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Why Resume-Based Hiring Can Spell Disaster For Startups

Startup founders usually have little hiring experience, but all the more reason not to be swayed by a single sheet of paper.

Why Resume-Based Hiring Can Spell Disaster For Startups
[Photo: Flickr user Zlatko Vickovic]

Every small business owner knows hiring the right person for the job is critical for a team that needs all hands on deck. However, if you’re like me, you’re not a human resources specialist, and you’ve probably never had formal training in hiring. And when your company is a startup that’s just getting off the ground, you’ll essentially need to become a recruiter on the fly. So how do you do it?

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When I was making my first few hires, I simply went by résumés. The rules seemed simple:

  • Job history: Does the candidate have a clear, stable track record?
  • Gaps in employment: Are there potential red flags?
  • Job evolution: Did the candidate’s responsibilities increase with each new position, or did they regress?
  • References: How was the experience working with this candidate in the past?

This straightforward way of assessing viable candidates helped me slot them into “good,” “better,” and “best” categories pretty quickly. But little did I know that looking at a piece of paper is only part of the equation for finding the right talent. It barely factors in qualities that are much more difficult to measure–like whether new hires will fit your company culture or really rise to the occasion on a small, growing team.

When “Good” Hires Go Bad

In my company’s early stages, I hired a new team member from whom I expected great growth potential and strong results. With a stellar résumé in hand, I was convinced I was making the right choice. However, month after month, I was disappointed.

While their résumé was great, the new candidate was unable to build relationships the way I’d hoped. And when it came to performance, they showed no drive to do something more, better, or bigger. If they had passion at all, I never saw it. Little by little, my new hire needed teammates to fill in, and became the office complainer.

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A letdown of an employee may not sound horrible all by itself, and at first it didn’t strike me as much more than that. But I soon realized I was missing a deeper problem: the impact they had on other employees and the culture, at such a pivotal time for my young company.

Right from the get-go, our small team had great communication skills, competitive energy, efficient working habits, an eagerness to test new things, and a passion for helping people. But over time, my “perfect” hire was beginning to rain on everyone else’s parade.

Two Bad Decisions Don’t Equal A Good One

As someone new to business and to hiring, my hopes were deflated and I didn’t know what to do. I worried that if I fired my bad hire, I’d look like a fool who didn’t have things together. My solution at the time was to keep them onboard until they left voluntarily.

In retrospect, that was just as poor a choice as hiring the person in the first place. I still regret letting it go on for so long. The team member’s negative energy drove ever deeper into my company’s culture, and what used to be a quick-to-act team started questioning, complaining, and hesitating. But by this time it had been years, and I felt I couldn’t fire the person after such a long time. As you can imagine, things didn’t get better.

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The situation got even worse before I became frank enough with myself to realize I couldn’t let the problem persist any longer than I already had. As Jim Collins has famously written, I needed the right people on the bus and the wrong people off the bus before I could steer it in the right destination.

Going Back And Getting It Right

Needless to say, résumés are important, but there are more aspects to hiring that need to be weighed before you decide to bring someone onboard.

Finding the right fit isn’t just about the credentials it takes to execute a job description–it’s about locating someone who can help your team work toward a common goal. It requires that you find someone who’s not only capable and experienced but also agrees with your vision and is willing to collaborate to achieve it.

So don’t be blinded by an impressive résumé. I’ve learned to use résumés only as a starting point. Ask questions and get to know the candidate–really learn about them and what drives them to succeed. Don’t just drill them on their experience. Learning about their passions is key to predicting the type of team player they’ll turn out to be. Remember that you can train and teach, but you can’t change someone’s personality. Culture fit is critical to the success of your growing company and the well-being of the rest of your team.

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The realities startups face can make it difficult to think so far ahead, but the truth is that you want a teammate for the long haul–for the company you want to become, not the small new business you have now. You don’t want to rush it or screw it up–all because of a single piece of paper.

Solomon Thimothy is the founder and CEO of OneIMS and Clickx. He has built his career around a passion for helping other businesses grow an online presence and thrive in the digital world. He is a member of the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invite-only organization composed of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. Follow him on Twitter @sthimothy.