6 Lessons on Hiring a First Employee That You Shouldn’t Have to Learn the Hard Way (But I Did)

  • May 30, 2017
  • by:Serhat Pala

This article was originally published on Inc.

Starting your first business is like falling in love for the first time: You are as excited as you are clueless. There are many magical moments when you are building your first business, including hiring your first employee.

It’s magical because it means your business is growing. It’s also nerve-wracking, because even if you’ve been in charge of hiring before at another company, this is your company and your money. Hire the wrong person and it’s you directly who loses out.

For those of you at that magical moment of your entrepreneurial life, here are few tips about hiring your first employee:

1. Spend a lot of time on that first hire

Hiring the wrong first employee can kill a startup. Y Combinator president Sam Altman says a mediocre hire (someone who doesn’t believe–heart and soul–in what you’re doing) can poison the culture of the company.

He points out that Airbnb spent five months recruiting and interviewing for their first employee because the founders wanted someone who believed in the company’s potential as much as they did and who wouldn’t bolt at the first sign of a crisis.

Altman suggests spending about 25 percent of your time on that first hire. That might sound high, but if you don’t, it could cost you your whole operation.

2. Hire your first employee for who they are, not who you think they can be

You are likely to interview candidates whom you feel aren’t exactly what you’re looking for, but who you like as people. It’s tempting to tell yourself these candidates will “grow into the position.”

Don’t take that chance when you’re hiring your first employee.

You have to be excited to work with them, and they should be as close to perfect for the position as possible. Use their past accomplishments to judge this. Do not use your gut instinct on whether they’ll blossom into something they haven’t proven to be in the past.

Focus your questions on past accomplishments, previous work experience, and what excites and motivates them, rather than subjective questions to gauge their potential.

3. Remember you’re building your corporate culture

When hiring your first employee, you are also building a process and a set of rules for hiring future employees. Before you interview anyone, draw up a list of traits that you want your company culture to convey and only hire someone who will help the company convey these traits.

Your first hire will be 50 percent, then 33 percent, and then 25 percent of your workforce as you grow. Anyone who plays that big a role in your workforce needs to “bleed” the corporate culture of your company.

They should be as invested in its success as you are because they become part of the founding process.

4. Care for your first employee and invest appropriately

You must invest in your first employee. Provide the training and resources for them to become the best version of themselves.

If you hire and lead right, that person is going to stay for a long time. You’re not just hiring someone to fill a position, you’re investing in someone’s future as an investment in your company’s future.

5. Trust and empower your first employee

If your company is to grow, and have a scalable structure and thrive when you are not around, then it has to have ’empowerment’ in its DNA.

Your first employee relationship is the best time to build that. If you’ve hired right, you should have no problem giving your first employee more responsibility as the company grows.

6. Don’t get squeamish if you have to drop the axe

If you find out your first hire is not going to work out, you need to act fast. It’s not just for you and the company, it’s also for that employee.

They deserve to be in a job that suits them and where they can grow as an employee and a person. Don’t hold off on letting them go if you see things aren’t working out.

You can never spend too much time and effort on hiring your first employee because they will set the tone for the rest of your hires. It will be worth doing all those annoying interviews and sifting through the truth and stretched truth of everyone’s resume to find the right person.

The very survival of your startup depends on it.

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