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Hiring for Your Small Business? Here's What You Should Look for Above All Else

The smaller the company, the larger the potential impact of any employee. When hiring, entrepreneurs need to consider candidates' accomplishments, ability to learn from mistakes and potential to make the team better.

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You won't make your business a success. Your team will. The smaller the company, the larger the potential impact of any employee — especially new hires who will significantly change your team by disrupting (for good or bad) the norm within the organization.

To innovate, thrive and grow, you need individuals with a variety of perspectives and experiences on your team. If everyone looks, thinks and acts the same, you'll be less likely to unearth the nuggets of wisdom and insights that often emerge when smart, intuitive, growth-minded individuals collaborate on a project.

When hiring, it can be tempting to seek candidates who have worked at similar businesses to your own, if not direct competitors. This method often works for large companies, but I believe that small business owners and startup founders — especially those making their first few outside hires — must approach hiring differently:

Related: 4 Strategies for Hiring the Right People at Your Startup

Accomplishments and learning are more important than specific skills. Small, up-and-coming companies are moving fast, and your team members must be ready for the race. Failing fast is fine, but only if you can learn fast, too — soaking in key learnings and applying them to the next endeavor. Most importantly, people who have made something important happen elsewhere are likely to do it again. I like to ask two key questions during the interview process. The answers tell me a lot:

  1. Tell me about the achievement you are most proud of something that would not have happened without you (and why).

  2. Tell me about the time in your career when you learned the most (and why).

How the person defines success, the specific actions the person took, their emotional reactions to the situation and the ways they interacted with others at the time tell a really important story. It's the story of, "How it looks when I'm most impactful" and "Here's how I learn and share that learning." Parts of the story will also offer important clues to how the person might fit in with your crew.

In your interview, explore these questions with your team in mind. Think, Would that type of success have happened in my shop? Is this person going to make my team better? How?

If the person has no answer, that says a lot about their initiative and willingness to take a calculated risk. What are the chances that your business will be the first place they've ever accomplished anything they are proud of?

Related: The Key to a Truly Successful Hiring Process

Take a test drive

Before committing to bringing someone on full-time, it's important to make sure you understand exactly how the new hire would impact your company and your team. And that individual would appreciate gaining a clearer sense of what the job really entails, too. So, you'll both likely benefit from a trial run.

Just as testing and iterating are important when creating and launching products, so, too, are they useful in launching a newcomer's journey within your organization. One way to do this is to bring the candidate on as a consultant before making the commitment to full-time work; a good trial period is 30 to 90 days.

Also, assign the potential new hire to a specific project that requires interaction with other team members and one that may have time constraints or other barriers to success. How do they complement your existing team? That will give you a better gauge as to whether they're the right fit for your company and vice versa.

Related: So, That Candidate Seems the Right Fit For the Job. But Is the Job Right for Him/Her?

Prepare the others

Some of your core team have likely been with you from the beginning, so adding newcomers to the mix can be daunting. If you choose well and hire a multifaceted individual who brings new perspectives to the mix, that "healthy friction" can challenge assumptions and generate new energy that reinvigorates the team.

But don't blindside them. Let them know why you're adding a new person to fill the gaps, and tell them what you see as potential leverage coming from that person. You want the new person to fit in, not because they have the same background or expertise, but because your existing team respects that they bring something new to the table. Ultimately, it's the differences that will make your team and business stronger.

By hiring first and foremost for accomplishment in a team context, you will be more prepared to instill innovation and creative problem-solving into your decision-making process. Spice up your workforce with some unconventional hires, and you may uncover the spark needed for your company to evolve.

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