Hiring Your First Employee: The Ultimate 6-Step Guide

/ real-life wins
Vrinda Singh

Hiring an employee certainly requires time and effort, however it also symbolises an exciting new stage for your business. When it's your very first employee, the stakes can feel even higher, though the rewards can be equally gratifying - after all, it's the first time you're trusting someone else with your business and vision.

Adding structure to the hiring process can help create the distinction between a profitable decision and a missed opportunity. Luckily for you, we’ve collaborated with some leading Talent Acquisition specialists from global successes like Amazon Web Services, Zendesk, Viacom and Kloud Solutions, as well as some experienced CEOs and Founders, to craft this definitive guide.

Here’s a foolproof breakdown of how you can find, hire and retain that first employee and set them up for success.

Crafting The Role

Before writing a job advertisement, take some time to thoroughly define the role first. Think about:

  • The short and long-term needs of your business
  • The reason you’re hiring for this role (and how the role helps fulfil those needs)
  • The types of tasks or responsibilities you need the new hire to manage
  • The skillset and work experience your ideal hire would have
  • The remuneration you’re willing to offer

With intense competition for good talent in the market, you also need to use the job advertisement to stand out and make people want to work for you.

One of the advantages you have as a small business is that you can offer someone the opportunity to take full ownership over their work and have a direct impact on the success of the business. As the owner, think deeply about what excites you about your work and mission, and use these to form a narrative to inspire candidates.

Some important details you might include in your job description:

  • A summary and history of your company, what you do and why you do it
  • A summary of the role
  • A list of day-to-day responsibilities associated with the role
  • Benefits included in the role - from insurance benefits to opportunities for professional advancement and perks
  • Qualifications, which might include minimum, desired or preferred qualifications and experience

Top Tips For Writing Your Job Advertisement

  1. Keep the terminology simple

Kris Clelland “The main issue with job advertising is that most organisations these days try to be funky and cool, and call their open vacancies things that are perceived to be different - like Sales Ninja, Cloud Evangelist, Linux Geek, Social Media Trailblazer etc and wonder why after weeks and weeks of advertising there are still barely any applications.

At Amazon Web Services, I’ve taken the job advertising templates back to basics, and aligned job titles to the external market, not what we call the roles internally. I’ve also aligned the tools, platforms and technology with exactly what the external market would search for 9 times out of 10, and the relevance of the applications to the open roles has gone up by 39% YTD."

~ Kris Clelland
Talent Acquisition Manager, Amazon Web Services

2. Use the right tools to optimise the language of your job description

Matt Woodard “Using a tool called Textio, you can analyse the effectiveness of your job ad. It uses AR to search for cliches, business language, ambiguous words or words that are male or female orientated. It helps you analyse what kind of candidates your ad will resonate with, with the idea of making your advertisement more gender neutral and better tailored to your target audience."

~ Matt Woodard
Senior Tech Recruiter, Zendesk

3. Be transparent about your working culture and style

Emma Liebmann “Be honest and authentic. Hiring is a two-way street - a job advertisement should be designed to attract candidates that align with your needs as the employer, but they should also be designed to give an honest and authentic view into the role and the company so that the candidate can accurately assess if it meets their needs as well."

~ Emma Liebmann
Head Of Talent Acquisition, Collage.com

4. But do remember to highlight perks to stand out

Louise Walsh “Sometimes people forget that there is a difference between a job description and a job advertisement. For your ad, keep it snappy and keep it inviting. Avoid words like ‘work’, replace them with things like ‘opportunity.’

Make sure you highlight your benefits. This can be particularly interesting for small businesses, as they can often offer benefits that don’t necessarily cost them too much. For example, if you advertise that you offer employees leave on their birthday, it’s a small thing that won’t cost you a lot of money, but can make candidates feel like you do care about their wellbeing.

These are small ways to differentiate your brand from other employers. For the more technical details of the role, save that thorough description for the first interview”

~ Louise Walsh
Talent Acquisition Manager, Kloud Solutions

Promoting The Job & Sourcing Quality Candidates

Marketing your role on the right platforms is crucial for reaching the right candidates. While some companies might choose to work with a recruitment company, others prefer to complete the hiring process on their own.

The latter will allow you to have complete ownership over the entire process - from publishing your job description to conducting interviews. It might also be your first opportunity to define your company’s culture and values on your own terms (and save thousands of dollars in recruitment fees while you’re at it).

Thankfully, you don’t need experience with marketing or recruitment to get the word out about your new role.

