Hiring Employee #1

It’s a big decision to make your first hire, because what you’re really deciding is whether you want to keep a lifestyle business or attempt to “cross the chasm” and maybe even get rich.

Assuming you really are in the market for another pair of hands to screw stuff up worse than you already are, the question is how to acquire resumes, how to pare them down, and how to identify someone who is going to work well in your company.

There’s already a lot of great advice about hiring at little startups. Before I give you mine, here are some of my favorite articles, in no particular order:

I’m not going rehash those or attempt a “complete guide to hiring.”

But I do have some fresh advice you might not have seen before:

Hire “startup-minded” people

If a person just left IBM, is she a good fit for your startup?

If she left because she couldn’t stand the crushing bureaucracy, the tolerance of incompetence, and the lack of any visibility into what customers actually wanted, then she sounds like a person ready for a startup.

Or therapy.

On the other hand, if during the interview she asks how often you do performance reviews, that means she doesn’t understand the startup culture.  If she says “I thrive in environments with clear requirements, written expectations, and defined processes,” run away as fast as your little legs can carry you. (Sorry, too many recent readings of Tikki Tikki Tembo.)

Startups are chaotic, rules change, and there is no “job description.” It’s better to make a strong decision that turns out wrong, and admit it, than to plan ahead or wait for instructions. Potential earnings (e.g. stock, performance bonuses) are preferred to guaranteed earnings (e.g. salary, benefits).

You already live by this Code of Turmoil because you’re the entrepreneur; you have no choice. But normal people do have a choice and most people abhor chaos. Big companies don’t behave this way, and most people are accustomed to working for big companies.

You have to hire someone comfy with the bedlam of startup life.

Write a crazy job description

You’re not just hiring any old programmer or salesman, you’re hiring employee #1. This person helps set the culture of the company. This person has to mesh with your personality 100%. You’re going to be putting in long hours together — if they don’t get your jokes, it’s not going to work.

So why wait until the interview to see whether your personalities mesh? Put it right in the job description.

Be funny, reflect your personality, reflect the uniqueness of your company. See the jobs page at WP Engine for a bunch of examples — everything from detailing our culture (“Being transparent about our strengths and weaknesses wins us sales”) to attitude on writing awesome code (“You think using a profiler is fun, like a treasure hunt”) to treating customers (“Whether or not you sleep at night is directly proportional to whether you’ve made something thrilled or pissed off that day”).

You should see the results in the cover letters. If after a job posting like that the person is still sending the generic bullshit cover letter, you know they’re not for you. If they respond in kind, good sign.

And anyway, one day you actually might need them to change those pellets, and then you’ve got it in writing!

Do not use a recruiter

On young startups using recruiters, Bryan Menell sums it up nicely:

“If you find yourself wanting to hire a recruiter, hit yourself in the head with a frying pan until the feeling goes away.”

You need to hire an absolute superstar, and recruiters are not in the business of helping you find superstars.

In fact, their incentives are exactly opposite yours. Here’s why.

Recruiters are like real estate salesmen: They make money when you hire someone. They make the same amount of money whether it takes you four days or four months to find that someone. So every day that passes, every additional resume you request, every additional interview you set up, the recruiter is making less and less money per hour.

In fact, there’s a floor that the recruiter can’t go below, so the more you take your time to find the right person the more they’ll push you to settle for someone you’ve already rejected.

The exception is a recruiter who works by the hour rather than for a hiring bounty. These are hard to find but they do exist.  I’ve had luck only in this case.

Resumes are (mostly) useless

Think about your own resume. Is there anything on there that qualifies you to run your own company? Not just “experience” generically but really relevant knowledge? I’ll bet there’s very little. But it doesn’t matter, right?

Right, so it doesn’t matter with your first few employees either.

Resumes are useful only as talking points. That is, when you have a candidate on the phone, you can use the resume to ask about previous experience, test their knowledge of technologies they claim to have, etc. Resumes are conversation-starters, but they imply nothing about whether the person is right for you.

One particularly useful trick with resumes is to dig deep on a detail. Pick the weirdest technology in the list, or pick on one bullet point they listed two jobs ago that seems a little odd to you. Then go deep. Don’t let them say “It’s been a while” — if they can’t talk about it, how can they claim it’s experience they’re bringing along?

