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Attracting Great Talent & Hiring the Right People

April 18, 2008

The most important thing you can do for your business is to hire the right people. We all know that, but do we all act on that, all the time? Probably not. In my experience as an entrepreneur, it is too easy to focus on the tasks on hand, to worry about the budget, and to not hire when we should. The last few posts I have talked about the essentials of starting a business: raising money, building a network and honing your pitch. All of the work setting up your business goes down the drain if you hire the wrong people.

Attracting and hiring talent depends on you. It will be your network through which you find the right people. It will be your ability to sell your vision that gets them excited to join. Most importantly, it will be your ability to intuit the fit with you and your team that makes your team a team. So, keep working your network and your pitch, they are always evolving and are critical to all aspects of your business.

Assembling a great team is no small feat. Attracting the right people to your company involves a number of things: your location, your company’s culture and then how they (the talent) fit with the existing team. The last point is really important. Building a team is very different than hiring an individual. You have to look for balance and traits that complement each other. It’s critical to balance both your management team (and your employees in general) with personalities and work styles that complement your own personality and the others on the team. Here at bill.com, I made sure to get a range of personalities that complemented each other. As a result, we have a well-balanced executive team feeding off of each other all the time.

This is one of the biggest lessons I've learned in my career so make sure you think about how the team will work together before you hire. In the end, it’s not just about hiring and retaining, it’s figuring out who and what you want to hire. When you are starting a company, not only do you have to think about your culture and your product, you also have to think about your own skills and personality and how great talent can balance and improve upon that.

An excellent book on balancing work personality styles is People Styles at Work: Making Bad Relationships Good and Good Relationships Better

STEP 1: Network
How do you get access to the right people? The first step goes right back to the care and feeding of your network. All the great people that I’ve hired have always come through the network. Sometimes I knew them before, but often I did not. Sometimes it was an explicit referral for an open position but sometimes I didn’t even know the position was open. Yes, that is correct, some of my best hires are for positions that I didn’t know I needed. I realized during the conversation that someone could solve a problem for me. So, while a job description is nice, it is not required. (In fact, at bill.com I have asked all of my key hires to write the job description. This is an extremely useful tool to see if the person understands the job the way you do and saves you a little work). When you are a manager, you must always be open to rethinking your organization and you must always be networking. You just never know when that natural athlete is going to cross paths with you.

What do I mean by natural athlete? Natural athletes are individuals that are independent self starters. No matter what you throw at them they will figure it out. In a startup you can never have enough of these. While star athletes, those that are experts in one thing, are important as well, the natural athlete will be more capable of adapting to the changing world of a startup.

STEP 2: Intuit
I believe there is a “love-at-first-sight” equivalent when you are hiring somebody. I’ve gotten to the point where I can tell within the first five or 10 minutes whether or not I am excited by the conversation. If I am excited it’s a great hire that I am talking to. Usually, after the interviews are complete I can figure out what it was that caused me to be excited in the first 10 minutes. It's a gut feeling. I have had lots of training from HR professionals that will tell you the gut is wrong more than it is right. That is true in the beginning of your career but less and less so as you mature as a manager. It is your job to hone that instinct and your gut so that the “love at first sight” can happen for you. BTW, part of the gut feel is whether or not I think the person is going to be a lot of fun to work with. Life is too short to not work with people you enjoy. The good news is that you are in a position to make sure that is true. So if your gut doesn’t tell your something don’t hire the person if it is a key hire. Otherwise, you’ll end up with just a “relationship” not a great relationship.

Step 3: Sell
Most of the time the best people that I hired weren’t even looking for a job. That means that once you find the people, you have to sell them. There are different components that you have to keep in mind when you are recruiting. Like all selling, think about your target audience and adjust your pitch. When you are pitching an employee, they need to see someone who has leadership and vision for the company, the product and the culture. Employees like to know that there’s a captain of the ship, on board to make the hard decisions and plotting a course. Without that, people typically don’t want to jump on board, too. For a smaller company, it’s really important to hire people who are resourceful and willing to get into the trenches and do things beyond the specific job description that you’ve laid out for them. So if you are hiring the natural athlete, they want to hear all the different ways they get to pitch in.

Stay tuned, after attracting and hiring great talent, next comes the issues and steps of setting up your business infrastructure.

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