The Big/Small Gap: Hiring Challenges of Entrepreneurs

As an Entrepreneur it took me a number of years of observing and operating within the "People Sector" before I began to recognize the unique skills necessary for people to be successful and content within different-sized companies. While it's likely won't come as a surprise, I found that people from BIG companies rarely succeed in SMALL ones and vice versa.

To better understand the why this might be the case and how it directly impacts Entrepreneurs and small companies I sought out Conor Neill – a business thought leader with a decade of Accenture Experience along with a resume that includes four start-ups of his own.

[JDavis] Before talking about the unique challenges of hiring in a Small Business, what did you experience during your time at Accenture?

Everything was already set up for us to succeed. We had an HR Team that had access to a vast bench of talent that could help staff up a 6-person project quickly. We had so many candidates to consider for our new hire needs that I was able to build what I called the “Critical Behavior Interview”. Put simply, I had a list of 21 behaviors and they had to mention each of these types of behaviors without my prompting in an open format for me to recommend them for hire.

Because of this infrastructure I got a little spoiled. I realized that even if I made a snap judgment within 5 minutes of meeting someone and it turned out to be wrong, they were being hired into a huge pool of people and there were lots of opportunities for them to hide.

[JDavis] How did it change once you began starting your own companies?

I’ve learned through my own experience and through talking with other Entrepreneurs that the initial 10-20 hires in a company are actually quite easy. It’s because you’re hiring friends or networks of friends and as the Owner/Founder you can still tell everyone what to do. That means that even a failed hire isn’t all that damaging because each of the people are just there to execute on your vision.

[JDavis] Where does it start to get hard?

At $1mm in revenue a company has a product or service and it usually works. If the company is capable of scaling it will result in a lot of jobs but in the run from $1mm to $10mm a lot of change happens – more than at any other time in the lifecycle of a company.

One of the biggest changes is bringing in Senior Management. When an Entrepreneur starts to hire for these roles and they’re hiring from a resume and talking with someone who knows all about Six Sigma or Plant Logistics it can be really hard for them. There’s a lot of intimidation that occurs due to the resume and experience of the Executives and it’s difficult for an Entrepreneur to really determine, “is this the right person for the job?”.

[JDavis] What was the hardest part of this for you?

Without a doubt it was hiring people older than me. They had impressive CV’s. Significantly more experience than I did. I found it hard to see beyond their experience. I also found it hard to ask someone who was my Dad’s age about how they performed, how they handled failures or what their weaknesses were.

[JDavis] What’s your #1 Takeaway for Entrepreneurs?

A Hiring Process is largely common sense. The problem most people (myself included) ran into was that many of the processes that I created were ones I expected my staff to comply with my I went around them. Hiring was no exception.

Having a Hiring Process in place will help tremendously. I liken it to brushing your teeth. Brushing your teeth works because you do it every day and the same way each time. You do it every day and the same way because you’ve seen other people do it and you know it’s working. If you wait to start brushing your teeth until they’re rotting, it’s too late.

Conor Neill is a professor at IESE Business School. An entrepreneur who has founded four companies, he is past Area Director of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) and spent a number of years in the Change Management division of Accenture. He has earned both a psychology degree and an MBA and in his spare time blogs about entrepreneurship, success and learning from the little failures in life at

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