Writing skills are required

I don’t care if this person is going to spend 60 hours a week writing inscrutable code that only a Ruby interpreter could love. I don’t care if the job description is “sit in that corner and work multi-variate differential equations.” Everyone has to be able to communicate clearly.

In a modern startup everyone will be writing blog entries, twittering, facebooking, and God only knows what the hell other new Goddamn technology is coming next. But whatever it is you can bet it will require good communication skills.

In a small startup there’s no layer separating employees from customers. Everyone talks to everyone. You can’t have your company represented by someone who can’t be trusted with a customer. In fact, everyone needs to be able to not just talk to customers, but even sell them. Remember, tech support is sales!

In a small startup everyone has to understand each other’s nuances. There’s enough crap you’re having to figure out without also having to decipher an email. There’s enough about your business you don’t understand without having to understand garbage sentence fragments in a README file.

Therefore, some part of the interview process has to include free-form writing. In fact, there’s a particularly useful time for that….

Screen candidates with mini-essay questions

When you post a job listing — especially on large-scale sites like Monster or Craig’s List — expect a torrent of resumes. It’s not unusual to get 100 in a day. You need a time-efficient system for winnowing them down to a small handful worthy of an interview.

Screening resumes is not an option, because resumes are useless. Besides, you don’t have time to read hundreds of resumes.

Instead, prepare an email template that asks the applicant to write a few paragraphs on a few topics. For example:

Thanks for sending us your resume. The next step in our hiring process is for you to write a few paragraphs on each of the following topics. Please reply to this email address with your response:

  1. Why do you want to work at [company]?
  2. Describe a situation in your work-life where you failed.
  3. Describe a time when you accomplished something you thought was impossible. (Can be work-related or personal)

Thanks for your interest in [company] and I hope to hear from you soon.

Here’s what happens: First, most people never respond. Good riddance! Second, you’ll get lazy-ass responses like “I want to work at your company because I saw you are hiring” and ludicrous answers like “I have never failed at anything.”

Resist the temptation to reply with, “You just did.” That’s what assholes do.

Maybe 10% of the respondents will actually answer the questions, and you’ll know in two minutes whether this person can communicate and, yes, even whether they seem fun, intelligent, or interesting.

One exception to this rule: If the cover-letter is truly wonderful, that’s a rare, great sign and you can probably skip right to the phone interview.

Always be hiring

The rule of thumb is that it takes 3-6 months to hire a really good person. Why so long?

  • Good people are rare, so it takes a while to dig them up. Like truffles. Or weeds.
  • Good people won’t change jobs more often than once a year — probably more like every 3-4 years, especially if their employer appreciates their abilities and compensates them accordingly. So you have to find this person in their “once every three years” window.
  • Good people gets lots of good job offers (yes, even in this economy) so when you do find one and give them the writing test and then the phone interview and then the in-person interview and then discuss compensation and then provide a formal written offer… there’s a good chance they just accepted an awesome offer somewhere else. (This happened to me all the time at Smart Bear. It’s happening now at WP Engine.)

This means if you start hiring when you really need someone, that’s too late. You’ll be “in need” for months.

This means you need to be hiring constantly.

So how do you “hire constantly” without being drowned in resumes and interviews? The answer comes from another attribute of good people:

  • Good people choose where they want to work, not vice versa. They hear about a cool company, and when they’re interested in new work, they call you.

Your company has to be a place good people will seek, not where you have to go fishing. How do you manage that, especially when you’re small? Ideas:

  • Develop your blog/Twitter so you have a steady stream of eyeballs from people who like you.
  • Attend local meet-ups and user groups. Meet the woman who runs the group — she knows everyone worth knowing.
  • Sponsor a meet-up at your office. Don’t have an office? Co-sponsor with someone who does, like another company or a co-working place. (OtherInbox is a great example of this; they sponsor the monthly Austin on Rails user group and the annual Lone Star Ruby Conference, and as a result all the best Ruby developers in Austin already want to work for OtherInbox.)
  • Ask your friends for resumes of people they didn’t hire but who they liked. That is, people who are good but just weren’t a fit for that company.
  • Try to get your “Jobs” page to rank well in local-only search. So e.g. “java programmer job in austin tx,” not something impossible like “java programmer.”
  • Take everyone you know to lunch periodically and ask if they know of a candidate. Yes you can ask them by email but often being in-person brings out more information. Or maybe one of them will be interested himself. (That’s happened to me a few times.)