4 Creative Ways To Promote The Role On A Budget

  1. Use LinkedIn & Social Media To Your Advantage

Louise Walsh “Social media is key. Take funky pictures of your office, show off the fun aspects of your work and share exciting projects you're working on. When your connections see this content, they can see how rewarding and exciting your business would be to work for.”

~ Louise Walsh
Talent Acquisition Manager, Kloud Solutions

2. Use Your Personal Or Professional Network

Matt Woodard “Leverage the people you know and trust. Ask them for referrals or recommendations for talented and reliable people they know who could be a good fit for your role. We hire 40% of our staff through referrals."

~ Matt Woodard
Senior Tech Recruiter, Zendesk

3. Look Beyond Conventional Platforms

Matt Woodard “Jump into Slack groups or forums where your ideal candidate might be hanging out. Meetup.com is also a great resource for finding groups that your potential hire might be interested in. Get in touch with the organisers of those groups to spread the word about your job, sponsor events or ask them to message their members on your behalf.

Finding people where they hang out is a great way to find the right people in their natural habitat."

~ Matt Woodard
Senior Tech Recruiter, Zendesk

Here’s a directory of Slack Groups categorised by conversation topics.

4. Use Specialist Job Boards

Steven “Using niche job boards is a great way to meet future candidates.”

~ Steven van Vessum
VP of Community & Co-Founder, ContentKing

Some popular job boards include:

Assessing & Selecting Resumes

Chances are, if you’ve done a thorough job with promoting the role, Resumes will start rolling in in no time. You need to be able to vet each of them and decide which candidates should be invited for an interview. With a time-sensitive task like this one, it can be challenging to review each Resume in detail. By developing a list of criteria or having a sense of the factors that lead to a definite “Yes” or “No”, you can expedite this process and create an unbiased Resume assessment process.

You can also tell a lot about a Resume from first glance. Begin by taking a look at the formatting, spelling and grammar and the information that has been included. You can most likely set aside any Resumes that are missing key information or that the candidate hasn't bothered to perform a simple spell check on.

4 Resume Red Flags To Look Out For:

  1. Sloppiness Or Lack Of Care

Emma Liebmann “A small typing or formatting error is forgivable but too much of it could be indicative of a lack of care for quality in their work. The Resume is the first work product you receive from your potential hire so you should review it with the same benchmarks you would use to review their work as an employee in your company.

It may also indicate that they are Resume-spamming and not genuinely interested in your role since they didn't take the time to ensure they were putting their best work forward for you.”

~ Emma Liebmann
Head Of Talent Acquisition, Collage.com

Tip: How do you separate the candidates who really care from the candidates who are resume spamming?

Louise Walsh “Include a qualifying condition towards the bottom of your job ad that asks the candidate to add something extra to their application. For example, you can ask them to include a 300-word statement about a topic related to the role. By doing this, you’ll be able to separate the people who carefully read through the job description and cared enough to do the task from the people who lazily applied for the role.”

~ Louise Walsh
Talent Acquisition Manager, Kloud Solutions

2. Generic, Copy-Pasted Work

Matt Woodard “Avoid candidates who send very generic cover letters with no information about why they want to work for you. Cover letters are really valuable for understanding how much a candidate cares about the role. When you’re sending a copy pasted template for the job, you’re clearly not motivated by the company. Not putting any effort into researching the company sets red flags off for me."

~ Matt Woodard
Senior Tech Recruiter, Zendesk

3. Lack Of Hands-On Experience In The Field

Steven “Your first employee needs have been in the trenches. He or she needs to be experienced enough to get the job done quickly and hit the ground running. If a candidate doesn’t have practical, provable experience doing this, that's a massive red flag.”

~ Steven van Vessum
VP of Community & Co-Founder, ContentKing

4. Lack Of Autonomy

Kris Clelland “The red flags that we tend to see are people who constantly speak about "we" and opposed to "I". Being autonomous and being able to influence change on your own, as well as part of a team, is very important."

~ Kris Clelland
Talent Acquisition Manager, Amazon Web Services

What Makes A Winning Resume?

  1. Creativity And Clarity

Liz Lassig “Creative resumes with clearly outlined career, education and skills are always welcomed, especially when you are looking at hundreds of CV’s. I like resumes that are kept to 1-2 pages and can creatively articulate who they are, what they are good at and gain some insight into their working style and strengths. If they can incorporate your brand in a creative way using their CV or resume, that’s always a bonus too!"

~ Liz Lassig
HR Business Partner, Viacom

2. A Compelling Narrative

Emma Liebmann “The resume is like the intro of a book and the ones I select to move forward are the ones that have pulled me into their story just enough to want to explore further. I look for resumes that are written and designed with intent and to create a quality user experience for the person reviewing. The best resumes are the ones that show the author has thought more about the audience than they've thought about themselves.”

