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Donna DeCarolis

Founding Dean of the Close School of Entrepreneurship of Drexel University

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Hiring Strategies

May 23, 2016

The most essential responsibility you have is to hire the right people – particularly in a startup situation, when all hands are on deck.

Probably the most essential responsibility you have is to hire the right people – particularly in a startup situation, when all hands are on deck. Clearly, finding the person with the right set of experiences and skills is important. Even more critical is assessing whether or not there is “culture fit.” Culture fit doesn’t necessarily equate with personality traits. It has more to do with whether or not the candidate believes in your mission and possesses the company’s core values.

And as a startup, here is the big question. What are your company’s core principles? This goes beyond overarching values such as integrity and trust. Think about those standards that are specific to your company’s purpose and strategy: for example, the ability to decide quickly under pressure; being customer-focused; taking initiative under conditions of uncertainty. Specifics about your company culture should be prominent in the job description and your social media. It should also be part of the interview process. Remember, that it is easier to train and develop someone’s skills and capabilities, but not so easy to make them align with your culture.

Founders often rely on people they know – friends, colleagues, people in their networks – a great strategy for a new venture – as they typically do not have the people or money or time to continually hire, train and perhaps terminate employees. They pretty much have to get it right initially and this includes knowing the skills and personalities of the people you hire.

Engaging an employee who is passionate and committed to working hard means finding someone who will focus on building the foundation, taking on more than one role, and getting the fundamentals of the business right. The type of person who generally has a more difficult time in a startup is someone from a large and established corporation. While it is tempting to hire that person with tremendous experience and skills, many times they have a hard time adjusting to a startup culture with its lack of process and resources.

Finding the right employees and team in the early stages demands significant attention – but is well worth the search.

Hiring an Overqualified Candidate

Conventional wisdom would say that you shouldn’t hire an overqualified individual. They might be bored, not committed, and may leave the position prematurely.

“Overqualified” can boil down to two dimensions: education and experience. Although counter-intuitive, someone with plenty of degrees may not necessarily be overqualified for a position that doesn’t require lots of education. Nor does experience matter if that experience is not directly related to the job. Personality, motivation and, yes, skills not directly related to the job, may be valuable to your company.

Get to know the candidate before you dismiss them. They may be motivated by a desire to change industries, a passion for your business; even achieving greater work/life balance – all of which could work to your advantage. If they are willing to explore your position, you should be willing to explore their candidacy.

Think about incorporating the “extra” qualifications into the job which could lead to greater productivity or innovation. Overqualified candidates can become mentors, challenge colleagues to exceed current expectations, and bring in areas of expertise that your company currently doesn’t have.

So take advantage of great talent that could be walking through your doors.

Preparing New College Grads to Work for You

Hiring college graduates requires some specific onboarding programs that may not be required for more seasoned employees. College grads are transitioning from student to employee and while this transition is challenging, it might be even more so for millennials who are used to coaches, teachers, tutors, mentors, and advisors to guide them. If you are running a small business or emerging company, one-on-one structured instruction is generally not a reality. Learning how to deal with uncertainty and sometimes even chaos is challenging for seasoned workers and more so for college graduates.

Train them beyond the job requirements and organizational structure, processes, etc. Consider time-management, and how to present themselves as competent professionals. Taken-for-granted tactics like how to conduct oneself during a meeting and setting priorities may be completely foreign to the college graduate. Inform them about appropriate dress, social behavior and communication.

While you might think this is beyond typical onboarding, think again. The cost of firing, recruiting and training someone new is high. It might be worth the investment to take a holistic view of what an eager and innovative college grad could bring to your company.

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