Don’t be trapped by what you think hiring “should” be

You’re hiring a friend, a trusted partner, someone you’ll be spending 10 hours a day with for the foreseeable future.

You’re not hiring a Systems Engineer III for IBM or a Senior Regional Sales Manager for Dell. The “rules” of HR don’t apply to you (except the law).

Think of it more like getting married than hiring an underling.

Going with your gut is not wrong.

Do you have more tips for hiring? Leave a comment and let’s keep this going!

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  • http://www.famigogames.com Matt

    Jason,

    Great post and timely advice, especially since we should always be hiring.

    Have you had any luck with specific job boards? 37 Signals, Crunchboard, Startuply, etc? Are they worth the price of posting?

    Thanks,
    Matt

    • http://www.dennisgorelik.com Dennis Gorelik

      postjobfree.com

    • http://blog.asmartbear.com Jason

      I don’t have much experience with those particular job boards. I think it will depend on what position you’re hiring for and whether recruiters have gotten control of the board.

      Some of them have a money-back guarantee or are cheap, so it’s worth trying at least once.

      This would be a good question for http://answers.onstartups.com — people there might know.

  • Anonymous

    Good people also don’t have time to take tests, or really don’t care. Every job I’ve applied for I get an offer 90% of the time. I also get recruiters, HR reps, and the CEO’s themselves emailing me 5-7 times a month. If anyone asks me to take a “personality” test, or a some form of radio-element question form, I hang up.

    I find tests to be lame and a waste of my time, if you want to know if I can write then ask me up front for a piece of writing rather than trying to hide it with irritating questions about if I’ve failed at anything in life. If you want to learn about my personality and goals in life, lets have a coffee or meet me in person.

    At the end of the day, having all these filters and questionnaires will deter the “good” people.

    • http://blog.asmartbear.com Jason

      Unfortunately, we don’t have time to take everyone out to coffee.

      You might be confusing general recruiting with hiring from your own network.

      Of course when you already know the person is good because the reference came from someone you trust, you wouldn’t do these things! It’s insulting and weird.

      But if you’re trying to get through 100s of resumes, and when you know nothing about each person, you don’t have a choice.

      Finally, you are of course correct that some good people — like you I suppose — will be filtered out. But it doesn’t matter if you’re filtered out, because it doesn’t hurt your business to not hire a good person, it only hurts if you do hire a bad person.

      • Anonymous

        I agree with you on some points, but lets think of it from the a “good” person’s perspective. In fact, let’s do it from the “really really good” person’s perspective. The really really good person is interviewing with multiple companies, and unless one company is unique he’s not going to bother doing all these tests, or putting more effort than needed. It all depends on what you want, good or really really good?

        Last month I’ve interviewed with 8 companies. The companies that had an old school corporate appeal, gray cubicles, florescent lights, performance tests, personality tests, men in suites, I dropped instantly from my short list.

        Eventually I decided to start my own business, and instead of doing work for one company, I now do work for multiple companies, in my own nicely designed zen office, that attracts like minded people. But to get back on point, if you want good people, sure, a questionnaire may filter out some, but if you want really really good people, industry leaders, then a questionnaire may not be worth their time.

        • http://blog.asmartbear.com Jason

          Agreed. Although it sounds like you’re built to be an entrepreneur and not an employee at all, no?

          Also, if you’re hiring an “industry leader,” then it’s not an anonymous resume submission, so this again wouldn’t apply.

        • Donald

          if someone do not have time/interest in answering some brief questions (e.g. the email questions above, i am not talking about a 30 min questionaire), that person cannot be particular interested in working at the company to start with (e.g. just looking for “any” job), so is probably not the right person anyway.

          Keep in mind that this hiring processes is about getting someone for a startup company, hence different rules applies as for the startup process for, lets say IBM.

        • http://www.ricardodsanchez.com Ricardo

          @Anonymous,

          I disagree with you by the single fact that you are one of those people who usually disagree with a blog but never shows their identity.

          The example test above is something that any “good” person will be willing to do if they are interested in the company. This is a good idea, unless of course the company hiring “already” know that this candidate is a good person – then the test is not needed at all.
          .-= Ricardo’s latest blog post: Restoring your computer with Windows Home Server =-.

  • http://www.eco-diamond.com Jason

    Nice article. Your screening process sounds like a good way to separate serious candidates from those just trying to land an easy “job”, rather than make an active contribution to a start-up company. Thanks for the ideas!

