You’re an entrepreneur who’s just got a new venture off the ground, and you and your founding team are finally ready to hire a new staff member. Hiring your first-ever employee is a lot trickier than hiring your 20th. Getting it right is absolutely critical at this early stage, before you have a robust company culture in place. Whether it goes well or poorly, it’s guaranteed to be a learning experience for everyone concerned, and embracing those lessons is ultimately the key to success further down the road. Here are a few things to consider before deciding on a candidate for your very first open position.
Think about the current state of your company and decide what kind of help you need now and in the foreseeable future. Is it a full-time, long-term employee, or might a brief business relationship be your best bet?
An employee is an investment like any other, and knowing whether or not they’ll be a short-term or long-term investment is critical to making the right kind of hire. It’s also fairer to candidates, who need to know what expectations you have for the position. If those aren’t clear from the get-go, you aren’t likely to find someone who can become a satisfied and productive member of your team.
“Your first employee won’t be easy to hire. There are no two ways around it, and one of the tricky things about it is that you don’t know how long you’ll need them for,” says Vijay Cherukuri, CEO of Infolob. “For your sake and theirs, know how long they’ll be necessary before making that final choice.”
No matter how far along your company is, work culture matters. Even in an environment occupied by just two people, a strong rapport is nonnegotiable. Interviews for a first employee tend to focus on their ability to work well under pressure, pitch in on a range of tasks quickly, and get details right. Culture doesn’t usually enter the picture until much later. But that’s the wrong approach–you need to test how well your new staffer can work with the rest of your team (even if that’s just you) in addition to sizing up their qualifications for the help you’re looking to get.
Phil Tadros, CEO of Doejo, tells me the focus should really be on that relationship, which is the first brick in the foundation of your company’s culture:
You’re trying to make sure your intentions and goals line up. Sometimes the right partner can be the opposite of you, but you make it work because you have to get along. A lot of people say you shouldn’t work with friends. I think if you’re going to build that relationship, you want them to be a really good friend. Whether you start that way or get there, you want to grow something with people you want to be around.
Startup environments are notorious for being tumultuous, to say the least. Anything can happen on any given day, which is great for some but an absolute nightmare for others. It isn’t a hard-and-fast rule, but having previous startup experience can be a big step in the right direction for a new company’s first hire. If a candidate you’re considering hasn’t ever worked in a startup environment, they should seem genuinely eager to give it a try.
Passion is important for any job, but in any company’s earliest stages, it’s more important than ever. Building a team that’s just there for a paycheck and a line on their resume is the quickest way to court major setbacks. In fact, showing excitement for tackling problems and moving forward is practically as important in any candidate as the more standard qualifications. It’s not about showing up and doing what’s necessary. It’s about having the passion to help something new and small turn into something bigger and more dynamic.
There are a lot of things to consider before hiring that first employee, but don’t forget to consider what they want out of the job. As with any hire, it’s common to focus on how they fit into company, but take some time to understand what they want out of the position. That goes beyond the first item above, by the way–it isn’t just knowing whether your first employee is likely to stay with you for a long while. It’s about building a partnership that factors in your new hire’s own talents and ambitions. All business relationships require give and take, and being able to accept what a potential first employee wants to experience is the best possible way to ensure you make an offer to the right person.