#FirstInHR: What to Look For in a Potential Hire

When your small business expands beyond the founding team’s ability to manage all of it, it’s time to hire a few people to cover the day-to-day essentials. You may know what jobs you need filled and who to hire for them — your product manager, your sales representative, your customer support. Depending on your business, you’re going to be looking for certain qualities in your candidates. Running a small-time financial firm? You’re going to need analysts. Opening up a restaurant? You’ll want a few cooks or server, at least.

But beyond the skills required for the job, what should you look for in candidates? If you’re running a tight ship, you’re going to have to answer that question yourself, instead of hiring a recruiter or keeping an HR rep on staff. If you’re looking for the best candidates money can buy, here are a few things to look for in a candidate beyond the resume.

Potential and Learning Over Experience

Depending on the size of your business, you may not have the money to hire the most experienced people in your field. There’s no substitute for experience, but learning ability is a close second. Google uses learning ability and humility as two of its most important qualities to look for in candidates, even in its most technical jobs. If a candidate can learn quickly, they’re going to pick on the more specific aspects of the job (like team workflow and cultural norms) faster than someone who may be more skilled but could be more set in their ways.

Even in established fields, learning can be one of the most important things a candidate can have. How important? Even some of the most powerful people in business admit that learning is the most important aspect of their job. Doug Seville, cofounder and director of DSML Executive Search asked a risk fund manager how long it would take someone to learn his job, and they responded with “two months.”

Obviously not everyone would be to able to learn all the ins and outs of the financial world in that amount of time, but a good learner will pick up on what they really need to focus if placed in Seville’s hypothetical “here’s my job, I’m going to teach you to do it” scenario.

A Job Search Around the World

Many small businesses are constricted by their locale. Though talent may not be lacking in places like San Francisco and New York, if you’re looking for some of the best candidates out there and don’t have access to that talent pool, it may be worth it to consider a more robust remote work policy, and look outside your country of origin for candidates who have the skills you need to truly grow your business.

But where do you look? If you’re looking for a quick expansion to your talent pool, look to the Middle East. The United Arab Emirates currently has the highest number of active candidates looking for work (44%), according to a recent LinkedIn survey. Other countries with hopeful talent pools include:

  • Russia, where 47% of workers are looking for more challenging work in exchange for more compensation.
  • Germany, whose workers have the world’s highest productivity levels.
  • Sweden, where only 3% of workers take company prestige into account and thus are more willing to work for new companies.

Look to Bigger Business for the Tried-and-True

You may have started a new business to get away from some of the practices of the big business, but that shouldn’t mean ignoring all of their wisdom. When large companies are sourcing and recruiting, they know what to look for in candidates. And what they’re looking for can guide smaller businesses. Here’s what large companies are looking for:

  • 78% of large companies look for leadership and the ability to work in a team
  • 73% of large companies look for written communication skills
  • 71% of large companies look for problem-solving skills

Keep in mind that small companies may need new employees to wear more than one hat and need more “ intrapreneurial ” types to make an impact on the bottom line. But there’s no harm in adding these qualities when making your small-business hires. After all, you have the benefit of starting fresh, and you better be more likely to look for these qualities than a larger firm, which might be more held back by their need to hire experienced qualities. In the end, when it comes to hiring small, it pays to think big, whether it’s bigger thinkers, bigger talent pools, or bigger business practices.

Bio: Erin Engstrom

Erin is a marketing specialist for Recruiterbox, an applicant tracking software which helps startups and small businesses hire simply and predictably. She's an unabashed beer snob, aspires to be a digital nomad and is leery about the third person. In her spare time, she serves as president of her neighborhood association in Chicago.

Views: 241

Comment by Daniel Fogel on September 16, 2015 at 10:26am

Erin - thanks for posting.  We just had a webinar with Glassdoor yesterday (http://recruitingwebinars.com/recruit-engineers-youre-not-tech-comp...)  where they shared that they look for employees with a high EQ in addition to IQ.   Once hired each new employee goes through a 2 day EQ training to improve communication and team building skills.  Like Doug says in your example, a lot of skills can be learned, but we should be looking for candidates who have an aptitude to learn quickly and a natural curiosity.

Comment by Erin Engstrom on September 16, 2015 at 3:37pm

Great idea for a webinar, Daniel. I can see how a lot of non-tech companies might feel they're at a disadvantage when recruiting technical talent. What Glassdoor's doing sounds like a wonderful program for employees across functions.

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