Hiring Your First Employees

Learn how to draw the best employees to your business when creating your startup team.

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By Brad Sugars

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My dad was a great source of business advice. One of the best pieces of advice he ever gave me was when I was 21 and in one of my first companies. I was struggling to find good employees at the time and told him so. His response floored me. "Brad, you get the people you deserve."

Blunt, straight to the point and--as always--correct. Put another way, this fact reveals the critical secret to hiring good people:

Great people are attracted to work for great leaders and great companies.

At the age of 21, I was an average manager at best--not what you'd call a leader. I had a lot to learn. But as I gained experience, I learned that the worst thing you can do is hire the best of a bad bunch, or put someone on staff simply because they're related to you or they happen to be available. To get the beset people, it's essential that you develop an insightful, deliberate and discriminating approach to finding and hiring employees, and then follow through on the process.

The system I came up with, and still use today, is a little different from most. It came about because I just didn't have the time to go through dozens of resumes and then interview six to 12 people on a shortlist. In fact, instead of a selection process, I consider my system a de-selection process--a way for people to take themselves out of the running, so I'm left with the best possible candidates from which to choose. Here's how it works.

When I list a position, I ask interested candidates to respond with a phone call. After a short screening conversation, the candidate is asked to send in his or her resume, after which I line up the ones who seem to have the full package for a group interview. The candidates are told that the interview will last three to four hours and will take place after 6 p.m.--another way to screen out any less-than-serious candidates.

The first half of the group interview consists of an informal presentation about my company. I relate its story, goals, vision, mission and culture. I make sure they know everything about our company as well as the position in question. And I mean everything--the good and the bad.

At halftime, we break for coffee. Before we do, however, I ask people who think the job and the company aren't right for them to leave. After the break, it's all about the candidates. I ask them to stand and give us (while it's just me at the start, I have my team with me for the second half) a quick summary of their background, followed by answers to three questions.

The first question is, "What are your three strongest attributes?" The second is, "What has been your biggest success?" And the third is, "Why do you feel you're suited to this company and this position?" For a junior position, the questions may be enough; for more senior posts, I may follow with profiling or activities to learn more. After consulting my team for feedback, I ask the top three or four candidates to come back for one-on-one interviews.

The best part of the process is, not only do I see how each person answers my questions, but I also find out how they react to answers from other individuals. Compared to the conventional hiring process, where after 12 or so interviews it's difficult to remember the first person I met, I find this process to be far more efficient and effective.

In making my final decision, I believe it comes down to maximizing three personal qualities:

  • Mind: Give preference to candidates with training, intellect and experience.
  • Heart: Passion is essential because while it's tough to motivate people, you can hire people who are motivated by your vision and by what you're doing.
  • Spirit: Find a person with the attitude and desire to work hard.

There you have it. Though hiring great people will cost a young company little more at the start, in the long run, those top-notch employees will make you a lot more than you invested.

Brad Sugars

Brad Sugars is the founder and chairman of ActionCOACH. As an entrepreneur, author and business coach, he has owned and operated more than two dozen companies including his main company, ActionCOACH, which has more than 1,000 offices in 34 countries.

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