can take some time. Most important, the candidate needs to be a good fit for the existing corporate culture so that they are able to understand and positively embrace all of the components that drive the business.
3. Fusion Hospitality
Entrepreneur: Bhupender "Bruce" Patel
Headquarters: Tupelo, Miss.
Always look for integrity. Often it is more important than experience.
4. Express Kitchens
Entrepreneur: Max Kothari
Headquarters: Hartford, Conn.
References from people I trust. Key ingredient is learning attitude. Everything else I can train. Either your DNA has it or not.
5. PARS Environmental, Inc.
Entrepreneur: Kiran K. Gill, President and CEO
Headquarters: Robbinsville, N. J.
In addition to having a strong resume and technical background, attitude is very important. If someone displays flexibility, willingness to learn new skill sets, and is a good team member, that is invaluable. Having talented employees can make or break your company.
6. High Plains Architects
Entrepreneurs: Randy and Janna Hafer
Headquarters: Billings, Mont.
“Fit” is everything. Only hire people who share the values, passions and sense of humor of the firm.
7. Bleed Blue Tattoo and Piercing
Entrepreneur: Thomas Ray Conrett, aka Tommy Ray
Headquarters: Lexington, Ky.
I like employees with serving experience. They know how to hustle
8. Green Technologies
Entrepreneurs: Dr. Amir A. Varshovi and Marla K. Buchanan, JD
Headquarters: Gainesville, Fla.
Hire those who are passionate about what they do.
9. BrightFields, Inc.
Entrepreneurs: Mark A. Lannan and Marian R. Young
Headquarters: Wilmington, Del.
Attitude and work ethic are always more important than a set of technical skills. Almost all skills can be trained, but a person’s personality and demeanor are very difficult to adjust. Make sure they will fit your team.
10. Best Bath Systems Inc.
Entrepreneur: Gary Multanen
Headquarters: Caldwell, Idaho
Let the applicant do 90% of the talking. It’s amazing what they will say. All you need to do is listen.
11. Spectrum Aeromed
Entrepreneur: Dean Atchison
Headquarters: Fargo, N.D.
Hire people that walk fast…they tend to have a sense of urgency about life and a predisposition to taking action.
12. EverLast Lighting, Inc.
Entrepreneur: Michael Olen Nevins
Headquarters: Jackson, Mich.
My best hiring tip would be to retain talent that is motivated by innovation, out-of-the-box thinking. Hire someone based on their work ethic, and ability to think creatively. We have a series of tests that each of our candidates take so that we can gauge their abilities.
13. Custom Aircraft Cabinets, Inc.
Entrepreneur: Co-Owners Mike Gueringer and Paul Reesnes
Headquarters: Sherwood/North Little Rock, Ark.
Although qualified skill sets are very important, attitude is even more important. Someone with basic skills and a great attitude easily surpasses excellent skills with poor attitude.
14. Metaphrasis Language & Cultural Solutions, LLC.
Entrepreneur: Elizabeth Colón
Headquarters: Chicago, Ill.
Do not hire based on the answers you receive during the interview. If you are considering someone, put them through the test by giving them a few task that they will be responsible for and see how well they do. If they cannot complete the task within the amount of time they are given they may not be a good fit.
15. TEVET, LLC
Entrepreneur: Tracy D. Solomon
Headquarters: Mosheim, Tenn.
Look beyond what is in front of you. In addition to what a candidate can bring to your organization today, consider what they can bring as they and the organization grow.
16. Keiland Construction, LLC
Entrepreneur: Keith Anthony DuRousseau, owner and founder
Headquarters: Lake Charles, La.
Always develop a shortlist for filling a position. The second interview will unveil the layer required to make the final decision. If the applicant won’t comply with this process, move on. The best employees often interview the worst.
17. PracticeLink.com and MountainPlex Properties: The Guest House on Courthouse Square, Radio AM 1380, The Market Courthouse Square, The Ritz Theatre, Otter & Oak Outfitter
Entrepreneur: Ken Allman
Headquarters: Hinton, W.Va.
Look for—and hire—humble, hungry and smart people! These are the key ingredients to building a great team, and when those traits are in balance, great things happen. Another tip we try to follow is to take candidates out for lunch or dinner before making an offer. For senior-level hires, we include the spouse as well. This adds a different dimension to the interview process and helps us discover if the candidate will be a good cultural fit for our organization.
