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Hiring New Employees: A How-To Guide for Small-Business Owners

Feb 01, 2021

Confident male designer working on a digital tablet in red creative office spaceHiring new employees when you're a small-business owner feels personal. Your business is your "baby," and you're not about to entrust it to just anyone.

Spoiler alert: Nor should you. 

Yet even as you stay selective, it pays to put your own best foot forward. Why? So you can attract the right candidates—the ones who will enhance your team and help you grow your business. 

My entrepreneurial dad once told me, "Set yourself up for success." When it comes to recruiting, interviewing and hiring, here are a few guidelines, how-tos and pitfalls to avoid—all meant to help you set yourself (and your future employees) up for success.

How to write a job posting that attracts the right people—your people

Step 1: Be ruthlessly honest about who your people are

Identify in writing, "Our people are ... (hungry, humble, self-driven, etc.)."

Not sure how to start? Take a sheet of paper and fold it in half lengthwise. At the top of the left column, write "Our people are NOT ..." and fill in with whatever comes to mind (e.g., "Our people are not passive, entitled, victims, dabblers, academics, etc.").

Once you have your list, use the right column to write down who your people are, by contrast. For example, if you wrote down passive, maybe your ideal candidates show initiative. If you wrote down dabblers, maybe your people are focused and career-minded.

Incidentally, this method works well for anyone discerning a new career—especially college students. In all my years as a university career counselor, I met a lot of students who didnot know what they wanted—but every single one of them knew what they didn't want. 

Step 2: Write your post to your ideal candidate

"We love that you’re interested in a career with Southwest Airlines!" — opening line on the Southwest career page

Ever notice how most job postings are written in the third person ("Candidates must have 5 years' experience and be willing to ...")? It's like being spoken to by someone who doesn't make eye contact.

By contrast, when you write in the second person singular, you draw the reader in and create a connection. 

Step 3: Give your post a reality check

For example: 

  • Do your expectations line up with the opportunity being offered?
  • Will your post and where you share it give you a diverse candidate pool?
  • Is the job posting free from typos, poor grammar and other mistakes? 
  • Based on the tone, would your ideal candidate be interested in applying?

That last one may be subjective, but it's important. How many job postings have you read that sounded more threatening than inviting—as if to say, "You're not going to like it here!" 

Do the opposite. Tell the reader in a credible way why he or she will be proud to work at your company. Let the potential candidate get a glimpse of your culture and personality. If you do; that is, if you take a more constructive, upbeat approach, both your company and your job posting will stand out. 

Screening resumes: a systematic approach

Because most resumes today are screened by applicant tracking systems (ATS), we won't spend a lot of time on this one. The point is, whether you're screening resumes or candidates you've decided to interview, identify in advance the deal-breakers in either category.

You can always add to this list, but if you wait until you're already in the throes of the search—resume-reviewing or interviewing—it may be too late. Your judgment will already be influenced. 

Examples of resume deal-breakers:

  • No customization or indication of the position being applied for
  • Too much information, especially if it's concerning or controversial
  • Typos, misspellings or other distractions
  • Anything that makes you question the candidate's judgment

Examples of interview deal-breakers:

  • Badmouthing a former employer
  • Foul language
  • Showing up late—how they show up for the interview is how they'll show up for client meetings, internal meetings, or their next business flight 
  • Showing up unprepared ("No, I don't have any questions" is never a good sign)

How to conduct a job interview

Step 1: Review your interview questions

Given how much our world has been turned upside down, now might be a good time to review your interview questions. Will the questions you have been using help you evaluate candidates in terms of what you most need from them today? 

For example, a friend of mine in the nonprofit world asks potential new hires, "What's the worst thing you've drawn from the pandemic? What's the best?"

Naturally, you can use your own language. The key is to get a sense of the candidate's resilience, regard for other people (empathy) and adaptability. When they talk about working from home, for example, do you sense initiative and resourcefulness? Or resignation and struggle?

Step 2: Set yourself and the candidates up for success

What would be helpful for candidates to know before the interview? Directions to your office? Where to park? Requirements for logging in to a video interview? The dress code?

Sharing this information up front shows empathy, professionalism and good will. It's another way to show your company is a good place to work. 

Moreover, every employer wants new hires with excellent communication skills. The best way to attract excellent communication skills is to model them at every turn, starting with the hiring process.  Do all the things before, during and after the interview that you expect from the candidate: showing up prepared, for example; showing up on time, and following up afterward. 

Step 3: Set the right tone (professional yet candid)

See the interview not so much as a time to sell or be sold. See it instead as an open, respectful dialogue whose goal is for you and the candidate to determine if you're a good fit. This alone will help you make a better, more confident hiring decision. It will also save you time, money and hassle in the long run. 

For more interview pointers, please see 11 Interview Red Flags No Manager Should Ignore

Before you make a job offer

By the time you've finished interviewing, you probably have a fairly good idea of which candidates were strongest. Before making an offer, consider calling the stronger candidates to get a better sense of their interest and enthusiasm. 

Enthusiasm: the great differentiator 

Is the candidate excited about the possibility of working for your company, or holding out for other offers? Again, better to find out now. 

Is the candidate excited about working for your company—or simply relieved to be getting a paycheck and health benefits? Nothing wrong with wanting to be compensated. But you want candidates who are on board with your mission, who are eager and prepared to help drive it forward. 

Having the pre-offer conversation

A friend of mine in the tech world frames the conversation like this: "We interviewed a lot of candidates, and some were stronger than others. You were in that stronger category. I also know you're looking at other offers. So I want to find out more about where we fit in with your plans, personally and professionally." 

You're not giving away your power—you're simply having another candid conversation, one that will help you make the best hiring decision. The right candidates will welcome such transparency. With less-than-ideal candidates, you're better off parting sooner than later.

Hire the kind of employees you want to have on your team for many years—the kind that will help your business grow and mature in ways you're both proud of.

P.S. Once you hire your new employees ...

Don't forget to give them an official warm welcome and positive start at your company. For details on how to make this happen, please see my earlier post, Employee Orientations: From Dreadful to Delightful in 3 Easy Steps

Questions on hiring new employees? 

For more hands-on assistance with hiring new employees, reach out to me today. Together, we'll determine how I can best help you, your team and your company. 


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