~ Emma Liebmann
Head Of Talent Acquisition, Collage.com

3. Evidence Of Excellent Work & Results

Paul Beard “Above all, I look for signs that they are self-starters, are able to manage their own time, have a history of going above and beyond what was expected of them and have a passion for what they do.”

~ Paul Beard
Head Of Marketing, Deploy

Interviewing Candidates

Interviewing candidates can be intimidating if you’ve never done it before. Everyone has a different interviewing style - while some are more relaxed in their approach, others prefer to be more neutral and focused to set a more formal tone. There’s no right or wrong approach, though it can often set the tone for your relationship with the potential hire. For this reason, focus on emulating the values that you’ve set out for your company and the culture you’re hoping to cultivate for your future team.

Remember: Attitude Matters Most

Brigette Kirkpatrick “Know your values, so that you know the values you want in a person who will be representing your company. I like to know about someone's life experience. As a National Disability Insurance Scheme Organisation, the main qualities we look for are kindness, patience, determination and a sense of humor. Similarly, you should have a clear idea about the values you want your employees (and by extension, your company) to emulate.”

~ Brigette Kirkpatrick
Founder, Create A Sense Of Place

5 Questions To Get To Know Your Candidates:

  1. What Do You Like To Do In Your Spare Time?

Alexandra Marin “This question can also show you who the person is outside of their job, how devoted they are to doing more complex tasks or how open they are to going out of their comfort zone.”

~ Alexandra Marin
Co-Founder, CodeCrew

2. Ask Them About A Negative Experience During A Previous Role

Steven “Ask them to explain the experience using the STAR method. Ask them about the situation, and necessary details for context. Have them describe their responsibility in that situation. Have them explain what steps they took to address it and what the outcome of their action was.”

~ Steven van Vessum
VP of Community & Co-Founder, ContentKing

3. Ask For A 3 Minute Biography

Emma Liebmann “You can assess a lot in those 3 minutes:

- Their ability to prioritize - in this case identify the most relevant and important aspects of their background

- Their ability to follow through on timelines. Many people will go for much longer than 3 minutes with their answer.

- Their ability to set expectations. For example, do they ask to continue longer or let you know from the beginning that they may need longer than 3 minutes?

- Their astuteness and ability to engage an audience. For example, do they highlight parts of their story that they know I will be most interested in based on what they know about the role or company?”

~ Emma Liebmann
Head Of Talent Acquisition, Collage.com

4. How Was Your Relationship With Your Previous Manager?

Louise Walsh “Listen very, very carefully to how they speak about their previous employer. If someone speaks poorly about their previous employer, that’s what they’ll end up saying about you too.”

~ Louise Walsh
Talent Acquisition Manager, Kloud Solutions

5. Tell Me About A Time When You…

Kris Clelland “During interviews, we try to peel away the layers to get much deeper information on areas where someone is an expert. Assessing functional and practical experiences over theoretical knowledge is a game changer, regardless of whether its experience working at McDonald's during university, or managing a multi-million dollar project from end-to-end."

~ Kris Clelland
Talent Acquisition Manager, Amazon Web Services

How to assess a candidate’s ability

Tip: Ask candidates to complete a small task or assessment related to the role

Liz Lassig “It’s great to gain insight into how they think, how passionate they are about the brand or brief and also their creativity. I know this can be a bit of work for the candidate, but in my experience those who are really interested in the opportunity will be more than happy to complete this step. It can also help in the decision making process if you have 2 candidates that are strong."

~ Liz Lassig
HR Business Partner, Viacom

Create a small task that replicates the work they might be doing when working for you, or a short assessment that might test the skills needed for the role. Make sure to keep the task simple and easy to complete within an hour.

If you’d rather outsource this stage, there are some helpful tools that will manage the process of testing for you, like Plum.io or Criteria.

Reference Checks

You want to be able to rely on anyone that you hire. Although candidates provide you with information about their past roles, you have no way of knowing if they're telling the truth unless you check. Doing a simple reference check to verify their job titles and tenure might be worthwhile.

However, the practice of using references to ask questions related to the candidate’s skills, work ethic or behaviour is largely outdated. While some companies still do it, the overwhelming consensus seems to be that character references can often be unhelpful, unreliable and biased.

Should You Do A Reference Check?

  1. Make Your Interview Process Thorough Enough To Avoid References

Kris Clelland “Interview processes will give you a decision on hiring or not, full reference checks should not change this decision as some companies are always disgruntled by people leaving them with a gap to fill.