18. Strider Sports International, Inc.
Entrepreneur: Ryan McFarland
Headquarters: Rapid City, S.D.
Pick people with natural enthusiasm for life and a connection to the company cause and mission.
19. Virtual Enterprise Architects, LLC
Entrepreneur: LaKeshia Grant
Headquarters: Washington, DC
My best hiring tip is ask for samples of their work or provide them with an assignment during the interview. It shows me how they process tasks, the types of questions they would ask and their prioritization of the subtasks. If they have a logical approach to the task and can demonstrate their skills, they are most likely equipped to do the job.
20. Cobalt Enterprises, Inc.
Entrepreneurs: Fred Schule (Founder, Owner) and Paul Clark (Owner)
Headquarters: Granite Falls, Wash.
We are the largest employer with 80 employees in a relatively small town of 3421 people however nearly all of our employees are from the local area and they generally don’t turn over. We hire for aerospace and defense manufacturing so skills involve higher math, technical knowledge and production prowess. Our best tip is to look for fundamentals so great Cobalt hires need to be timely, trustworthy, willing to learn, conditioned to change rapidly and teamwork skills.
21. Golden Cannoli Shells Co. Inc.
Entrepreneur: Valerie Bono, Maria Elena Bono Malloy, Eric Bresciani, Edwin Bresciani
Headquarters: Chelsea, Mass.
Have a clear job description, convey it so there are no surprises and be clear with expectations.
22. Triangle Rock Club
Entrepreneurs: Joel Graybeal and Andrew Kratz, managing partners
Headquarters: Morrisville, N.C.
Never make a compromise hire. You are better off waiting to get the right person than settling for a less than ideal candidate. You can’t get best in class results with a mediocre employee. Never compromise your hiring standards.
23. TailsSpin Pet Food & Accessories
Entrepreneurs: Co-owners Jusak Yang Bernhard and Jeffrey A. Manley
Headquarters: Savannah, Pooler and Macon, Ga.
We look for people who care about helping others, and who know the importance of volunteerism and of giving back. TailsSpin is known as a pet store with a heart. Our community work defines us. We put on events that help our community and local pet communities. Our events include bi-weekly Low-Cost Pet Vaccine Clinics, the Pet Care & Adoption Fair, Savannah PAWrade & Pet Costume Contest, Woof! Woof! 5K Run/Walk Over Pet Cancer, Disc Dog Competition to benefit Vets for Pets, and the Savannah Pet Care Directory.
24. Switchback Brewing Company
Entrepreneurs: Bill Cherry and Jeff Neiblum
Headquarters: Burlington, Vt.
My best employees come to me. More than just competence and talent, they have a passion to be part of our company specifically. They want more than just a good job, they want a job with my company.
25. Chesapeake Environmental Management, Inc.
Entrepreneurs: Stephanie Novak Hau and Joseph Hau
Headquarters: Bel Air, Md.
Skills can be taught, attitude cannot.
Entrepreneur: Cynthia M. Reed
Headquarters: Mesa, Ariz.
Identify candidates willing to roll up their sleeves and make things happen.
27. House of Bread Anchorage
Entrepreneurs: Ginna and John Baldiviez
Headquarters: Anchorage, Alaska
In our line of business (bakery/cafe) we need employees who have a lot of energy with a friendly, upbeat personality. So during our interviewing process, along with the usual questions, we "roll play" to see if the individual would be a good fit for our bakery before we bring them on board.
28. Proventix Systems, Inc.
Entrepreneur: Harvey Nix
Headquarters: Birmingham, Ala.
Be very selective of your team and who you have cheering you on - surround yourself with great people. Coach, train, challenge, and expect the best from your team. As in sports, it takes an entire team and coordinated efforts to accomplish great things!
29. Coffee By Design
Entrepreneurs: Co-founders Mary Allen Lindemann and Alan Spear
Headquarters: Portland, Maine
So many lessons learned…and still learning. Take the time to really sit down and talk with applicants and see if they are passionate about what you do. Trust your gut. And no sympathy hires!
30. Lightwell, formerly known as Oxford Consulting Group, Inc.
Entrepreneur: Michelle Kerr
Headquarters: Columbus, Ohio
Hire to cover your weaknesses. People that you really click with you are or are ‘just like you’ tend to have the same weaknesses as you!