    • http://www.eco-diamond.com Jason

      “Every job I’ve applied for I get an offer 90% of the time.”

      Sorry can’t resist:

      “60% of the time, it works every time.” – Anchorman

  • http://www.RegScheepers.com Reg

    Great post. Really helpful to me specifically because I haven’t hired anyone yet but am needing to do so soon.

    I need a P.A. too. I’m thinking of hiring a really sexy girl cause I’m unmarried, so why not kill two birds with one stone right? lol

    • http://www.RegScheepers.com Reg

      By the way, have you hired a P.A. and does that follow the same guidelines as mentioned above?
      .-= Reg’s latest blog post: Guarding Your Frame of Reference =-.

      • http://blog.asmartbear.com Jason

        I have hired a PA of sorts, and have had great luck outsourcing that to other small startups. That way you get a super-efficient, smart, entrepreneur-type person who is actually worth the $30/hour because they can do 5x the activity with 100x the quality than a $12/hour full-time person.

  • DForce

    Your article is good. However, there are a few points with which I disaggree:

    1. Hiring employees HELPS you run a lifestyle company. Without employees (that is, without delegating) you will have to run long, long, long hours – which will destroy your lifestyle.

    So, I wouldn’t conceive a lifestyle company without employees?

    2. Having to work 10 hours a day a sign you are NOT delegating properly. You should look into it – what forces you to work 10 hours a day?

    I am currently running a lifestyle company with 1 associate and 2 employees. The employees work 8 hours a day, period.

    I and my associate work 8 hours a day, 3 days a week, and I personally make 170 K USD per year – a figure which is ever increasing.

    • http://blog.asmartbear.com Jason

      Great stuff, thanks for the counter-point.

      I think it might depend on what you mean by “lifestyle.” For what you describe, that’s great. I meant “Small business with less than $200k/year total revenue,” in which case having employees requires you to make a lot more revenue to cover costs.

      Remember, this is full-time employees, not contractors. Contractors are a completely different story.

      But I agree I should have been more clear, especially since I also agree my conception of “lifestyle” is not necessarily a good general definition!

      Finally, on the 10 hours/day, I think you’re right a lot of the time, but sometimes running a small business does just take a lot of time.

  • Georges

    Good tips. FWIW, Ruby is an interpreted language so it’s unlikly that a compiler will be involved, more like a run-time interpretor :p

  • http://findlocalparttimejobs.com Find Local Part Time Jobs

    Finding a good job can be pretty troublesome. Especially when you have high expectations.

    Here are some tips that helped me land the job of my dreams:

    * Plan out your CV, if you’ve never done a CV before, this is the time to learn.
    * Take into consideration what skills do you have. You may have more choices if you consider additional job titles.
    * Look for jobs in every possible source : internet, newspaper, radio and other media. Ask your friends that have similar jobs if there may be an opening in their company.
    * Don’t just send the resume by email and wait for an answer. You need to call them and have them confirm the job opening and receiving your resume.

    Finding a job is pretty much a job in itself and it’s all about how well can you market your abilities.

  • http://www.redcort.com/timeclock/ Keith DeLong

    Your essay questions when using CraigsList is spot on. We ran a traditional employment ad on Craigslist this past spring when we started looking to fill a Customer Service position at our software company. I was deluged with hundreds of unqualified applicants. Realizing we needed to screen applicants, I placed another employment ad that included a clear ‘how to apply’ format with 6 questions. It also clearly stated that we would only accept applications that followed the required (rather simple) format.

    Applicants for the position dropped from hundreds to dozens. Even at that, more than half failed to follow the simple application requirements. The ad proved to be a great filter that saved us a ton of time and introduced us to several really interesting candidates.

    • http://www.salespeople.co.za Lizzie | Sales People

      Brilliant way of going about things, Keith. I like the way you think. I definitely will keep this trick in mind for future use when looking for candidates, myself. LOL!!!

  • http://www.mishymash.com Michelle

    Great post! Being a start-up junkie, it really resonates.

    Interested to hear your thoughts about tips for recruiting “quality” interns? (ie. people who often don’t have any relevant work experience).

  • http://www.genotrope.com tom summit

    Your advice on hiring recruiters is not very good. Too general to be useful. Sure, recruiting does not have a stellar rep and it is easy to pan the industry as a whole, but there are useless startup pundits as well.
    yes, I am a recruiter, so grain of salt.

