Tips for Hiring Your First Employee

/ 13 min read
Vrinda Singh

Hiring an employee certainly requires time and effort. 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.

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 the definitive guide to hiring your first employee.

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

1. Writing the perfect job description

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.

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

Kris Clelland, Talent Acquisition Manager at Amazon Web Services, says that when writing a job description you should keep the terminology simple.

"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."

Matt Woodard, Senior Tech Recruiter at Zendesk, uses Textio to ensure his job ads are ultra-effective.

“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."

While tools are important, Emma Liebmann, Head of Talent Acquisition at Collage.com, thinks above all, it's important to 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."

Oh, and don't forget to highlight the perks, says Louise Walsh, Talent Acquisition Manager at Kloud Solutions.

"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."

2. Promoting the role and sourcing high-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. Thankfully, you don’t need experience with marketing or recruitment to get the word out about your new role.

Use social media to your advantage

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.

Leverage your professional (and personal) network

“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.

Look beyond conventional platforms

“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.

Use specialist job boards

“Using niche job boards is a great way to meet future candidates," says Steven van Vessum, VP of Community & Co-Founder at ContentKing. Some popular job boards include:

3. Assessing and selecting resumes

Chances are if you’ve done a thorough job with promoting the role, resumes will start rolling 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 at 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.

Resume red flags to look out for

  1. Sloppiness or lack of care

“A small typing or formatting error is forgivable," says Emma Liebmann, "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.”

2. Generic cover letters

“Avoid candidates who send very generic cover letters with no information about why they want to work for you," says Matt Woodard. "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."

3. Lack of hands-on experience

“Your first employee needs have been in the trenches," says Steven van Vessum. "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.”

4. Lack of autonomy

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

So what makes a winning resume?

  1. Creativity and clarity

“Creative resumes with clearly outlined career, education and skills are always welcomed, especially when you are looking at hundreds of CVs," says Liz Lassig, HR Business Partner at Viacom.

"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!"

2. A compelling narrative

“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," says Emma Liebmann.

"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.”

3. Evidence of excellent results

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

4. 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 workplace culture you’re hoping to cultivate for your future team.

“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," says Brigette Kirkpatrick, Founder of Create a Sense of Place.  

"As a National Disability Insurance Scheme Organisation, the main qualities we look for are kindness, patience, determination and a sense of humour. Similarly, you should have a clear idea about the values you want your employees (and by extension, your company) to emulate.”

5 questions to get to know candidates better

  1. What do you like to do in your spare time?

“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 at CodeCrew.

2. Ask about a negative experience in a previous role

“Ask them to explain the experience using the STAR method," says Steven van Vessum. "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.”

3. Ask for a three-minute biography

“You can assess a lot in those 3 minutes," says Emma Liebmann. "Their ability to prioritize, their ability to follow through on timelines, their ability to set expectations, and their astuteness and ability to engage an audience."

4. How was your relationship with your previous manager?

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

5. Tell me about a time when you. . .

“During interviews, we try to peel away the layers to get much deeper information on areas where someone is an expert," says Kris Clelland.

"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."

5. Doing 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 leadership 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.

  1. Make your interviews thorough enough not to need them '

“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," says Kriss Clelland.

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

2. Avoid self-nominated references when possible

“I’m not a big fan of self-nominated references," says Louise Walsh. "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.”

6. Onboarding your first employee

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.

Tips for successful onboarding

  1. Focus on building your relationship

“The most important thing is getting a personal relationship off the ground with the new employee," says Paul Beard.

2. Let them get comfortable with the culture

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

3. Set them up for success with the little things

“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," says Liz Lassig.

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.

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.”

Best tools for hiring (and retaining) employees

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

“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.
  • Social Talent ($200/month): For sourcing candidates with specific skills or titles through boolean strings.
  • Soapbox (Free): For managing employees and facilitating effective meetings.
  • Slack ($6.67/month per user): For finding talent and communicating with employees.
  • Weirdly ($99/month): For quickly screening and assessing candidates.
  • Asana (Free): For creating managing onboarding steps and documents.

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.


About the author
Vrinda Singh
Growth Manager
Vrinda is the Growth Manager at Paperform. In her spare time, she loves learning all things marketing, design & automation-related, and NOT watching reality TV. No, not at all... vrinda@paperform.co

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