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Recruiting and Hiring Capable, Self-Motivated People

You can’t typically grow your business without growing the number of people with whom you work. Your success will depend on your ability to put together a team of highly qualified people who are committed to the goals and objectives of your firm.

If your business is in an early stage of growth, you will most likely be the person doing the recruiting and hiring. As your business grows, it will be important to hire the right top managers, as these managers will recruit and hire the staff. Plan a method for recruiting and hiring the very best people you can find. Such a plan requires four strengths:

  • An understanding of how hiring will support your business strategy
  • A philosophy of whom to hire and recruit
  • An employment package that can entice superior employees
  • A step-by-step hiring process that follows your state’s and federal hiring laws

Organizations with a solid business strategy are more likely to succeed, but they have to align their business operations to their strategy. Nothing is more important in this regard than your hiring and recruitment efforts. When you begin thinking about hiring, ask yourself why you’re considering it and make sure that your rationale is aligned with your strategic objectives.

Your business will benefit if you know what you’re trying to accomplish in hiring. For many entrepreneurial businesses, hiring capable, self-motivated employees provides a competitive advantage. Prospective hires should have not only great technical skills but also the motivation to make the business a success.

Look for employees who:

  • Embody the company’s values.
  • Work hard and work smart.
  • Have the specific skills required.
  • Learn quickly when new skills are needed.
  • Are able to work with little supervision.
  • Take initiative to make things happen.
  • Are comfortable in the uncertainty of an entrepreneurial situation.
  • Are flexible to business needs and changing requirements.

The key in hiring for your company is not necessarily finding people who thrive in uncertainty but rather finding people who thrive in the kind of organizational culture your company strives for. Resist the urge to hire people just because they share the same personality traits and background as you. Businesses benefit from having different points of view to challenge and develop the company into the future.

Ewing Marion Kauffman offered his personal twist to the talent equation with this advice to entrepreneurs: “Hire people who are smarter than you! In doing so, you prevent limiting the organization to the level of your own ability—and you grow the capabilities of your company.” Kauffman also said, “If you hire people you consider smarter than you, you are more likely to listen to their thoughts and ideas, and this is the best way to expand on your own capabilities and build the strength of your company.”

Finding qualified candidates is sometimes difficult because of competition, changing workforce demographics, and workers’ values. To be successful, you may need to be open-minded and creative. Strategies to attract the best talent include:

  • Providing good management.
  • Offering profit sharing and equity partnerships.
  • Providing generous compensation packages.
  • Having flexible work rules including job sharing, working at home, and flex-time.
  • Providing challenging work assignments and learning opportunities.
  • Using temporary help and contract labor and hiring the disabled and seniors.
  • Offering strong health and benefits packages.
  • Doing socially-responsible work.

Interviewing and hiring employees can be difficult and time consuming. Entrepreneurs can gain confidence in their final decisions by following some of these hiring guidelines:

Use Applications—Before interviewing applicants, consider having them complete and sign an employment application form, even if they have a resume. As a legal document, the application form must conform to state and federal regulations. For example, it generally must specify if employment with the firm is “at-will,” which means that employment can be terminated at any time. Also, this application form must give the employer permission to verify information submitted by the prospective employee. Human resources consultants can assist you with the development of legal applications.

Screen—Save time conducting interviews by screening applicants beforehand using information provided on the application form. Look for unexplained breaks in employment, omissions on the application, career changes, and reasons for leaving other employers. Salary history, professional affiliations, and overall professionalism in completing the form can also give clues about the applicant.

Interview—Determine what you are looking for and develop interview questions in advance. Develop questions that ask interviewees to tell you how they would respond to real workplace situations. Ask every interviewee the same set of questions. Rate their answers in some systematic way. Add up the scores. Use this scoring in combination with other information, but don’t rely solely on the interview as the critical factor in hiring. Research shows that human beings aren’t very good at making judgments about people from interviews.

Avoid Bias—Be aware that we tend to judge people who are similar to ourselves more highly than those who are different from ourselves. This bias can cause you to hire clones who don’t add anything to your organization’s skill set. It can also create a lack of diversity, limiting the creativity and decision-making of your company. Recent studies have shown that persons tend to rate others more highly if they exhibit physical beauty or attractiveness, regardless of their actual qualifications; so beware of this tendency when interviewing. One of the best ways to determine whether someone can do the job is to ask them to demonstrate that they can do it. Have writers take writing tests, ask sales people to simulate a sales call, and have managers make difficult case-study decisions.

References—Always check references to verify the information with additional research. Studies show that about 30 percent of resumes contain some kind of false information. People who overstate or falsify their job qualifications may cause future harm to your organization or may be poor employees. Depending on the nature of your business and the type of job to be filled, a criminal background check can provide critical information about a prospective employee. A number of firms provide background checks on employment applicants.

The law prohibits businesses from asking potential employees certain questions or personal information on applications. Check with your attorney or human resources consultant about permissible areas of inquiry. In general, questions should relate to the applicant’s ability to perform the job. Document all reasons for not offering a position to an apparently qualified applicant. Maintain records for at least seven years.

Promote From Within

Apart from satisfied customers, a growing company needs skilled and competent managers whom founders can trust, says Donna Boone, president of the Potomac Swim School, an indoor swim facility in Ashburn, Virginia.

Boone launched Potomac Swim School in 2003 and plans to open additional swim facilities in the Washington, D.C., area. That means finding managers with whom she feels comfortable sharing authority.

“This is a classic stumbling block for entrepreneurs seeking to expand,” Boone says. “In my case, I expect to promote from within, which means I must hire with an eye to developing managerial talent. No longer can I view employees merely as part-time swim instructors. Instead, I must look at them—and treat them—as potential managers, even partners. I must consider whether they are individuals as committed as I am to both swimming and the school and to learning the business from the ground up.”

© 2006 Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. All rights reserved.

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