    The worst comment is about hiring a recruiter that works on an hourly basis. Would the best 10x quality hacker work on an hourly basis? No they would not. Neither will the great recruiters.
    Remember, on a contingency basis, you don’t have to hire from a recruiter, you just have to beat their best candidate. It is all about candidate flow, and using all resources available is not a bad way to go. Like anything else, get referred to the great recruiter through your network.

    I know of many start ups that hired the majority of their core team from recruiters are are successful because of it.
    If your comment was specifically targeted to hiring a co-founder, then I agree, that will be best done, “organically” through your personal networks.

    • http://blog.asmartbear.com Jason

      In my opinion, employee #1 is essentially a co-founder. No, not in spirit, and there are real differences, etc.. But from a hiring point of view, yes.

      Note the title of this article. I’m not saying that employees #2-100 are the same! Employee #1 is special, as you say in your final paragraph.

      To answer your question about a 10x quality hacker working on an hourly basis — Yes of course they do! Of course there are expensive consultants that completely kick ass and who don’t want to work full-time at a company!

      In fact, I routinely use an hourly recruiter, which demonstrates (1) I don’t hate recruiters, and (2) you’ve just insulted a great recruiter!

      • http://www.genotrope.com tom summit

        Sorry, didn’t clearly make my point. I was just trying to say that someone that is really good at what they do, will not work for less than their market rate. So if you are saying you pay the 10x dev 10 times more than the avg dev, then ok.

        I am not clear how, paying someone whether they are successful or not is better alignment of incentive than paying for performance. It seems that the incentive is to prolong the search when paid by the hour.

        I like the way you turn it around and say that I am insulting your hourly recruiter, when you pretty much say that it is better to self inflict pain than hire a recruiter. ;-)

  • http://www.yigdigs.com Andy Salo

    Hi Jason,
    You seem to be catching a little more flak for your post than usual! I agreed with you until your last comment response. (you had me at hello, and lost me at co-founder…)

    1) To me, either this person is either a co-founder or not a co-founder.

    2) After founders, I don’t think I would distinguish much between employee 1-10. Those first few are all really, really important. IMO employee number 4 is just as special as employee number 1 in most situations because the team is so small and everyone needs to wear many hats. Not just employee #1.

    3) After approximately 10, I agree the process would be treated a little differently.

    I agree about not using a recruiter for the first few. No need to cater to the recruiters in the audience. :)

    • http://blog.asmartbear.com Jason

      I agree with the assertion that #2-10 is the same as #1 from a hiring point of view. It’s easier to recover from a bad hire when it’s #9, but you’re right that the process, mindset, and importance isn’t different.

      I’m not catering to recruiters. I really do use an hourly-basis recruiter here in Austin.

  • http://www.chinawholesale2008.com supra shoes

    We ran a traditional employment ad on Craigslist this past spring when we started looking to fill a Customer Service position at our software company. I was deluged with hundreds of unqualified applicants. Realizing we needed to screen applicants, I placed another employment ad that included a clear ‘how to apply’ format with 6 questions.

  • http://www.voguejeans.com True Religion jeans

    I am not clear how, paying someone whether they are successful or not is better alignment of incentive than paying for performance. It seems that the incentive is to prolong the search when paid by the hour.

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  • http://thedreaminaction.com Ryan Graves

    Wow-
    Really solid man. Sorry it took me so long to read this!

    Can’t wait to be in a position to use this.

    -RG
    .-= Ryan Graves’s latest blog post: The new way to fundraise, and avoid the man =-.

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  • http://qapacity.com Ina

    An enjoyable and useful read, as usual, Jason:)

    I don’t know about the mini-essays, though. Many people are great in person and they can open up in a relaxed conversation, but when you make them write an essay you send them back to school, back to their traumas: ) And many of them, out of what I call “the fear of the essay” start writing this things that have nothing to do with what you asked from them in the firstplace.

    • http://blog.asmartbear.com Jason

      Point taken! Perhaps that point needs to be coupled with the assumption that “everyone at the company will have to write to people outside the company.”

      If that’s true, and the person is scared of a few paragraphs, than I would still assert that’s a problem. But if that assumption is false, I see just what you mean.

      • http://qapacity.com Ina

        I see what you mean and I agree that people should be able to write:) It’s just the type of writing, the style it requires and the position the writer puts him(her)self into while writing a short essay that I don’t trust for a job interview.

