I believe strongly that I was meant to work for smaller organizations – start-ups especially. And while I have never worked for a really large company (and so have no true frame of comparison), the way I’m hard-wired screams for me to be in a place where I can wear multiple hats. But not everyone is destined to thrive in a smaller business. However, there are some key traits you should seek when screening applicants for jobs available in the office of your start-up company…
1 – Resourcefulness
Let’s face it…many times employees at a small business have no precedent to set the stage for how they might approach a given situation or obstacle. There’s no “way we do things around here” yet and so individuals must jump in and get their feet wet to figure out what works well, and what will just be a temporary bandage to get through the issue. This can be very exciting for some, but cause a near panic attack in others. So it’s simple…just hire MacGyver, or find the most recent Discovery Channel reality TV star that fashioned a fishing basket out of jungle vine, right? But seriously, the tendency for one to be resourceful can be at least partially unearthed through a line of interview questions that ask the candidate to provide specific examples of how previous work obstacles were overcome when a new type of challenge was presented.
2 – Ability to Self-Direct…& Gets Bored Easily!
The ability for one to be autonomous and able to stay on task is not the most earth-shattering revelation on this list. But, have you thought about the “why” behind someone’s motivation to get things done? In the context of a small business environment, many times the most successful people not only cross all their tasks off the proverbial Post-it note regularly, but do so with enthusiasm because they have another Post-it note waiting for them to attack – one that has all the new ideas they jotted down the other day. The important point here is that while these people tend to get bored easily, they are in an environment where they are empowered to create their own work…so it’s impossible to get bored.
Of course all positions have responsibilities that are somewhat reactionary, but your proactive small biz Kool-Aid drinkers are happy as long as they get to dig their hands into many different cookie jars to help improve the company and their role.
3 – Passion
Unless you are screening for new Dancing with the Stars candidates by rating their tango, passion in the context of the SMB market doesn’t have to imply intense emotion, but rather a compulsive drive to continuously improve upon the processes, products and services that propel the organization forward. It basically means that your people honestly give a care about the long-term impact they have on your organization, and that your organization has on its industry and community. They do NOT get a case of the Mondays each week. I’m not trying to say that some people who work for large corporations are not intensely devoted to their occupation…I’m merely saying that in a small biz…it’s blindingly obvious when someone on the team doesn’t have the same mojo as everyone else there.
And while you’d probably begin the search for this trait by asking the candidate to describe an experience where he/she went above and beyond during a project…you might instead start by asking the prospect to tell you a story about someone who went above and beyond for him/her, first. Get details on the impact of that deed on the interviewee’s outlook and ask how he/she hopes to emulate that focus in his/her own life. Then, you might have an even better idea about his/her true passion (and how that could take shape for your organization).
4 – Unpretentious
Don’t hire people who are too fancy for their own good. You might work for a small company if…you bring your own stapler and mouse from home, or you fill up the company Brita water filter pitcher when it’s getting low in the fridge. The point is that employees have to do some things they may not be used to doing if they come from larger offices. If they are too good to help answer the office phone or start the dishwasher in the kitchenette when it fills up, then that’s going to grind some gears down the road.
5 – Inventiveness
To piggy-back off #1 on this list, you should have some people on your team that are gifted at innovation when it comes to creating efficiencies and brainstorming and executing new ideas. The important part here is to spread that creative gene around so that different teammates are engaged to excel in different areas. One might have a keen eye for detail and fresh promotional ideas; while another may have a talent for developing new procedures to anticipate potential hiccups down the road.
It’s a little trickier to screen for this type of trait in a personal interview, as sometimes you don’t truly know until you can see it in action. However, you can certainly assess one’s interests and behavioral tendencies through a pre-employment testing tool to give you a better idea of what makes the applicant tick. That way, you can explore initial assessment results with follow-up questions during a final interview.
6 – Optimism
Because the course of the ship can change frequently and suddenly in the world of a small company, at times there can be a general sense of the “unknown” in terms of what the future may bring. Some personalities can turn a lack of knowledge into the assumption that the worst possible scenario may come true…so the Negative Nancys of the world, in the absence of expectations for a clearly-defined career path inside of the organization might bolt (incidentally…our own Nancy on staff at ExactHire is in no way negative just to be clear!). In contrast, optimistic individuals have the capacity for embracing the fact that while a clear-cut ladder doesn’t exist, maybe other exciting and brand new roles will be carved out by ambitious contributors in the future.
7 – Adaptable
I won’t spend a lot of time on this one because it may be the most obvious necessity in a strong hire. But what are the giveaways to the true nature of someone’s flexibility? Try to probe for an interviewee’s specific reasons for changing positions within an organization or switching companies all together in the past. The bottom line is that small companies need staff members that perhaps even crave change and somewhat fluid circumstances, as these types of organizations can evolve quickly as the result of venture capital funding, unexpected turnover, etc. If you’re familiar with Chaos Theory such that a butterfly flaps its wings in Tennessee and a tidal wave hits Taiwan…know that SMB’s are feeling the butterfly’s blustery effects closer to Texas in contrast with corporate counterparts that can distill the effect over a larger employee base.
8 – Tech-Savviness
Let’s make an argument for having an average to above average knack for embracing technology. You’re probably thinking you’d find the opposite in a small organization where budgets might be too constrained to afford the latest Software-as-a-Service and other technological tools. However, what tends to be more expensive? Automating key processes or hiring more headcount?
Hire individuals who sit at least slightly to the right on the technophobe vs. software geek spectrum. In an environment where people resources are limited and multi-tasking is a way of life, people who can get up to speed on new software applications more quickly, and without a lot of hand-holding, are going to be more productive for your company faster. And in the context of a professional office setting, one of your first clues to this skill might be how effectively the individual completes the web-based employment application available through your applicant tracking system. Or, assess how involved this person is on a business-geared social media site such as LinkedIn.
Working at a startup can be a wild card, fraught with uncertainty about the future profitability of the company…or what your specific career path has in store…or whether you will be exposed to the type of experiences you feel you need in your profession. You’ll probably catch yourself saying “well, that’s part of working at a small business” from time to time when addressing a lack of things that might be readily available at a big business.
However, while your most valuable new hire prospects will certainly consider this expectation; they will realize that this same phrase can work to their advantage, as well, and probably more frequently if the traits they possess align well with their respective position. Above all, hire people that are motivated to see the immediate impact their individual role has on the business as a whole – arguably the most exciting part…and enjoy the ride!
ExactHire offers hiring software solutions specifically designed for the small- to medium-sized company. For more information on tools to help you find employees for small business, please visit our resources section or contact us.