5 Tips For Hiring Your Startup’s First Employee

Life as a startup Founder is full of milestones. Some are more memorable than others but there’s one that always stands out, it’s making your first hire.

Hopefully, it’ll be memorable for all the right reasons; hiring someone who lives and breathes your company’s mission and is willing to work tirelessly to succeed. However, sometimes, it’s the opposite and this can quickly lead to problems in your startup.

Here are 5 tips to help you make a great first hire.

Define the role

One of the biggest mistakes I see startup Founders make when making their first hire is not taking the time to define the role and responsibilities.

This approach always leads to problems. Without clear responsibilities, you won’t know what skills, experience and competencies you’re looking for. If you do make a hire, it’ll be an uncertain role where the employee resorts to doing whatever the Founder asks, rather than working autonomously.

Without clear responsibilities, you also won’t have a way of evaluating performance and how effective the employee is in their role.

Take the time to define exactly what you’re looking for and your search for your first hire will be off to a good start.

Learn how to interview

It’s no surprise that many first-time startup founders, often having never hired anyone before, don’t do a great job interviewing candidates.

The biggest mistake most people make is interviewing based on opinions and views rather than competencies and experiences.

Shared values and opinions are important. You’ll be working really closely with your first employee and so it’s important you both get on well at a personal level but this shouldn’t be the only basis for your hiring decision.

Most importantly, you need to hire for competency. This means evaluating candidates based on what they’ve done in the past and using that as the leading indicator for what they’ll do when in a similar situation, working for you, in the future.

The key is to ask questions which are relevant to situations the candidate will find themselves in while working for your startup.

Always make sure you’re asking the same competency based questions during the interview so you can directly compare one candidate to another. Feel free to ask follow up questions to really get to the detail.

I’ll write a full post on this interview technique in the future but feel free to get in touch directly if you have any immediate questions about it.

Take your time

It’s easy to rush your first hire. You find someone you think could probably do the role and hire them quickly only to soon find out they’re just not a good fit.

‘Hire Slow, Fire Fast, as the adage goes. In the startup community, you’ll often hear the story of how Airbnb took 5-months of careful searching to hire their first employee.

If you need to hire, make it a priority but don’t make a rushed decision. It’s important to meet as many candidates as possible and, if someone really believes in your startup, they’ll likely hold off on other offers until you’ve made your hiring decision.

Hire for strengths, not lack of weaknesses

Hiring for strengths is really important when hiring for any role at a startup, but none more so than when hiring your first employee. It’s easy to find someone with very few weaknesses and think they’re a great hire, only to discover they’re not particularly great at anything and struggle to deliver when in the role.

A better way is to identify and acknowledge weaknesses in your candidates but base your hiring decision on their strengths. If your strengths can cover their weaknesses and vice versa you’ll make a good team.

Avoid bad personality traits

The pressures of working in an early stage startup act as an amplifier for bad personality traits so you need to avoid them at all costs. If a candidate hints they may be overly entitled, a poor communicator, uncomfortable with change, generally negative or untrustworthy you should quickly move on to the next candidate.

There’s no room for any negative personality traits when hiring your first employee, make sure sure you identify them early on to save yourself the headache later.

Bonus tip: Anything other than a yes is a no.

Hiring your first employee is a difficult hire that’s vital to your startups success. As a general rule, if you’re not 100% on hiring someone, don’t hire them. It’s better to wait for a candidate you feel is a great fit, rather rushing with someone you’re unsure on.

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At Hired By Startups, we help startups, scale-ups and VC backed companies hire really talented people and build teams that are more engaged and productive. Our fixed cost Hiring on Demand and Onsite Hiring Partner solutions enable startups to see the benefits of having their own internal recruiter, with the flexibility of using an agency.

We’ve helped some of the UK’s best known and fastest growing startups scale their teams whilst saving 50% on their cost and time per hire. If you’re a startup looking to scale rapidly, get in touch to find out how we could help! For more info, check out us out here.

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About the author 

Tom Ladds

Hi, I’m Tom – Founder & CEO at Hired By Startups. You can connect with me on LinkedIn here.

Hiring Tips