        But that’s just me:)

      • http://twitter.com/tim_ph Tim Pham

        Or offer them another way to express themselves, like a pseudo-code as an answer to your question.

        I used to write short, to-the-point sentences. Reading a lots of half-page paragraphs about nothing in newspaper drives me nut.

  • http://rayofgoodhope.blogspot.com/ Abhisek Bhowmik

    I want to join interesting startups.How can I find those companies?

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  • http://socialfabric.co.uk neil noakes

    enjoyed the post. thought you’d enjoy this example of a job ad found on flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/28554048@N04/2860889931/sizes/o//

    • http://www.ioanalazarov.com Ioana

      What a great way to advertise a job! I was actually cracking up reading it. Thanks for sharing! :0)

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  • http://www.ZukoLabs.com Yuri Kostun

    Hi Jason!

    I’m a Recruiter so I should get it out there! An hourly recruiter has as much chance of drawing out their time as a retained recruiter does of looking at their watch while you’re talking – a good one. I’m glad you’ve found a great contract resource since there are great contractors in recruiting just like in most other things these days. I was listening to the podcast on your site from August – good stuff! I think there are recruiters out there, just like coder/entrepreneurs, who want to do the right thing and are excited to be doing their jobs. I call it “good business equals good business” in my head! I guess you’re writing about retained firms. I’m not much on retained searches, but as a contingency recruiter I think building teams is where the fun can be had! Sure, it’s an awesome responsibility to help hire the #2. Successful recruiters understand there is a trust between ourselves and our clients. Pragmatically, we also have the incentive that company growth should grow our own business. It’s in our own self interest to get the hire correct!

    Thanks for the thread and articles mentioned. Definitely something I’ll be checking out!

    Yuri

    • http://blog.asmartbear.com Jason

      I agree that an hourly agent can draw out hours, just as fixed-price tries to reduce them. However the former is controllable — you can just stop if you don’t like what’s happening. Of course the latter is controllable too — you can just stop and you don’t owe a dime — but since in either case you can stop if you don’t like what’s happening, the incentives of the former still seem better. But good point.

      Also I completely agree that there are great recruiters of all types and that there are positive incentives to place the right person so you get the business automatically the next time around (plus referrals).

      However, the same is true for lots of similar professions — real estate agents for example, both commercial and residential, both buyer-side and seller-side — and the biases there are well documented. I admit I’ve also had some bad experiences.

      Having said that, my feeling is that with small-time recruiters you’re probably in good hands as you say, whereas with big “head hunter agencies” I do stand firm that those are a rip-off for startups — I’ve experienced that myself on both sides of the transaction and other founders have said the same unanimously.

      So maybe the bottom line is the same as with most anything — there’s a lot of posers out there, but if you hook up with the right person it’s insanely valuable. Hopefully anyone reading this will recognize that you (and the other recruiters posting here) are probably in the “valuable” category just by virtue of your thoughtfulness!

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  • http://stevecheney.posterous.com/ steve cheney

    Great post

  • Anonymous

    Good Post please let me know what you think of my blog which also focuses on startups and other web 2.0 matters: legendarymoves.com

  • Andy Hairgrove

    Good writers are among the nation’s scarcest resources, so I second your point about requiring candidates to write. Don’t fall for a well written cover letter. For all you know, they have a great editor for a spouse. Or, it may have been well written but they labored over it for a week. You need people that can communicate effectively, professionally, and quickly. 

    Things to look for when evaluating someone’s writing ability: creativity, organization, and a strong finish. All three of  which are also critical attributes of the perfect start up employee. 

  • http://twitter.com/teds027 Ted Sindzinski

    Really really good comments here especially around communication. Talented people are often so far behind the scenes that they don’t get pushed on interactions… won’t fly on a small team or as hire #1.

    I’d also reiterate the importance of finding transparency from both sides. Whether I’ve hired for a small team or a big one, there’s always been realities to the particular culture that someone has fit with — will they walk in at 9 or noon, do they really turn their cellphone off on vacation, are you going to insist on business casual or casual casual.

    Sometimes you have to pass up on a great candidate because they won’t survive in your work style and of course the opposite is even more true.

