Finding a superstar employee – or what you might call an exceptional employee – is always important in business.
Whatever the job is, you ideally want someone reliable, productive, interested in their work, friendly, flexible, energetic, a good communicator, and a self-starter. Sure, you may not find that all in one person, but you may find someone with many of those qualities, if you handle the hiring process right
Finding and training new employees can cost thousands of dollars. This is especially pertinent if you’re a small business without a lot of disposable income. Hiring a new employee can also have a ripple effect. That person will interact with any other staff, and you want that to go smoothly. Also, especially if you are a mobile business, that person will be representing not just themselves but your company. Consider how well a candidate may interact with customers.
Some top tips for hiring? Massey University Associate Professor Paul Toulson, an organisational psychologist, says there’s one thing he can’t emphasise enough. “Ask why. ‘Why’ is by far the most important thing to consider, to find if you’re a ‘good match’. Why does the person fit with you and you with them? Why and how does the person fit with your organisation, goals and desired outcomes? Why do they want to work there in the first place?”
Paul says small businesses without a lot of time, resources and money don’t necessarily need to hire an HR consultant. “Small business owners can do all this themselves, if there’s careful planning.” Know exactly what you’re looking for in a new hire – something to be written up and discussed with others. Give candidates a very clear job description, setting out clear objectives and clear expectations. This avoids frustration should they have to do tasks they didn’t know about.
In interviews, have a checklist of boxes to tick; perhaps give each candidate a score out of 10. However, don't mistake confidence for capability. The outgoing person who seems perfect on paper may not end up performing well – while the slightly shyer person without as much experience may turn out to be the superstar you’re looking for. Also, attitude or interest may be more important than experience.
Talking to referees can help you scan for “false positives”, Toulson says. Rather than just reading a reference, phone a past employer so you can pick up on positive and not-so-positive nuances. Consider calling one of the candidate’s colleagues or work connections, as they’re more likely to be candid. As Toulson says: “The best predictor of future performance is past performance. If there was a failure, that’s ok, if they’ve learned from it.”
If no one applicant seems quite right, don’t hurry your decision unless absolutely necessary. Perhaps advertise the job for an extended period, should that be possible.
Depending on the nature of the job and its importance to your business, it might be worth giving the person a trial, Toulson says. “You can do a trial as long as it’s understood it is a trial, with something in writing.” It’s not just one-sided: make clear that a trial is also about their decision whether to continue. And the final choice? Review your notes, ticked boxes and/or score cards, and their references. If it’s a tight decision between two candidates, use your gut instinct about what is right for you and your business.