Simple employment references to ascertain titles and tenure should suffice in this space."

~ Kris Clelland
Talent Acquisition Manager, Amazon Web Services

2. Ask Mutual Connections And Avoid Self-Nominated References

Louise Walsh “I’m not a big fan of self-nominated references. All those prove is that the candidate had one friend at their old company.

It’s better to find mutual connections on LinkedIn yourself and ask the candidate for permission to contact them for an unbiased reference.”

~ Louise Walsh
Talent Acquisition Manager, Kloud Solutions

3. The Assessment Phase Is More Important

Matt Woodard “Reference checks are redundant. Make sure that your process is robust enough that you have done your due diligence during the interview phase. The assessment phase should give you a good indication of their capability."

~ Matt Woodard
Senior Tech Recruiter, Zendesk

Onboarding

Onboarding your new employee into their role and your company plays a large role in providing them with a great experience. Start off on the right foot by setting clear expectations for them, giving them a warm welcome and having all logistical details (like setting up equipment and documentation) sorted out before their starting date.

Here are some useful onboarding checklists to get you started.

4 Tips For Successful Onboarding:

  1. Focus On Building A Relationship

Paul Beard “Team-building. The most important thing is getting a personal relationship off the ground with the new employee.”

~ Paul Beard
Head Of Marketing, Deploy

2. Let Them Get Comfortable With The Culture And Work Space

Alexandra Marin “For us it’s always patience. We never expect too much before making sure they have enough time to breathe in our air and see how we do things.”

~ Alexandra Marin
Co-Founder, CodeCrew

3. Set Them Up For Success From Day 1

Liz Lassig “It’s really about the little things like giving them a warm welcome and having their IT access set up, emails working, desk set up, key meetings locked in their first week etc.

Make sure you take the time in their first week to talk them through the expectations of the role and job description so there is clarity from day one.

It’s also important to talk to the new person through the company policies, perks, benefits, org charts, and any other critical information they need to know. In the lead up to the new person coming onboard, it’s also important to confirm their start time and give them an overview of what their first day or week will be like as most people feel anxious to some degree when they start in a new role.

Ultimately, onboarding is really about valuing the new starter and igniting excitement from day one. We want people to feel like working with us is the best decision they’ve made, so we go the extra mile to hopefully ignite this in our new starters.”

~ Liz Lassig
HR Business Partner, Viacom

4. Make Sure They Always Have Something To Do

Louise Walsh “There’s nothing worse than sitting at your new job, not knowing what to do and feeling awkward and uncomfortable. I find it useful to create a big Trello board with a list of tasks for the week, the month and the next 3 months. The Trello board should help answer all their questions and concerns and include all documentation they need. It should also have alerts for meetings they should set up and people they should meet.”

~ Louise Walsh
Talent Acquisition Manager, Kloud Solutions

Best Tools For Hiring & Retaining Your Employees

We asked our hiring experts to share their favourite tools for optimising their HR and recruitment process. Here are their most recommended options:

Textio

$59/month

Ideal for finessing and optimising job descriptions.

Lusha

Free for 1 user

Helpful for finding contact details for potential candidates on LinkedIn.

Paperform

Starting from $12.50/month

Perfect for creating responsive job application forms and automating all your hiring, HR and onboarding processes.

Brigette Kirkpatrick “Paperform has enabled me to go completely paperless, to set rules so job applications and employment documents go where I want, and set personal email messages to the people I select when forms are submitted. This has helped me to be more organised, efficient, professional and most importantly, follow my HR procedures. I have also been able to incorporate my style guide, so all my forms look beautiful and branded.”

~ Brigette Kirkpatrick
Founder, Create A Sense Of Place

Try it free for 14 days with no CC details required.

Social Talent

$200/month

For sourcing candidates with specific skills or titles through boolean strings.

Slack

$6.67/month per user

For finding talent and communicating with employees.

Weirdly

$99/month

For quickly screening and assessing candidates.

Trello

Free

For creating managing onboarding steps and documents.

Hiring Your First Employee: Legal Resources

Wrapping Up

Hiring your first employee may be a critical decision for your business, but it doesn’t have to be a difficult one. As long as you have a concrete vision for your business and its needs, the culture you want to curate and the values you want to uphold, you’ll be able to set clear expectations for your new hire.

Using the right tools and strategies will take you far, as will your gut instinct and experience. Remember to trust your judgement and follow these tried and tested strategies to make it a smooth experience for both yourself and candidates. Sooner than you think, you might be multiplying your team so use this first experience as an exciting opportunity to grow as a leader.

Try Paperform Now!

14 Day Free Trial, No CC Required

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