    If you can move past the sales pitch and get the person to talk about what they do and what they want, you’ve got a much stronger chance of finding a match. After all, everyone has their own approach — you may not want a “lifer” over a shorter-term “doer” right now. Resumes are built to spin us all back to a medium, the big trick is to get to the underlying personality and skillset out of those who are qualified to see who is exceptional for your role.

  • Anonymous

    All good points. As an addendum, Robert Sutton’s blog (http://bobsutton.typepad.com/) and most of his books are a gold mine, especially the chapters in “Weird Ideas That Work: 11 1/2 Practices for Promoting, Managing, and Sustaining Innovation” that cover hiring and constantly learning about your market and competitors via candidates applying for a role with your startup/ company.

  • Hartbro155

    great article! but one minor usage mistake:

    *pair them down* should be “pare them down”

    http://www.thefreedictionary.com/pare+down

    • http://blog.asmartbear.com Jason Cohen

      Thanks! Fixed.

  • bs

    what a garbage.  ”startup-minded” means you can work long hours on a below market salary so the founders have a chance get getting rich.  most employee stock options don’t yield crap unless you’re the next Google or Facebook.  stop romanticizing “startup life” – it’s the biggest scam in the Silicon Valley.  If you truly want to hire a super star, you will pay the fair price.

    • http://blog.asmartbear.com Jason Cohen

      Who said anything about not paying a fair rate?


      Jason Cohen
      http://blog.ASmartBear.com
      @asmartbear

  • http://www.globalfibernet.com Kevin @globalfibernet

    Jason, great insight. My 2 bits on the essay or no essay question {as well as some of the others raised here} are; it depends. As hire number 1, everything depends on the fit as well as the goal. I’ve normally been a part of a small team. Recently I was brought on in a more ‘corporate’ level. Fit moves up the priority list as size shrinks. As a hire number one, you need to know that you can get along with this person. If you want to read an essay, then have them write an essay. If they shirk at this, they’re probably not going to be a good fit for you. Personally, having hired on small teams, I find being sure to devote at least an hour to the interview helps a great deal in determining ‘fit’.

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  • http://www.patrickortman.com patrickortman

    Just found you thanks to Sprouter- I’ll be diving deep into your blog, thanks for the holiday reading!

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  • M. Bonet

    Really interesting and useful post as we have been thinking about hiring someone for three months, and we think we just have found some tips.
    Thanks, we’ll be following your blog from now on.

    twt_ @NegociosRaros
    fcbk_ NegociosRaros Editorial

  • http://www.outsourcing-partners.com/hire-programmer.html John

    Excellent..info is pretty good..

  • John Kwan

     you’ll undoubtedly find a pair of
    http://www.cheapuggsok.net or
    http://www.cheapuggscat.com that suits you.

  • Tim

    Pretty slick, Jason – masquerading a help wanted ad as a blog post.  Nice! 

    Good content as always.  Thanks

    I hope you got the syrup…

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    These points are very valuable;le and useful to read. I gain much through them. I think i will refer these links to my friend who is in search o job and i am sure she also get benefit from them.

  • Anonymous

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  • http://www.247webdevelopers.com/ Aidenwilliams

    Great post. Really helpful to me specifically because I haven’t hired anyone yet but am needing to do so soon.

  • Nicole C

    Well said! We struggled to find the right person and agree that resumes are pretty much useless. We ended up using a company called creammetrics.com to filter people for us.  Best investment we’ve made in awhile. 

  • http://www.usefulanswers.info/ Laura @ Useful Answers

    When we were hiring for our business a few years back we were inundated with applications. It was amazing how many people at ridiculous email addresses on their resume. We got things like – idrinktomuch[at]……, ilovesex[at]….. Needless to say that they went straight on the no pile!!

    Thanks for the great advice!

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  • http://www.salesroles.com/ sales jobs

    thanks, this did make me laugh, but saw the serious side

  • Guest

    Well, pushing for “friends” efficiently eliminates any diversity, women, minorities and older workers from startups. It takes quite a bit of intelligence to be friends and co-workers with somebody who’s different. If the first hires don’t happen to be mature and emotionally intelligent (nobody requires them to be), with the next hires it’s going to be a replication of “hire-friend-of-a-friend-white-male-3-years-from-graduation-or-otherwise-similar-to-me” culture. Of course, there are always exceptions but given 2 candidates,  the one who’s a “club” fit would always have much better chances. Using “she” in the article sound more like a joke. 

