There’s a common mantra in the business world that you should hire slow and fire fast. The phrase is perfect and aligns with common sense: take your time to make the right decision. And if you’re wrong, cut your losses. Quickly!
Well, I agree with the latter part. If you have someone who isn’t the right fit, and you haven’t been able to help them assimilate to your organization’s way of doing business, you might need to let them go. I just hope that you do so humanely.
But I want to focus on the hiring process. In an ideal world, you wouldn’t need to fire quickly because you would, to paraphrase Jim Collins, only get the right people on the bus. In five years of running Modify, I’ve only had to let go of a few people. Here are our tips to make sure you hire the right people.
- Write an accurate job description. It’s easy to copy and paste from an old job description or from another company’s job description, but the reality is that a startup changes quickly; and of course, it’s different from the company down the street. Examine each bullet, and make sure it’s relevant to the role you are trying to fill.
- Put your job posting in the right places. For some roles, Craigslist is right. For others, maybe AngelList or LinkedIn. And for some, you’ll need to hire an executive recruiter to get the best results. Don’t spend time weeding through a bunch of candidates who aren’t a fit. As always, a targeted search is a more efficient one. Pro tip: It’s even better if you can get referrals from your team and network. All of these people want you to succeed, and the assumption is they’ll only introduce you to strong candidates they believe will fit your culture.
- Publish your core values. Make sure candidates know how your company operates. Help people say no to this opportunity. They should know how many hours you work per week, what the office vibe is like, and what type of decisions you value. As soon as possible, you want people who don’t fit your culture to stop applying or drop out of the process, and you want people who do fit your culture to be really excited about your company.
- Review candidates’ cover letters. You care deeply about your mission, and you only want to hire folks who do too. If the cover letter isn’t well-written and personal, buyer beware. Look for someone who takes time to understand your business and shares how they can help. Avoid the drive-by applicants.
- Give them homework. I recommend giving candidates a project that fits with the role — a resume can only tell you so much. The “homework” can take up to a day. Candidates who don’t take this step, or who do so in a haphazard way, probably aren’t as passionate about getting this role as you want and likely aren’t a good fit.
- Do a phone screening. If their homework checks out, talk with them on the phone and understand how they respond to failure and how they’ve grown over the years. Even a 30-minute call will help you determine if their decision-making process aligns with your company’s values. And continue to give them the option to say no to the job by sharing your “warts.” Candidates who are excited about the challenges you face are more likely to work out.
- Check references before the in-person interview. This may sound controversial, but I think you should reference check before the in-person interview. At this point, you aren’t too invested in the candidate, so if the checks don’t go well, you can halt the interview process (as you should). From the references, you can also identify what to press on during the interview.
- Interview for culture and competency. Train your interviewers and make sure everyone is well prepared. Each interview should have a specific purpose. I recommend one to two interviews focused on skill set (can they do the job?) and one or two focused on culture (are they a fit?). To truly interview for culture, you should have a set of well-defined values.
If you follow a thorough hiring process, you will build a strong team and likely won’t have to fire (slowly or quickly). Getting the right people on the bus will save you and the employee a lot of pain, while giving your business the best chance for success.
Aaron Schwartz is Founder and CEO at Modify Industries, Inc., which designs interchangeable custom watches known as Modify Watches. He loves working on startup ideas and has spent innumerable (happy) hours advising friends and former students on how to grow their ideas.
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