tooawesomeSuccessful hiring takes the one thing small business owners have none of: time. But, hiring the perfect employee for your business will ultimately save you time because this new team member will share the workload and come up with new ideas. He or she will also make your business more profitable, and raise the quality of work of your entire team.

Still not convinced that you need to rethink how you hire? Consider the cost to your company to rehire when the first employee doesn’t work out. Some estimates put the cost to rehire at 30% of the employee’s annual salary and that is not money most small businesses have to burn. So why do so many of us find ourselves unsatisfied with a new hire?

The hiring process can be difficult because in most cases the job candidate is acting. Think of the traditional hiring process like a series of first dates – the candidates wear their best clothes, have thought about answers to all the typical questions (“What is your biggest flaw or weakness?”) and can usually put their best foot forward for a couple of hour-long meetings. The smooth answers you’ll receive are really no reflection on reality. The key to successful hiring is to get out of the first date  mode and find out what the candidate will be like after three or six months of cashing paychecks.

But finding someone who isn’t first date perfect, who will commit themselves to the mission and vision of your business for years to come — now that’s a time consuming task. But it’s not impossible and is well worth it in the long run. Here are some tips about finding the right employee for your small business.

Be Clear About What You Want

Once you’ve grown your business enough to hire another employee, it’s easy to put the hiring process on a fast track. You think, “If I could get someone started within a month, I’d finally be able to focus on researching our next product.” Not so fast.

You’re going to have to invest a lot of time up front before you even shake hands with the first candidate. Write a thorough job description that clearly spells out your requirements, no matter how specific. Is an advanced degree an absolute requirement? Name it.

Is there software the new hire must know? Include it. Being specific will help to weed out candidates early on and save you the time of going through hundreds of unqualified applications.

Also use this opportunity to explain your corporate culture so the candidate knows if they are a fit for the business environment you’ve created. Use this job description to formulate your job posting for the company’s website. This will be the online home base for information about the job, even though you’ll be posting it in other places as well.

Follow the example of companies like Bortek Industries. Their employment page is simple, transparent and employee-centered. They provide the basics, they’re clear about what they offer, and they show a value and respect for the needs of their employees. If you can capture this same caring attitude, you’ll find employees who value and respect your company culture as well. They’re the employees you want.

Now it’s time to publicize this job opening. Word of mouth is key. Do you have another employee that just graduated from a highly ranked computer program? Tell him or her to spread the link to their classmates.

If your company has a social media presence, post the job opening on your Facebook and Twitter pages. Your social media followers are already connected to your mission. Is there a professional association for your field? Post with them as well. For example, PR professionals have local PRSA chapters that sponsor job listing boards or email lists.

LinkedIn is the go-to social media site for job seekers and employers. You can advertise your job there based on location, qualifications and more. Unlike a general listing on Craigslist or Indeed that will garner you hundreds (if not more) of applicants, targeted LinkedIn postings will attract candidates who are more likely to fit your needs.

These types of directed advertisements are more likely to help attract qualified candidates.

Who You Gonna Call?

You’re still in the beginning stages of the process, even if you received a stack of resumes within a week. First, read the materials closely. Immediately discard any with typos, missing information that you asked for in your job posting, or content so vague it clearly went to 50 different employers. Don’t waste your time.

A short phone conversation to prescreen applicants with strong resumes and cover letters can save a lot of time. But what should you ask them?

That depends on your business, but the authors of The New York Times best seller Freakonomics have an interesting idea. They recognized in their research that the inability for employees to say “I don’t know,” can really harm the bottom line, waste time and create unnecessary costs. Yet, in all of their work with businesses across the world, they’ve almost never encountered an employee willing to say “I don’t know.” In one example, the inability to concede those three words cost a business over $1 billion.

One of the authors, Stephen Dubner, put it this way, “Until you can admit what you don’t know, it’s virtually impossible to learn what you need to. Because if you think you already have all the answers, you won’t go looking for them. But let’s be clear: simply saying ‘I don’t know’ isn’t a solution. It’s just a first step. You have to figure out what you don’t know – and then work like a dog to learn.”

Think about asking a question related to your field for which the only real answer is “I don’t know.” Then see how the candidate responds. Do they own up to the fact it’s an unknown but offer ways to find a solution? If so, they are a problem solver who is willing to acknowledge where there is room for growth.

Also start to pay attention to whether this person would be a good fit for your culture. Are you a 9 to 5 workplace but you’re hearing a lot about flex time? Are they very formal and straight-laced in their tone, but your culture is casual and laid back? 

Finally, it’s not too early to start a salary conversation. Why bring in a candidate who is looking for double the budgeted amount? This round of interviews is all about funneling the best candidates to the in person interviews.

Pleasure to Meet You

By now, you’ve narrowed your list down to three to five top candidates, and if you think each is going to sit for a one hour interview, you’d be wrong.

Remember, putting time into the hiring process now will save you time and money later. So how should you conduct an in person interview?

First, have the candidate interact with all levels of staff. Instruct him or her to come through the lobby so that they meet the doorman. You can ask your administrative assistant to welcome them into your office waiting area. After the interview, return to both the doorman and your assistant and ask how they were treated by your candidate. A potential employee should be professional and kind with everyone they encounter, but you’d be surprised how many aren’t.

Your one-on-one interview should include well thought out questions, but remember that at this point, your candidate can still be in first date mode. So be creative and move beyond the typical questions. Instead, explain a scenario within your company and ask how the candidate would solve it. Tell them an anecdote that you’ve experienced – perhaps an unsatisfied customer or a shipping delay of a crucial component – and ask how they would respond. 

Also arrange for him or her to shadow someone with a similar job in your company. Have them spend a significant amount of time together, and then ask for your employees’ feedback. Make sure they are staying over lunch – another great time to observe how he or she is fitting in with your company culture.

Finally, don’t be shy about giving homework after your interview. If he or she will be writing, give a topic and ask for a sample press release within 12 hours. The writing samples handed in with his or her resume had been edited by his or her entire family – 12 hours won’t give enough time for that type of group effort and you’ll get a better sense of her work on deadline. 

Will your new employee be in charge of data management or financials? Give him or her a stack of sample invoices and ask them to input them into your system (set up a dummy account for him or her to use).  These types of tasks will move your candidate out of first date mode and give you a more realistic sense of their working style.

You’re Hired

After the interview, check his or her references and also check their social media presence. Would having your business’s name next to theirs make you proud or embarrassed? Is there something in his or her work history on LinkedIn that they didn’t reveal to you? Being savvy about social media will help you avoid a mis-hire.

There lots of tips and tricks to finding the right employee for your small business, but there is no silver bullet. As the movie The Internship hilariously pointed out, asking bizarre questions like, “You’re shrunken down the size of nickels and dropped into the bottom of a blender, what do you do?” will not find you the perfect candidate.

Instead, a solid investment of time and effort, along with the input of those already on your team, will ensure you hire the right person for your company.

Do you have any advice for small business owners looking to hire? Leave your recommendations in the comment section below.