  • http://www.roastedrootfood.com/ Julia

    Hi there, I’m happy to stumble on your blog. I just started working with a small electrical contractor and I essentially wear all of the administrative hats from marketing to accounting to HR…we are expanding so I have been researching hiring methodology and I came across your blog. I like what I see so far and find it helpful. Thanks!

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  • Rod2012

    I just ran into this article and its great. I have been giving a lot of thought about hiring my 1st employee and its been diificult to make a decision because it involves a different level of commitment and a lot more responsibility.

    One thing that I am struggling with is that I am worried that there is always that chance that I will hire someone, spen time money and resoucrces on getting this person up to speed and then have them quit to go work for someone else. I,
    M in the technology business and there is plenty of jobs…. So how would I make sure that I can really retain my first employee? I am too small of a business to even offer a decent package of benefits… Just don’t know, thanks for any advice

    • http://blog.asmartbear.com Jason Cohen

      That problem never goes away.  If you have a fantastic, capable employee, they will ALWAYS have LOTS of options, regardless of the economy or anything else.

      You need to provide an environment where they’ll be fulfilled, the definition of which depends on the person.  Startups have stuff like: Excitement, learning, team, every day is different, flex hours, your work actually matters, risky, fun, highs and lows, and so forth.

      If this person doesn’t want that, they shouldn’t be at any startup.

      If they do want that, my experience is that unless it’s a true culture mismatch (which happens), they’re not looking to jump ship at the nearest port.  They didn’t take on all this risk and pour themselves into this project because they’re disloyal.

      That’s not to say they won’t leave.  Again, if they’re awesome, they’ll always have lots of opportunities. But that’s just another risk you take, one of many, and one of the hardest.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/ZA4BKRFVFV37PNYLXRAQE3NALA Dana C

    I love this thinking outside the box – job postings and creativity. You hit the nail on the head about start-ups and why they cut a few corners on hiring the quality employees. It is important for small to medium sized businesses to keep in mind, though top talent may cost slight bit more in salaries, they make up for it in creative thinking, time and cost savings with productive and effective action plans. 
    This company posted some fantastic blogs about hiring the right talent and retaining top talent: http://www.pcg-services.com/category/blog/ which the content is from one of Northern California’s top recruiting firms Accolo. There is also a free guide to download here: http://www.pcg-services.com/attracting-and-retaining-top-employees/.Great blog! Cheers!Dana Costantino

  • Robert

    Always be hiring is a great way to hire a competent employee for the job. It might take you too long to hire one but it is still worth it. Another thing when hiring don’t stay focus on one area such as job sites like monster.com for instance. It could be a mistake for your business and tend to miss you a great chance of hiring highly talented workers that fits for the job. One way to assure that the employee you hire is the right one for the job is to give a short task that is related to the job that will test not only their mental ability but also their skill and experiences on the actual work. Here are more hiring mistakes that you don’t want to do in your business.
    https://www.staff.com/blog/hiring-on-monster-is-it-a-mistake/

  • Contract safety

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    Hiring a suitable employee is a tough job. I know a way to skip permanent hiring, that is contract hiring. Specially for hiring contract safety services,it’ll be costly to hire full-time employees. So services of contract safety are the most relevant one.

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  • Vincent Churchil

    Thanks for all your advice on hiring and what kind of people to hire. But what about tracking their performances? I would recommend Replicon timekeeping software for tracking employees time and performances.

  • Tarpon Fish

    I really enjoyed this article and am in the middle of the hiring tempest. I have looked at traditional hiring methods and they never gel with the way i like to look at people.
    One thing i like to ask new potential hires is, to tell me what their biggest failure has been in life. I find that people who know their weaknesses as well or better than their strengths are the kind of folks that you want to hire. This question not only helps you find people who are honest about themselves but ones that are not afraid to admit when they are wrong or have screwed up. Everyone gets good at selling their strengths, but it is hard to admit your failures.

  • http://www.facebook.com/benchewSG Ben Chew

    Good article! Startup Hiring is never easy. http://www.startupjobs.asia

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  • Abed Nadier

    I was talking to my boss about this the other day actually. He started his business and just hired within his family at first. After his business started to expand, he had to decide whether to start hiring employees and how to do so. I wonder if he researched the best way to hire before he started out. It seems like a really intense process for a first time business owner.

    Abed Nadier | http://www.rdselectric.com/industrial-electric.php