As an investor in seed and high-growth companies, I look at (beyond the idea and market potential) the founders and the team they have built around them. There are many great ideas out there, but when things get tough, it is the quality of the team that allows them to push forward, pivot the company as necessary and find a way to succeed against all odds.
What I hope to cover briefly in this article are a few things I have learned over my years in business working for large companies such as Intel and IBM, as well as starting multiple companies. My goal is to leave you with one or two nuggets that could prove helpful to you in any business environment, small or large, public or private.
If you are the CEO or founder of your company, the first step in the process is to better understand the culture of the company as it is today and, just as importantly, what you would like the culture to become. It likely will evolve as you grow, but for younger companies, every person you hire will affect that culture, and many will succeed or fail to the extent they are congruent with that culture. The person who will work well at Apple is likely not the same type of person who will love working at Microsoft or Oracle, even if the skills needed for the role are precisely the same.
Here are a few suggestions I have when it comes to hiring key people into your organization. For more useful tips, check out Hire With Your Head by Lou Adler, and Who by Geoff Smart.
1. Spend the time to really define the position you want to fill. Think about what this person will have to accomplish in the first 30 days, 90 days, six months or one year to be highly successful in the role. Focus on their prior accomplishments and how they translate to your expectations.
2. Forget about five years of this and 10 years of that. What matters most is if they have truly accomplished what you need and if you can validate the role they played in that process.
3. Make your job description something that will not only relay the essence of the job, but just as importantly, will motivate someone who is gainfully employed somewhere else to seriously consider coming to work for you. Ask yourself and others if what is written would ever motivate someone to pick their head up from what they are doing today and seriously consider talking to you or your staff.
5. One of the best sources for top talent is referrals from your employees or other key stakeholders in your business. But at some point, referrals are not enough to fill every position.
One of the best tools out there is LinkedIn. In most cases, the person you need to hire is already on that platform. Having said that, I would not assume that the best candidates will respond to a posting. For the most part, it takes more effort and time to reach out and connect with them to see if they are willing to engage in a conversation with you. They will look at the profile of the person reaching out to determine if connecting is worthwhile, so be thoughtful about that. You have one chance to make a first impression.
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6. In my executive search business, my team will reach out and connect with between 200 and 300 people to find individuals who have the appropriate skills, experience, culture fit, compensation expectations and motivation to make a job change. This is not easy work and will take time to accomplish, but it can result in a much stronger pool of potential candidates for key positions.
8. Many companies take too long to make a hiring decision and lose their best candidates. That doesn’t mean you should cut the vetting process short, but you should make a go or no-go decision within two to three weeks, barring vacation or travel conflicts. It is just as important to let someone know quickly about a no as a yes. It’s better to make those judgment calls quickly and free up your time and the candidates’ time.
9. Take the time to do detailed reference checks. My suggestion is to get the candidate to list all the people they reported to over the last 10 years. They can also include peers and people who reported to them. True A-players should have no problem or concern with listing them all. B- or C-players will likely make excuses for why they can’t provide the entire list. A-players should have glowing reviews, and it will be obvious to you that they have made their mark elsewhere.
10. Make offers verbally first, and follow quickly with a written offer, assuming they seem likely to accept. Address any issues or concerns they may have in real time.
11. Once the offer is accepted, make sure to maintain regular communication with the candidate. If they are truly an A-player, it is likely their current employer will make an effort to keep them and present a counter offer. It also might be a good idea to have a face-to-face meeting prior to their start date, once again to keep the fires lit and keep them engaged.
Dave Sanders is well established in the West Coast venture capital community and is a General Partner in several seed-stage venture funds.
- MBA, Bachelor’s of Industrial Engineering, Bachelor’s of Engineering Technology, Six Sigma Yellow Belt and RCM Certification.